Closing the Terror Gap in American Gun Laws

Posted on Tuesday, November 17th, 2015

Paris vigil
Last week, the world watched in horror as Paris came under attack–129 killed in coordinated mass shootings and bombings across the city. Our hearts are with the victims, their families, and those who survived the attack, and we stand with the people of the world in calling for an end to the kind of senseless violence that terrorized Paris and the global community this weekend.

As gun law experts, we know universal background checks and more effective mental health screenings will help prevent many of the headline-grabbing shootings we’ve seen in the last several years—these are effective, powerful ways to curb gun violence in our communities. But, it’s also important that we consider our nation’s security in the aftermath of the Paris attacks by looking at gaps in our gun laws–specifically concerning acts of terrorism.

One such weakness, the “terror gap,” persists because a hole in federal legislation does not bar those on the terrorist watchlist from purchasing firearms. Unlike felons, the dangerously mentally ill, and certain drug abusers, federal law does not prohibit known or suspected terrorists from purchasing guns. Though 82% of NRA members and 86% of non-NRA gun owners support such legislation, only one state (New Jersey in 2013) has taken appropriate steps to address the terror gap. This failure to act has resulted in drastic consequences:

To be clear, Friday’s attacks were not the result of weak national gun laws; with some of the most progressive gun laws in the world, France’s annual death rate from firearms is drastically lower than that of the United States. But illegal trafficking from nearby countries increases the availability of deadly weapons and makes it easier for terrorists to carry out acts of violence.

Within our own borders, weak gun laws in most states make it easy for deadly firearms to fall into the wrong hands. And this fact is far from a secret—a senior al-Qaeda leader even lauded how simple it is to obtain firearms in America, releasing a video message to urge followers to buy guns in states without universal background checks.

Acts of terrorism like the ones we witnessed last week and many of the strategies for combatting them are different in kind from the gun violence we see in American communities on a daily basis, but both situations are amplified by overwhelmingly easy access to deadly weapons. Trafficking may be what enables deplorable acts of terrorism like what we saw in Paris, but with effective legislation to close the terror gap, we can take important steps to ensure a safer, more secure environment for everyone.

Calling For a New Approach to Gun Violence Research

Posted on Wednesday, November 11th, 2015


With 100,000 Americans shot every year—and 30,000 dying from those wounds—gun violence is undoubtedly a major health crisis in the United States. To outline the leading causes of injury death by age, we highlighted instances of gun violence in this chart to show just how pervasive the issue is—and how urgently we need reforms and smart gun laws to protect communities from tragedy.

CDC CHART FINAL Click to enlarge.

Ranking in the top 10 for injury deaths for all ages except babies under the age of 1, we know guns threaten us at every single stage in our lives.
Compiled using data from the Centers for Disease Control, the chart not only reveals the destructive nature of gun violence, but also shows just how instrumental the CDC’s research is in understanding the health issues that plague the United States. We’re proud to stand with California representative Mike Honda, who recently introduced a bill calling for an end to the CDC’s ban on gun violence research, to offer Americans a data-driven approach to ending this epidemic. We desperately need to support efforts toward transparency in determining what threatens our safety—especially when one of those threats is as preventable as gun violence.

We’ve broken down the chart into some key takeaways:

  • Ranking in the top five causes of death for Americans between the ages of 5 and 44, firearm homicide is an overwhelming threat at almost every age.
  • Firearm suicide—the third leading cause of death for children ages 10–14—remains in the top four causes of death for all subsequent age groups. With guns, the decision to take one’s own life is almost always irreversible—even if the person making that decision is only in the fourth grade.
  • Tragically, unintentional firearm deaths rank 10th and ninth for children ages 5–9 and 10–14, respectively. With guns in the home, children or toddlers looking for their toys and playing with their siblings can find deadly weapons instead—and kill themselves or their siblings without knowing the consequences that will follow them for the rest of their lives. Gun locks, safe storage practices and child access prevention laws can help prevent these senseless shootings.

This year, for the first time, firearm deaths are expected to take more lives in the 15–24 age group than motor vehicle accidents. The continual string of tragic school shootings and violence among young adults reminds us on a daily basis just how suddenly a promising life can end and how devastating it is that more and more young people are dying as a result of completely preventable gun violence.

Though we may only hear about shootings in the media when extreme or shocking mass shootings occur, the facts show that gun violence is a lethal threat to American lives each and every day. We need to implement smart gun laws that reverse the trend of horrific gun violence in the United States—not only through common sense solutions such as universal background checks and ammunition regulations, but by supporting government agencies, such as the CDC, designed to ensure our safety by taking on challenges to our public health.

For more information on how to keep children safe from unintended shootings, see our Commonsense Solutions Toolkit.

Smart Gun Laws Protect Families from Domestic Violence

Posted on Friday, October 30th, 2015

DV-blog-graphicIt’s a fact that guns and domestic violence are a lethal combination in America—they’re the most common weapons used by abusers who kill their partners, and are by far the most deadly. As Domestic Violence Awareness Month comes to a close, we hope Americans gain a deeper understanding of the grave danger domestic abusers pose to public safety—especially when guns are involved.

  • Domestic violence situations involving guns are 12 times more likely to result in death than other weapons or bodily force.
  • Domestic abuse situations are five times more likely to be fatal if the abuser has access to a gun.
  • Women in the United States are 11 times more likely to be murdered with a gun than in other high-income countries.

And yet, in spite of this information, federal law contains deadly loopholes that let domestic abusers buy and possess firearms—especially if they already own them.

Despite inaction at the federal level, 18 states have passed new laws to protect victims of domestic violence from gunfire since 2013. These powerful pieces of legislation restrict convicted abusers from accessing guns or make it easier for law enforcement to remove guns from abusers who own them. These state laws are important because they directly address gaps in current policy regarding stalkers and dating partners and help background check systems identify convicted abusers.

For example, a new law in Delaware, which Governor Jack Markell signed earlier this month, extends the state’s gun prohibition to people convicted of dating partner abuse. The law also adds accountability to the requirement that domestic abusers subject to protective orders surrender their guns. Our attorneys worked closely with Americans for Responsible Solutions and local domestic violence and gun safety advocates to craft this lifesaving law.

The momentum for better domestic violence laws shows no signs of stopping—even states with strong gun cultures, like Utah and Louisiana, which both score an F on our Gun Law State Scorecard, have enacted laws barring domestic abusers from possessing firearms in recent years.

For more information on the laws states can pass to help protect victims of domestic abuse, see our Commonsense Solutions Toolkit: State Laws to Address Gun Violence Against Women.

For more information about existing domestic violence gun laws, visit our policy page.

See how your state stacks up when it comes to domestic violence gun laws and join the campaign to Protect All Women.

Teaming Up with the Lieutenant Governor to End Gun Violence in California

Posted on Thursday, October 15th, 2015

IMG_3519The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence is proud to join California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom in launching the Safety for All ballot initiative, a series of lifesaving smart gun laws that will further strengthen the Golden State’s commitment to improving public safety.

The announcement was made at 101 California Street in San Francisco—the site of the 1993 mass shooting at the law firm Pettit & Martin that killed eight and injured six. The Law Center was founded in the wake of that tragedy more than two decades ago, and since then we’ve become the premier resource for legal expertise and information about America’s gun laws.

The initiative will include five provisions, which will appear on the November 2016 ballot:

  • Prohibit Possession of Large-Capacity Military-Style Magazines: The Safety for All initiative outlaws possession of large-capacity magazines of 11 rounds or more and provides for their legal disposal. If passed, California would join New York, New Jersey, Hawaii, and the District of Columbia in banning possession of these military-style magazines.
  • Treat Ammunition Sales Like Gun Sales: The initiative requires licensing of ammunition vendors and point-of-sale background checks for ammunition purchases. Under the initiative, if a person is convicted of a felony, a violent misdemeanor, has a restraining order, or has been declared dangerously mentally ill, they will no longer be able to buy ammunition in California. California would be the first state to require ammunition background checks at the point of sale.
  • Ensure People Prohibited from Owning Guns Do Not Possess Them: The initiative defines a clear firearms relinquishment process for those convicted of a felony or a violent misdemeanor.
  • Require Reporting Lost or Stolen Guns: The initiative requires firearm owners to notify law enforcement if their firearm has been lost or stolen. With the Safety for All initiative, California would join 11 other states and the City of Sacramento in requiring lost and/or stolen firearm reporting.
  • Share Data with Federal System on Prohibited People: The initiative mandates that California share data with the FBI/NICS (National Instant Criminal Background Check System).

California has long led the nation when it comes to passing the smart gun laws that save lives, and this ballot initiative furthers that leadership by keeping guns and ammunition away from dangerous people. We’re proud to stand with Lieutenant Governor Newsom in the fight to bring sanity back to America’s gun laws.


Learn more about the ballot initiative at the Safety for All Act website.

Read the full text of the Safety for All Act.

Medical Gag Laws: A Deadly Mistake

Posted on Wednesday, October 14th, 2015

facebook.whitepaper.C2P.Shareable.gunsafety.2015Across the country, state lawmakers are proposing bills that pit politics against patient care—and healthcare providers are caught in the middle. Medical “gag laws” dictate what doctors can and cannot say to patients about a host of important public health issues, including gun safety. At the Law Center, we’re committed to ensuring Americans know the urgent threat that gun violence poses to public health, which is why we’re excited to collaborate with other members of the Coalition to Protect the Patient-Provider Relationship on a new report detailing the hazardous impact of gag laws.

Politics in the Exam Room: A Growing Threat examines state laws that dictate what doctors can and cannot say to patients about treatment and safety when it comes to a host of health issues, like toxic chemical exposure from fracking, women’s reproductive health, and gun safety. The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence is proud to join the National Partnership for Women & Families, National Physicians Alliance (NPA), and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) in examining these measures.

We know gun violence is a public health epidemic—data from the Centers for Disease Control shows there were an astonishing 117,621 incidents of gun violence in 2013, which means 322 people are shot per day in the United States.

In light of this fact, we know medical professionals are poised to speak with authority when it comes to ensuring safety around guns. One study reports that 64% of people who received advice from their doctors on safely storing firearms improved their gun safety practices, such as using trigger locks and gun safes to prevent unintentional shootings, suicide, and gun theft.

Florida, home to some of the weakest gun laws in the country, enacted the most restrictive gun-related medical gag law in 2011. It subjects healthcare providers, including pediatricians, to severe disciplinary action for inquiring about whether a patient owns a gun and if it is secured and out of reach of children. A number of other states have tried (and failed, thanks to efforts by the Law Center and other gun safety advocates) to implement similar measures, and more states are expected to propose similar legislation in 2016.

The report strongly urges lawmakers to reject or repeal any legislation that interferes with the patient-provider relationship or forces healthcare providers to violate accepted, evidence-based medical practices for political reasons. Our attorneys are committed to defending the lifesaving conversations born from trusting patient-provider relationships, and we respect the Hippocratic Oath that doctors have sworn for centuries—“First, do no harm.”

To learn more about the risks medical gag laws impose on the patient-provider relationship, read the full report: Politics in the Exam Room: A Growing Threat.

To learn more specifics about a public health approach to solving gun violence: Gun Safety and Public Health.



The President is Right: Thoughts and Prayers Are Not Enough

Posted on Monday, October 5th, 2015


We find ourselves, yet again, in the aftermath of another tragic school shooting–this time at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. A gunman opened fire on campus last Thursday, killing nine students and injuring seven others. The incident was the 142nd school shooting since the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary, and the 294th mass shooting in the United States this year–which means we’ve averaged more than one mass shooting per day.

And again we’re left wondering when the political agenda set by our lawmakers will follow the will of the people. We know the vast majority of Americans support commonsense solutions that save lives from gunfire. 92 percent of Americans support universal background checks—and 92 percent of gun owners do too. It’s time our laws and leadership reflected that support, a sentiment our executive director, Robyn Thomas, expressed in a recent New York Times op-ed.

Hours after last week’s tragedy, President Barack Obama spoke of the urgent need for smart gun laws like universal background checks and gun violence protective orders—we applaud his leadership, and the Law Center is proud to stand with President Obama in the fight to bring some sanity to our gun laws.

“And it will require that the American people, individually, whether you are a Democrat or a Republican or an independent, when you decide to vote for somebody, are making a determination as to whether this cause of continuing death for innocent people should be a relevant factor in your decision,” the president said on Thursday. “If you think this is a problem, then you should expect your elected officials to reflect your views.”

We agree—Americans must start holding their lawmakers accountable when it comes to passing the kind of legislation that could help prevent another Roseburg—or Charleston, or Lafayette, or Chattanooga, or any of the other 294 mass shootings this year—from happening.

  • Gun Violence Protective Orders: Also known as gun violence restraining orders, these laws empower families and law enforcement to petition a judge to remove guns from individuals who pose a risk to themselves or others. Shooters often exhibit dangerous warning signs and GVPO laws help keep guns away from people with the intent to harm. California passed a landmark GVPO law last year in response to the shooting at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
  • Limiting bulk purchase of guns and regulating ammunition sales: Firearms purchased in “multiple sales” are more frequently used in crimes, and mass shooters often stockpile ammunition, as seen in the 2012 mass shooting in an Aurora, CO cinema that left 12 dead and 28 injured.

The Law Center has made preventing mass shootings a top priority for over two decades—our organization was founded in the wake of a 1993 assault weapon rampage that killed eight and left six wounded. Our lawyers track gun laws in all 50 states, which we compile into our annual Gun Law State ScorecardIn 2014, we gave Oregon a D+ for their gun laws.

We already know what steps need to be taken to prevent the senseless killings that occur in communities across the United States. And while 117 new smart gun laws have been enacted in 39 states since Newtown, many lawmakers at the state and federal level continue to bow to the gun lobby’s deadly agenda. The Law Center is on the front lines of the battle against gun violence, and we need you to raise your voice in support of smart gun laws. Become a member today and join us in demanding more from the leaders that we elect to represent us—help us save lives. 

For more information about gun laws in Oregon, visit our policy page.

For a comprehensive analysis and state by state ranking of gun laws across the United States, visit our Gun Law State Scorecard.

Smart Gun Laws and Suicide Prevention

Posted on Friday, September 11th, 2015

September is National Suicide Prevention Month. More than 40,000 Americans die by suicide every year, and more than half of those deaths involve guns. To put that number in perspective, almost five times as many Americans will die this year from self-inflicted gunshot wounds than died in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan combined.

Waiting periodOur mission is to fight for the laws we know will save lives, and that includes ones that prevent suicide. The gun lobby likes to treat these deaths like they don’t matter. They claim it’s not a gun issue. That if we keep guns out of the hands of suicidal people, they’ll just find another way. We refuse to accept that, and the data backs us up. Some facts from Harvard University’s School of Public Health:

  • Suicide is often impulsive: 71% of attempts take place within one hour of making the decision
  • Suicide attempts with a gun are 85% fatal—more than all other methods combined
  • Gun availability is a significant risk factor: 52% of suicides involve firearms

A compelling new study published in the American Journal of Public Health examined the Law Center’s data to measure the impact of gun laws on suicide rates. They found that, just like with gun death rates, gun suicide rates—and overall suicide rates—are significantly lower in states with smart gun laws such as safe storage, waiting periods, and universal background checks.

Laws are just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to stopping suicide. Access to better healthcare and reducing the stigma surrounding mental illness are also essential steps that save lives.

For more information on how smart gun laws can reduce these types of deaths–especially for teenagers, who are at a particularly high risk–read and share our Commonsense Solutions toolkit on mental health, produced with our partners at Americans for Responsible Solutions.

We won’t let the gun lobby bully our leaders into thinking that certain lives don’t “count” when it comes to gun violence. And we won’t stop fighting for lifesaving smart gun laws until every American is protected from the devastation of gunfire.

Keeping California on the Leading Edge of Smart Gun Laws

Posted on Saturday, August 29th, 2015


The Law Center is committed to continuing to shape California’s common-sense approach to responsible gun ownership and safety. Our attorneys are busy: tracking laws, testifying at public safety hearings, and working alongside lawmakers to pass legislation that will keep the Golden State a model for the rest of the nation when it comes to enacting smart gun laws that save lives.

California’s 2015 legislative session has now concluded, and we are proud that the Governor signed SB 707 (“gun-free school zone”) to eliminate a dangerous loophole in California’s Gun-Free School Zone Act by prohibiting individuals licensed to carry concealed handguns from carrying concealed, loaded weapons onto school grounds without the written permission of school officials. This legislation will help ensure that school administrators have the discretion they need to provide students with a safe and secure learning environment.

To learn more about all of the firearm-related bills introduced in the California State Legislature this year, check out our comprehensive 2015 California Legislative Summary below.

For more info on legislative trends that are currently developing nationwide, read our 2015 State Gun Law Trendwatch.


After a Summer of Violence, Smart Gun Laws Are the Solution

Posted on Friday, August 28th, 2015

RoanokeThe horrific streak of highly publicized shootings this summer has left many reeling, including us. With each passing day, the death toll from gun violence climbs, and the urgent need to adopt smart gun laws becomes clearer and clearer. At the Law Center, we’re mourning these horrific tragedies, but we’re also taking action: our legal experts have redoubled their efforts to find common-sense solutions to the epidemic of gun violence playing out in America.

There are a few key policy areas that must be strengthened in order to prevent tragedies of the magnitude we’ve seen over the last few months, beginning with the racially motivated massacre at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, right up to this week’s on-camera execution of two Virginia journalists. We lose 80 Americans a day to gun violence, and, in 2015, for the first time, more young people will die from guns than from cars. If we want that madness to end, we must push for smarter gun laws:

Universal background checks provide the first line of defense—they help keep guns from falling into the wrong hands. Federal law still has a dangerous loophole that allows prohibited people—the dangerously mentally ill, drug abusers, convicted domestic abusers and felons—to easily purchase guns through private or online sales. With the rise of the internet and social media since the Brady Bill was first passed in 1993, the need to close this loophole has become exponentially more urgent.

State reporting improvements also must be made in order for the National Instant Criminal Background Check System to issue accurate reports on potential gun buyers. Many states fail to comprehensively report essential information like criminal history, mental health status, domestic violence records, and illicit drug abuse records to the agencies that perform background checks. Increasing NICS funding and stronger incentives and penalties on states to report relevant records to NICS will close this dangerous gap in the background checks system.

Gun Violence Restraining Orders (GVRO) empower families and law enforcement to petition a judge to remove guns from relatives who pose a risk to themselves or others. Shooters often exhibit dangerous warning signs, and GVRO laws help keep guns away from people with the intent to harm. California passed a landmark GVRO last year, in response to the shooting at the University of California, Santa Barbara. How many other mass shootings could have been prevented had the shooters’ families had legal recourse to keep them away from deadly weapons?

In statehouses across the country, the fight for smart gun laws continues—the good news is, we’re winning. Since the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012, lawmakers have passed more than 99 lifesaving smart gun laws in 37 states. In states with smart gun laws, like the ones mentioned above, their gun death rates have plummeted, as you can see on our annual Gun Law State Scorecard. And we continue to defeat the gun lobby in court—93 percent of Second Amendment challenges to existing gun laws have failed since the landmark Heller decision in 2008. Americans overwhelmingly support smart gun laws, and we owe it to the 30,000 victims of gun violence to fight for these lifesaving policies.

Protecting Strong Gun Laws: The Supreme Court Leaves Lower Court Victories Untouched

Posted on Wednesday, August 26th, 2015


In the last seven years, the U.S. Supreme Court has rejected more than sixty cases seeking to expand the very limited right defined in the unprecedented Second Amendment case, District of Columbia v. Heller. By repeatedly declining to review lower court decisions upholding federal, state, and local gun laws, the Supreme Court has maintained important limitations on the Second Amendment and has reconfirmed that the CERTGraphicAmendment is not an obstacle to smart gun laws that keep our communities safe from gun violence.

Since the Court’s decision in the Heller case 2008, lower courts across the country have been inundated with costly and time-consuming challenges to state and local gun laws.  However, lower courts have consistently upheld these laws, noting that many of these laws have been successful at protecting people from gun violence and keeping guns out of the hands of criminals while still allowing law-abiding citizens to keep guns in their homes for self defense.  Since 2008, there have been over 1,000 Second Amendment cases challenging gun laws nationwide, with an overwhelming majority—94%—of the lower court decisions upholding those laws.

Many of these Second Amendment challenges to gun laws make their way to the Supreme Court.  However, the Court has refused to hear these cases,1 leaving lower court decisions upholding the laws intact and keeping strong gun laws on the books.  For example, the Supreme Court has refused to hear cases that:

  1. In 2010, the Court decided McDonald v. City of Chicago, which held that the right recognized in Heller extends to state and local governments.  That case involved a Chicago law nearly identical to the one struck down in Heller and did not expand the substantive scope of the Second Amendment. []