Hi, I'm Dr. Cassandra Crifasi. Welcome to our Teach-Out on Firearm Purchaser Licensing. Today, I'm joined by Dr. Alex Mccourt, a public health lawyer and a researcher, and assistant scientist in our Center for Gun Policy and Research. He's going to talk with us today about some of the elements of purchaser licensing. Alex, thanks so much for joining us. It's great to be here. So for those who are less familiar with these laws, can you just briefly describe what purchaser licensing is. Sure. So purchaser licensing is a state law that requires people to go get a license of some type before they purchase a firearm, and usually that involves a background check, fingerprinting, maybe some training. But it always involves going to law enforcement and getting a license before you get a firearm. So can you tell us a little bit more about how a firearm purchaser licensing system differs from what we think of as a regular background check for a gun? So federal law requires a background check that involves looking into a criminal history or criminal record when you purchase a firearm from a licensed dealer, so a gun shop. It doesn't require a background check when you're making a private sale or when you're purchasing from somebody who is not a license seller. There are different state laws that try to fill that gap, require background checks for private sales. Many of them mimic that federal law. So they say that when you go to purchase the firearm from an acquaintance or friend or even a stranger, just not a licensed dealer, you have to go to a licensed dealer or go to law enforcement and they will facilitate the same kind of background check. So that background check happens at the point of sale. Purchaser licensing is a little bit different because the background check happens a little bit earlier. It happens when you apply for the license which happens before you even started the sale itself. These laws can be combined. So in states like Connecticut for example, there's a purchaser licensing system. You have to undergo background check to get a license, and then when you go to purchase the firearm, you have to undergo another background check, and a check to make sure your license is valid before you can get the firearm. Which states currently have these licensing laws? There are nine states that currently have licensing laws. Connecticut, Hawaii, Iowa, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and North Carolina. There are two states, Michigan and Nebraska, that have a form of purchaser licensing, but it doesn't apply to all handgun sales or firearm sales. So they're not really true purchaser licensing laws. Are there any states that have repeal the law that they have in place? Yeah. So Missouri used to have a purchaser licensing law. They actually had it for many years. But they repealed it in 2007 and it was part of a bigger push to loosen state gun laws in Missouri. So you said that there are nine states that currently have them. Are they all the same or are there some differences across them? No, they differ quite a bit. So like I mentioned before, some states require fingerprinting. So you have to get your fingerprint taken by the state police or local police or even a state vendor. Some states require training. So you have to go get a training or safety certificate maybe by taking a course or taking a test. There are also differences in where you apply. So sometimes you go to the state police. Sometimes you go to local law enforcement and those differences can be important. So can you describe some of the reasons why more states don't have that, nine doesn't seem like a lot. Why aren't these policies in place in more states? I think there are a few different reasons. I think perhaps most importantly it's pretty difficult to pass gun laws in the US. At the state level, it can vary quite a bit. But there's usually a lot of political pressure to reject these laws to not pass them, and these laws I think not a lot of people know about them. Not a lot of people know what they do, how they work, and whether they're effective, and so that knowledge gap means that they're not at the forefront of laws being offered, and that's one reason I think conversations like this and translating research can be so important. So you've been talking about what states have done and what they can do so far. So what if anything, can the federal government do to encourage more states to pass these laws? That's a really important question. The federal government has a history of encouraging states to adopt many different policies in many different areas not just firearms, and one thing that the federal government could do is pass a law that encourages states to adopt these purchaser licensing laws. One way that's been proposed and in fact it was just proposed in a law last year in 2019 by Senator Chris Van Hollen and Congressman Jamie Raskin to offer grants to states. So the Attorney General would have awarded grants to states that passed these laws as long as the laws met certain requirements. So if a state passed a purchaser licensing law that required that applicants be 21 or older, maybe take a training course, pass a background check and be fingerprinted, then the federal government would give the state some money to help them run the program efficiently, help get things set up, hire people if they need to and do appropriate trainings. So I think we'll see that more and more as an option for trying to incentivize this type of legislation. So given what you described about some of the differences and how states put these laws into place, could the federal government just create its own purchaser licensing system? Yeah. It would be similar to what states are doing, but it would be a little bit more complicated. The federal government would have to set it up itself. So it couldn't require the states to implement the system or run the system. So they would have to figure out what federal officials could issue licenses on a state or local level. But if they did that, it would be very similar to the federal background check system if it were applied to all types of firearm sales. So people would have to go maybe to the post office or something like that and get a license, and once they got the license then they could purchase a firearm. This is an idea that hasn't really gained a lot of traction in Congress so far. But several candidates for the Democratic nomination for President have talked about this idea. So I think as the election continues, we're going to hear more and more about federal licensing systems. So you've been describing what these laws are and how they might work at the state or federal level. But why should states or the federal government pass these laws? What do we know about their effectiveness? We know quite a bit actually. So we know that states that pass these laws generally see a decrease in the availability of guns for use in crime. We also see decreases in homicide and suicide by firearm, and we actually have some new research that shows that states that have adopted these laws and require in-person application or fingerprinting see decreases in the number of mass shootings and decreases in the number of people killed in those mass shootings. So anything about licensing you think it's important to share that we haven't mentioned so far? I think it's important to keep in mind that purchaser licensing is just one type of gun licensing. So there are also carry licenses which are licenses that allow you to carry a firearm either openly or hidden in public. Those are different. The process for getting them is very similar, and in some cases a carry license can be used to purchase a firearm. But here we're mostly talking about licenses dealing with purchasing firearms. Alex, thank you so much for joining me again today to help folks learn more about purchaser licensing systems. Sure. It was great. So we invite you to take what Alex has shared and what you've been learning in this teach-out so far and explore the requirements in your own state. What are your requirements for background checks? What are your requirements for licensing? When you enter into conversations with friends or family members or policymakers, raise up licensing as a system to conduct background checks that can help us reduce the burden of gun violence in this country.