The national conversation about gun violence in the United States focuses primarily on the harms caused by the misuse of firearms—the details of the incidents that take the lives of 40,000 people every year and grievously injure tens of thousands more. This debate often occurs in the aftermath of specific gun-related tragedies and tends to focus on the individual who pulled the trigger and what could have been done to intervene with that person to prevent the tragedy.
But largely absent from the national conversation about gun violence is any mention of the industry responsible for putting guns into our communities in the first place.
The gun industry in the United States is effectively unregulated. The laws governing the operation of these businesses are porous and weak. The federal agency charged with oversight of the industry—the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF)—has been historically underfunded and politically vulnerable, making it nearly impossible for the agency to conduct consistent, effective regulatory oversight activities. Adding insult to injury, Congress has also imposed restrictions on how ATF can perform this regulatory work through restrictive policy riders on the agency’s budget. Congress has also eliminated some of the most useful tools for ensuring that gun industry actors operate their businesses in the best interests of consumers and are held accountable for harm caused by their products.
The result of this constellation of weak laws, lack of resources, and dearth of political will to support gun industry regulation is that the industry that produces and sells deadly weapons to civilian consumers has operated for decades with minimal oversight from the federal government and almost no accountability in the U.S. legal system.
This is not an idle concern. The United States experiences rates of gun violence that no other high-income nation comes even close to matching. This violence persists, even as the number of Americans who choose to own guns has steadily declined.