Want to Make Buying Guns Hard? Make It as Tough as Getting an Abortion

It’s not just an abstract idea. It’s a bill going through the state house in Missouri. Mandatory evaluations. Mandatory talks with local leaders. Mandatory accountability. One state rep wants it to happen—and soon.

12.04.15 8:29 PM ET

Hours before shots rang out in San Bernardino, California, leaving 14 dead and 21 injured, Missouri State Rep. Stacey Newman introduced a bill with a simple premise:

What if the process to buy guns in America was as difficult as the one to get an abortion?

A flight crew member turned political consultant, Newman was inspired to run for office after watching her daughter Sophie, then 6, talk about guns and kids on The Rosie O’Donnell Show. After founding a statewide political action committee called Harriet’s List, she was elected to office in 2009, where she’s built a reputation of being tough on firearms.

Her Twitter bio, beneath a pink StandWithPP picture, describes her as: “wife, Mom, Nana, obsessive about reproductive justice, voters rights, women’s rights, equality & of course—gun violence prevention.”

Her bill, first reported on by St. Louis Magazine, isn’t modeled after the general restrictions to getting an abortion in America, but her state’s specifically. Missouri has some of the toughest in the nation. Missouri is one of just a few states operating with fewer than five abortion clinics, and one of four that enforces a 72-hour waiting period.

Beyond the difficulty of getting an abortion in Missouri, Newman’s bill was likely inspired by the level of firearm violence in her state. In 2010 Missouri’s rate of homicide, 5.6 per 100,000 people, was 56 percent higher than the national average—making it the fourth-highest in the nation. Gun deaths in the state have surpassed motor vehicle fatalities since 2013.

When The Daily Beast asked Newman for the impetus behind the bill, she replied, “utter frustration.” 

“We were at our wit’s end,” she said. After spending 15 years arguing against guns the traditional way, she decided to get creative.

This bill, she knows, will never get a hearing, much less approved. That’s not the point.

“I’m on the defense team, I understand that,” she said. “A lot of my job is getting the word out there.”

Using an unconventional bill to raise awareness for an issue is a move she’s tried before. In 2012, she introduced a bill that would prohibit men from getting vasectomies unless the procedure was meant to prevent serious injury or death. 

After the story gained traction this year, Newman decided to try the radical method again—this time using an issue for which conservatives have an “endless appetite”: abortion access.

There is only one abortion clinic in the entire state. There are at least 3,000 places to buy guns. But what if those numbers were reversed? From attending the funeral of a gun victim under 18, to watching videos of fatal firearm injuries, here is what it would look like if buying a gun in Missouri was as difficult as getting an abortion.


Prior to any firearm purchase in this state, a prospective firearm shall:

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— Confer and discuss with a licensed physician the indicators and contraindicators and risk factors, including any physical, psychological, or situational factors, that may arise with the proposed firearm purchase at a firearm dealer located at least 120 miles from the purchaser’s legal residence.

— Submit to an evaluation for the physician to search the individual for indicators and contraindicators and risk factors and determine if such firearm purchase would increase the purchaser's risk of experiencing an adverse physical, emotional, or other health reaction.

— Listen to oral statement regarding the risks associated with the purchase as well as read and sign a written statement that includes the following:

1.     The name and license number of the licensed firearm dealer.

2.     The immediate and long-term medical risks associated with firearms, along with medical descriptions and photographs of fatal firearm injuries, as collected by emergency pediatric medical professionals, law enforcement, and prosecutors’ offices.

3.     Alternatives to purchasing a firearm, which shall include materials about peaceful and nonviolent conflict resolution.

4.     A statement that the dealer is available to answer any questions concerning the purchase of a firearm, together with the telephone number of the dealer that the dealer may be reached to answer any questions the purchaser may have.

5.      The prospective firearm purchaser shall obtain written consent of his or her parents in order to qualify for the purchase of any firearm.

— Watch a 30-minute video on fatal firearm injuries, as collected by urban medical professionals, law enforcement, and local prosecutors, and verify in writing he or she viewed the entire video in the presence of a licensed firearm dealer.

— Verify in writing by a licensed physician that the purchaser has toured an emergency trauma center in the nearest qualified urban hospital on a weekend between the hours of 10:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. when gun violence victims are present.

— Within 72 hours of a firearm purchase, the prospective firearm purchaser meet with at least two families who have been victims of violence involving a firearm and two local faith leaders who have officiated, within the past year, a funeral of a victim of violence involving a firearm who was under the age of eighteen.


Perhaps if these measures were in place, Newman suggests, some of the more than 32,000 people who die from gun violence in the U.S. each year would be saved. It’s a sentiment echoed eloquently in a now-viral Facebook post by Brian Murtagh, who suggested (like Newman) that we treat young men who want to buy guns the same as we treat women who want an abortion.

“Make him walk through a gauntlet of people holding photos of loved ones who were shot to death, people who call him a murderer and beg him not to buy a gun,” he writes. “It makes more sense to do this with young men and guns than with women and health care, right? I mean, no woman getting an abortion has killed a room full of people in seconds, right?” 

With 20 to 30 abortion bills filed each year, Newman wants to capitalize on the momentum. Mirroring the restrictions for abortion access, she says, allowed her to show the “ridiculousness” of both the pro-gun lobby and the pro-life one.

“If this is one way that I can influence a voter to keep this their number one issue, then it’s something,” she said. “It’s something.”

Correction 12/4/15 3:45 p.m.: A previous version of this article stated that Missouri had two abortion clinics. It has one.