Two people are dead and another is injured after a gunman opened fire during a live on-air interview in Smith Mountain Lake, Va.
The victims, 24-year-old WDBJ reporter Alison Parker and 27-year-old cameraman Adam Ward, were killed at the scene. Vicki Gardner, a member of the local Chamber of Commerce, is hospitalized and in stable condition. Suspect Vester Lee Flanagan, a former WDBJ employee, fled before turning the gun on himself. Flanagan was pronounced dead after being brought to a local hospital.
In response to the shooting, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe called on state lawmakers to pass tighter gun regulations, including background checks, an issue that has stalled in the legislature.
“I’ve proposed this now twice to the General Assembly,” McAuliffe said Wednesday on local radio station WTOP. “It was part of my platform that we need tougher gun laws in the Commonwealth, I have advocated for background checks. Everyone who purchases a firearm in the commonwealth of Virginia should have to go through a background check.
“I will continue to push [gun control] as I have in two legislative sessions so far,” he continued. “I put it up again last year. It never sees the light of day.” McAuliffe's most recent gun reform proposal failed in a Senate committee.
The issue is just as gridlocked in Congress, and President Obama has called the failure of "sufficient, common sense, gun safety laws" one of the greatest frustrations of his presidency.
But according to years of research on Americans' views on gun policy, repairing current gaps in policy isn't all that controversial, at least among people outside of Congress and certain state legislatures.
When polls get specific about policies instead of hypothetical support for gun rights versus gun control, a pretty strong consensus emerges around major points of reform among gun owners—who are most likely to be men, most likely to be white, and most likely to be conservative—and non-gun owners.
While simple reform measures like enacting stricter background checks are non-starters in Congress, they're overwhelmingly popular with a majority of people in this country. According to 2015 survey data from the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research at the Bloomberg School of Public Health, here's what gun policies might be in place if the people had their say:
There would be universal background checks.
Federal law requires federally licensed gun dealers to perform background checks on anyone purchasing a gun, but there is a loophole for the private sale of guns and individual sellers and vendors at gun shows don't have to comply.
But most Americans, including most gun owners, support background checks in private gun sales, and this has stayed pretty consistent over the years: A Washington Post/ABC News poll from 2013 found that 90% of Americans supported universal background checks. Five other polls conducted that year also found that a majority of Americans support the policy.
Support is strong among gun owners, too. According to a 2013 poll from the Pew Research Center, 85% of gun owners supported background checks on private gun sales and at gun shows. Another poll from Quinnipiac University, this time from 2014, found that 92.6% of gun owners supported background checks. A 2015 survey from the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research at the Bloomberg School of Public Health found that 85% of gun owners said they supported background checks.
People who buy guns would be required to obtain a license first.
There is no federal law that requires gun buyers or gun sellers to have licenses, which means that it's up to states to impose their own requirements on people who want to buy or sell guns.
Louisiana, for example, has no licensing requirement for buyers or sellers. But in states with the some of the most comprehensive licensing laws, like California and Connecticut, people have to undergo a background check, complete safety training, and pass a written test about gun safety, gun storage, and applicable gun laws before they're allowed to buy a gun.
And a majority of gun owners think this is a good idea, according to the 2015 Johns Hopkins survey. Researchers found that a majority of gun owners and non-gun owners support policies requiring people who want to buy or sell guns to obtain a license first: 72% of respondents overall said they supported such a policy; 75% of non-gun owners backed the policy; and 59% of gun owners supported it, too. (A 2013 survey that asked respondents the same question found similar results.)
People convicted of domestic violence or subject to temporary restraining orders would still be banned from possessing guns—but the law would be meaningfully enforced.
Federal law currently prohibits people convicted of domestic violence misdemeanors and people subject to restraining orders from possessing guns, but it doesn't apply to people convicted of stalking and abusers in dating relationships. That means that only people considered domestic partners under the law—people who live together, married couples, and people who have children together—fall under the scope of the law.
The ban itself can also be difficult to enforce. Without universal background checks in place, convicted abusers can still purchase firearms through a private seller without having to undergo a background check. But because of popular support for background checks, in a scenario where a background check was required in all gun purchases, the loopholes around private sales would be closed and people with any kind of a record—including a domestic violence record—would likely be identified.
So while barring certain abusers is already the law, weak enforcement remains a problem. But polling shows that preventing convicted abusers from possessing guns is a popular policy among gun owners and non-gun owners: according to the 2015 Johns Hopkins survey, 70% of people overall (69% of gun owners and a full 76% of gun owners) said they supported keeping guns out of the hands of convicted abusers.
Law enforcement would be allowed to temporarily remove guns from individuals who pose an immediate threat of harm to themselves or others.
In the absence of federal law, states determine whether or not courts or law enforcement can remove guns from people who are considered a threat.
The Johns Hopkins survey found that most people support a policy that meant people could temporarily have their guns taken away in such situations. Without a policy compelling individuals subject to restraining orders to surrender their guns, people are able to keep their firearms despite being legally banned from having them.
But the survey found that 70% of respondents overall—71% of non-gun owners, and 67% of gun owners—supported a policy letting law enforcement remove guns from a person's home in cases where, like those subject to temporary restraining orders, they're considered a threat to another person.
One thing that's clear from years of polling data on gun reform: at least when it comes to major safety initiatives, gun owners and non-gun owners are pretty much on the same page. When it comes to implementing common sense gun reform, it's Congress imposing its will on the people—not the other way around.