Disarming the Dangerous: Preventing Extraordinary and Ordinary Violence

29 Pages Posted: 17 May 2014 Last revised: 25 Oct 2014

See all articles by Mary D. Fan

Mary D. Fan

University of Washington School of Law


Recent mass shootings at Navy Yard, Newtown, Aurora and elsewhere have jolted Congress and the states into considering gun violence prevention. More than 1,500 gun-related bills have been introduced since 2013, after the slaughter in Newtown of twenty elementary school children and six adults. Current legislation and debates are shaped by the specter of a heavily armed, mentally ill individual hunting in public places such as schools, businesses, and workplaces. In the states, the most successful type of legislation involves firearms restrictions for the mentally ill. In Congress, the legislation that garnered the most debate was a ban on assault weapons and large-capacity magazines. While the national attention to firearms violence prevention is salutary, for law and policy to tackle the core of the problem it is important to address two empirical questions: Who are the dangerous individuals committing most firearms homicides and why do the law’s current screens miss them?

This article draws on data from the National Violent Death Reporting System to answer the crucial foundational questions of who poses a danger and why the dangerous slip through existing legal screens. Presenting data on the most prevalent place of shooting, victim-shooter relationship, and the shooter’s prior history, the article shows that prevention of extraordinarily devastating firearms violence calls for attention to how the nation addresses “ordinary” violence. By ordinary violence, this article means violence that is often viewed as mundane, such as altercations between family members, friends and intimates in the home. Many perpetrators of firearms homicide have a history of such prior events – yet a substantially smaller proportion of these violent episodes have been adjudicated, thereby slipping through existing screens for firearms restrictions. Based on these findings, the article discusses how discretion in dealing with “ordinary violence” can improve detection of the dangerous regardless of whether proposed firearms restrictions survive the gauntlet for new gun laws.

Keywords: Firearms Regulation, Gun Violence Prevention, Gun Laws, Mass Shootings, Newtown, Navy Yard, Aurora, Domestic Violence, Family Violence, Homicide, Suicide, Data, Firearms Possession Restrictions, Empirical, Evaluating Dangerousness, Mental Health, Executive Action, Enforcement, Discretion

Suggested Citation

Fan, Mary, Disarming the Dangerous: Preventing Extraordinary and Ordinary Violence. 90 Indiana Law Journal, 2014, Forthcoming, University of Washington School of Law Research Paper No. 2014-20, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2437562

Mary Fan (Contact Author)

University of Washington School of Law ( email )

William H. Gates Hall
Box 353020
Seattle, WA 98195
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.law.washington.edu/directory/Profile.aspx?ID=503

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