A new nonpartisan coalition of state legislators recently came together to announce the formation of the American State Legislators for Gun Violence Prevention (ASLGVP). Made up of nearly 200 state legislators from all parties, in all 50 states plus Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, the coalition’s founding members met to discuss ways of strengthening and closing loop holes in the background check system, growing concerns about guns in the context of domestic violence and abuse, and effective intervention strategies in communities experiencing high rates of gun violence.
“Gun violence isn’t a regional concern or a partisan issue. It’s a tragic crisis affecting Americans across the country. We’ve come together in recognition of the essential role state legislators must play whether or not Congress chooses to act in reducing gun violence. I’m proud of the geographic breadth, diversity, and bipartisan representation of our coalition. I look forward to getting started on our work and to seeing the positive impact ASLGVP members will have,” said Founder and Chair Assembly member Brian Kavanagh (D-N.Y.)
Recent incidents of gun violence, including those making national news and involving police misconduct, vigilantism, and gang-related assaults, served as an undercurrent to the discussions. Rep. Merika Coleman-Evans (D-Ala.), for instance, noted the Stand Your Ground law, which was enacted in Alabama in 2006, actually brought about an increase — rather than a decline — in shooting deaths. Using data from two 2012 Georgia State University studies, Coleman-Evans said the law is being used in ways the lawmakers could never have imagined and that work against the grain and nature of its intentions.
“We love our God, we love our country and we love our guns,” she said. “But as a legislator and, more importantly, as a mother of two teenagers, I want to make sure that the gun laws in this country are guns laws that actually protect our citizens and do not put them in harm’s way when the wrong people get their hands on guns. Supporting public policies devoid of thorough background checks and supporting policies that promote a shoot-now-and-ask-questions-later mentality is irresponsible and surely not what our forefathers intended.”
Coleman-Evans said situations that support the shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Dunn, who was shot for having his music turned up too loud, and those that have allowed defense lawyers to use Stand Your Ground as a “get out of jail free card” among drug dealers, needs to be re-examined.
“My intent for being involved is not to rid Alabama citizens of the guns they love so much; as the daughter of a retired master sergeant and the wife of a retired detective, my home has its fair share of firearms. However, Alabama’s open-carry law and a law that allows us to bring our guns to work are two such policies that need to be re-examined to determine if indeed they actually protect citizens or if the mere presence of those firearms escalates a situation,” Coleman-Evans said. “We have to create smart gun policies that work towards gun violence prevention.”
Group members represent diverse perspectives based upon their individual experiences and the needs of their respective districts and states. They support background checks on gun purchasers and other measures intended to reduce access to guns for those who commit certain crimes and for those experiencing mental health problems. Many members are also interested in promoting more robust and effective intervention programs in communities that experience high levels of gun violence.
Group member Sen. José R. Rodriguez (D-Texas) said, “Given Congress’s inability to enact sensible, commonsense laws, this coalition promises to provide legislators an avenue to share effective ways to reduce gun violence.”