After numerous mass shootings, like the massacre in Uvalde, Texas, President Biden signed “The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act.” While this may seem, on the surface like a long-needed bipartisan step forward, we should critically analyze any legislation lauded as “bipartisan.” But first, it is important to note the racist history of gun control policy, which provides important context to analyzing this current bill.

As some have noted, gun control for some, particularly poor people and people of color has long existed. This is notable given that recent numbers reveal a 58% increase in gun sales to Black people since 2020.

What does this context have to do with the current legislation? In reading the text critically, parts of the bill call for increased power of policing and courts, which have long been racist and classist in ideology and practice. For example, the bill outlines how the federal government will provide states with grant money to encourage them to make juvenile records and mental health history as part of the review process for 18- to 21-year-olds who want to purchase a firearm. Black and Indigenous children have long been more likely to be labeled as “delinquent” than white children, and this continues today. According to the U.S. Sentencing Project, young Black children “are more than four times as likely to be detained or committed in juvenile facilities” as white children.

As far as mental health goes, Western mental health has long been used to marginalize Black people around the world. Also important to note is that mental health is not even a predictor of gun violence, as less than 5 percent of gun violence is linked to mental illness.

Another key part of the legislation that is ripe for racist enforcement is the $750 million to provide assistance to states in implementing red flag laws, mental health courts, drug courts, and “crisis intervention programs.” First, these so-called “problem-solving courts”, like drug and mental health courts, are ineffective in curbing drug use and mental health, but effective in expanding the overall power of the racist criminal legal system. Second, red flag laws enhance the courts’ ability to remove firearms from people “deemed a danger to themselves or others by the court.” As for effectiveness in suicide prevention, some research suggests these laws are actually not preventative. These laws also have high error rates.

But regardless of effectiveness and error rate, red flag laws operate like search and arrest warrants, where an officer presents evidence to a judge who signs (or refuses to sign) the warrant. The criminal legal system has a long history of equating “dangerousness” with being Black, thus one could hypothesize that this will have racially disparate outcomes.


Some evidence has already revealed the disproportionate impact of red flag laws on people of color. In King County, Washington, 97% of red flag law petitions were filed by police and 12% of those filed were against Black people in a county where they made up only 7% of the population. In Marion County, Indiana, while people of color made up less of their share of population in gun removal cases, “a significantly higher percentage of nonwhite than white individuals” lost their guns because of failure to appear in court to appeal their gun removal petition.

One of the more controversial measures of the bill in the negotiating phase was the closing of the “boyfriend loophole.” This portion of the proposed legislation would bar some unmarried partners convicted of domestic violence from keeping or purchasing a firearm. However, research has long documented the impact that race and class have on arrests, let alone convictions of crime.

Finally, this legislation provides more funding for schools to enhance security measures at primary and secondary schools. Since the Parkland shooting in 2018, this has taken the form of increased surveillance technologies and creating anonymous reporting systems, which fail to address why people commit gun violence. Moreover, “enhancing security” also has devastating effects on Black students, and turns teachers and students into quasi-cops. Overall, this is an unhealthy lifestyle that diminishes learning for all in schools..

This proposed legislation fails on multiple fronts. It does not increase the age limit for purchasing a firearm or ban large capacity magazines. It does not account for gun violence by police, who kill more than 1,000 people every year, mostly by firearm. Actual solutions include broader efforts such as expanding access to affordable hospitals and trauma centers; funding childhood programming, educational, and employment opportunities; and offering home repair grants, all shown to have positive influences on violence. Instead, this “bipartisan” policy is likely to continue the status quo racism in the criminal legal system without structurally addressing gun violence prevention. And many people will continue to be murdered.

Brian Pitman is an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Maine. He is a member of the Maine chapter of the national Scholars Strategy Network, which brings together scholars across the country to address public challenges and their policy implications. This column reflects his views and expertise and does not speak on behalf of the university.

Comments are no longer available on this story