Arizona Firing Range Tragedy: The Law Center Calls for a Common Sense Approach to Children and Guns

Posted on Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014

By now, you have probably heard the news. Last week, a 9-year-old girl accidentally shot and killed her shooting instructor while firing an Uzi at the Last Stop shooting range in White Hills, Arizona. In the public outcry that followed, the Law Center received many requests from the media about how a tragedy like this could even occur. Sadly, this was not an isolated incident. In 2008, a similar shooting occurred in Massachusetts when an 8-year-old boy lost his life while handling an Uzi at a gun show. 

The unfortunate reality is very few states have laws on the books prohibiting child access to powerful automatic weapons. These horrific incidents highlight the need for stronger laws that restrict easy access to firearms by children and cut down on accidental shootings. The problem is real: between 1999 and 2010, more than 8,300 Americans were killed by accidental gun fire and roughly 25% of those deaths were young people under the age of 21. Each year in America, over 16,000 people are treated in hospital emergency rooms for unintentional gunshot wounds.

Despite these sobering numbers, far too many states, like Arizona, do not have any laws in place to keep guns out of the hands of small children. When it comes to the strength of its laws to reduce gun violence, the Law Center gives Arizona an “F.” Unfortunately, 24 other states currently receive the same failing grade. To learn more about weak gun laws in Arizona, visit our Arizona State Law Summary. To learn more about your state’s gun laws, visit Gun Laws by State.

Watch this CNN story on the Arizona tragedy and join the Law Center in calling for common sense laws that keep deadly automatic weapons out of the hands of our children. To learn more about kids and guns, visit our Minimum Age to Purchase & Possess Firearms Policy Summary and our Child Access Prevention Policy Summary.

2014 California Firearms Legislation: Important Gun Safety Bills on the Governor’s Desk

Posted on Monday, September 1st, 2014

CA State Capitol Building

The Law Center is tracking numerous gun violence prevention measures that have made their way through the California Legislature this year.  The Law Center supports four bills that are currently on the Governor’s desk to improve public safety, including AB 1014, which would create a new “Gun Violence Restraining Order” procedure.  The Governor has already signed two gun safety bills into law and four bills introduced to weaken the state’s gun laws were defeated in the legislature earlier this year.

The complete text of all California bills can be found at http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov.  For a full description of existing laws to reduce gun violence in California, visit our summary of California gun laws.

For more information on the status of bills in other states, visit our 2014 summary of gun bills nationwide.bills-signed-into-law

AB 1964 (Dickenson): Closing the “Single-Shot Exemption” Loophole –  California law requires that all semiautomatic handgun models sold in the state be certified as not unsafe by the Department of Justice after meeting certain required safety standards.  Prior law included an exception for so-called “single shot” pistols that could be temporarily modified to not fire on a semiautomatic basis in order to circumvent California’s safety standards.  AB 1964 closes that loophole by clarifying that the unsafe handgun law applies to semiautomatic pistols that have been temporarily or permanently altered so that they will not fire in a semiautomatic mode.

Law Center Position:  Support

Status: This bill was signed by the Governor on July 18, 2014.

AB 1591 (Archadjian):  Court Notifications – Under current law, courts are required to notify the California Department of Justice if they make a determination about a person’s mental state which would prohibit him or her from possessing a gun under California law.  AB 1591 will speed up this process by requiring such notifications to be made within one court day.

Law Center Position:  Support

Status: This bill was signed by the Governor on July 18, 2014.pending-legislation

AB 1014 (Skinner): Gun Violence Restraining Order (GVRO) – This bill, which is modeled on California’s existing domestic violence restraining order laws, would establish a procedure to allow concerned family members or law enforcement officers to petition a court for a Gun Violence Restraining Order (GVRO). In situations where there is sufficient evidence for a judge to believe that an individual poses a danger to self or others, the GVRO would temporarily limit the individual from purchasing or possessing firearms or ammunition and would allow law enforcement to remove any firearms or ammunition already in his or her possession. To avoid the potential for abuse of this new procedure, the bill would create penalties for anyone who files a petition intending to harass the named individual or knowing that any of the information provided in the petition is false.

Law Center Position:  Support

Status:  This bill passed the California Legislature on August 29, and is now on the Governor’s desk.

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District Court Strikes Down Washington, D.C. Ban on Public Carrying of Handguns

Posted on Monday, August 25th, 2014

Overlooking-DC

For many years, the District of Columbia prohibited individuals from carrying handguns in public in order to protect District residents and visitors from gun violence. On July 26, 2014, however, a trial court judge interpreted the Second Amendment to allow individuals to carry guns outside of the home, and struck down the District’s policy. The judge’s ruling in the case, Palmer v. District of Columbia, allows residents and non-residents alike to carry handguns1. Fortunately,The ruling has been stayed for 90 days to allow the District to appeal the decision, or institute a licensing scheme that regulates the carrying of guns in public.

By far the most litigated Second Amendment issue since the Supreme Court’s controversial 2008 decision in Heller v. District of Columbia—which found that law-abiding, responsible individuals have a right to own an operable handgun for self-defense in the home—is whether the Second Amendment also protects a right to carry a firearm outside the home.2  As the Palmer court recognized, the Supreme Court has not yet ruled on this issue3, while a significant number of lower courts have concluded that the Second Amendment only protects the right to possess a gun for self-defense in the home. Nonetheless, since Heller, emboldened gun-lobby groups and individual plaintiffs have brought an onslaught of cases challenging laws that regulate a person’s ability to carry a gun outside of the home.

As of 2012, the only two jurisdictions prohibiting the practice of possessing guns outside the home were Washington, D.C. and Illinois. Illinois’ law was struck down in 2012 on Second Amendment grounds by the Seventh Circuit in Moore v. Madigan.4  The Moore court made clear, however, that laws regulating the possession of guns outside the home are permissible and the court suggested that regulations granting law enforcement discretion to issue concealed carry permits would be constitutional.

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  1. 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 101945. The Palmer court held that the District cannot prohibit non-residents from carrying firearms in the District solely because they are not District residents. The court reasoned that non-residents also have a Second Amendment right to carry guns outside the home for self-defense. However, in Peterson v. Martinez, 707 F.3d 1197, 1202 (10th Cir. 2013), the Tenth Circuit upheld Colorado’s law limiting concealed carry permits to Colorado residents. The court found the residency requirement to be constitutional and substantially related to the important government interest of protecting public safety. And in Dearth v. Holder, 641 F.3d 499, 500-501 (D.C. Cir. 2011), the District of Columbia Circuit Court also upheld a federal law requiring a gun purchaser to be a U.S. resident. []
  2. 554 U.S. 570, 626 (2008). []
  3. Without Supreme Court precedent on this issue, the Palmer decision relied heavily on a radical and extreme 2-1 decision by the Ninth Circuit in Peruta v. County of San Diego, 742 F.3d 1144 (9th Cir. 2014) [link to write up about Peruta]. In Peruta, a divided panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a San Diego policy requiring an applicant for a permit to carry a concealed firearm in public to demonstrate “good cause” to carry a firearm above and beyond a general desire for self-defense. The State of California has sought to intervene in the case and requested en banc review from a full Ninth Circuit panel of judges, which may result in the overturning of the original decision. Additionally, the Palmer court based its decision on Moore v. Madigan 708 F.3d 901, 903 (7th Cir. Ill. 2013). []
  4. 708 F.3d 901, 903 (7th Cir. Ill. 2013). []

The Commonsense Gun Laws Partnership: A Collaboration Dedicated to Preventing Gun Violence

Posted on Friday, August 15th, 2014

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Earlier this year, we announced an exciting new partnership between the Law Center and Americans for Responsible Solutions (ARS), the organization founded by former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, retired combat veteran and NASA astronaut Mark Kelly. Together, we are committed to bringing some sanity to our nation’s gun laws.

With our more than 20 years of research and knowledge on the nation’s gun laws, and the powerful grassroots network cultivated by Americans for Responsible Solutions, together we are producing tools that will empower lawmakers and community members to stop gun violence before it happens.

The Law Center and Americans for Responsible Solutions will assist legislators by creating a series of toolkits that will aid in developing solutions to protect communities from gun violence while ensuring that the legislation complies with the Second Amendment. The toolkits on each topic will provide:

  • Evidence of the particular gap in current laws that perpetuate gun violence;
  • Effective, tested solutions to close the loophole;
  • Policy rationale for action;
  • Legal basis for new laws; and
  • Most importantly – straight-forward features of the policies that will guide legislative drafting.

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Victory in the Courts: Maryland’s Ban on Assault Weapons and Large Capacity Ammunition Magazines Upheld

Posted on Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

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In a victory for gun safety, a U.S. District Court on Tuesday, August 12 upheld all aspects of Maryland’s Firearm Safety Act of 2013.  The law, enacted in the wake of the devastating shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, prohibits certain assault weapons and large capacity ammunition magazines (“LCAMs”).  Plaintiffs in the case, individual gun owners as well as a number of pro-gun organizations, argued unsuccessfully that the Act violates the Second Amendment.  With its decision, the District Court in Kolbe v. O’Malley joins an ever-growing number of courts that have unanimously upheld laws around the country prohibiting dangerous, military-style assault weapons and LCAMs.

In reviewing the law, the court first asked whether assault weapons and LCAMs (magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds) fall within the scope of the Second Amendment, which does not protect “dangerous and unusual weapons,” but only those “typically possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes.”  The court noted that assault weapons “represent no more than 3% of the current civilian gun stock, and ownership of those weapons is highly concentrated in less than 1% of the U.S. population.”  Moreover, assault weapons “are used disproportionately” in both mass shootings and attacks on law enforcement officers and “cause more injuries and more fatalities when they are used.”  Given this evidence, the court expressed its “serious[] doubts that the banned assault long guns are commonly possessed for lawful purposes” and was “inclined to find” that such weapons fall outside the Second Amendment as dangerous and unusual.

A final ruling on that question was not issued, however, because the court found the entire Act to easily survive constitutional review.  In holding that the Act only minimally burdens the Second Amendment, the court pointed out that the law “does not seriously impact a person’s ability to defend himself in the home…[i]n fact, the plaintiffs can point to no instance where assault weapons or LCAMs were used or useful in an instance of self-defense in Maryland.”  The court also noted persuasive evidence showing that “assault weapons have several military-style features which make them especially dangerous to law enforcement and civilians,” and that LCAMs are used disproportionately in mass shootings and in the killing of law enforcement officers.  Given these facts, the court concluded that the Act “substantially serves the government’s interest in protecting public safety, and it does so without significantly burdening” the Second Amendment right of “law-abiding, responsible citizens to use arms in defense of hearth and home.”

This case is part of an overall trend in courts across the nation, where the vast majority of challenges to common sense gun regulations are rejected.  In over 900 decisions tracked by the Law Center, approximately 96% of Second Amendment challenges were rejected—further proof that sensible firearm regulations are totally compatible with the Second Amendment.

For more, visit our overview of Maryland’s gun laws or read about limits on assault weapons and large capacity ammunition magazines in states across the country.

Eleventh Circuit Upholds Florida Law Preventing Doctors from Asking About Gun Ownership

Posted on Thursday, July 31st, 2014

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On July 25, 2014, in a surprising and disappointing decision, a three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit upheld a Florida state law that limits doctors’ ability to speak to their patients about gun safety.1 Dubbed the “gag rule,” this law prevents doctors from even asking patients about gun ownership as part of routine care to prevent the potentially devastating effects of gun violence. The decision reverses a U.S. District Court’s 2012 decision, which invalidated the law on the grounds that it violates physicians’ First Amendment rights and “chills practitioners’ speech in a way that impairs the provision of medical care and may ultimately harm the patient.”2

Gun violence is a public health epidemic in the U.S. and of great concern to health care providers. Over 7,000 children are hospitalized or killed due to gun violence every year.3 Extensive research has shown that the presence of a gun in a home makes its residents less safe. A national study of those who died from accidental shootings showed that victims were more than three times more likely to have had a gun in their home as those in the control group.4 The danger of unintentional shootings is especially grave for homes with childrenEighty-nine percent of unintentional shooting deaths of children occur in the home—and most of these deaths occur when children are handling a loaded gun in their parents’ absence.5

Doctors can play an important role in reducing childhood death and injury from guns. According to one recent study, 64% of individuals who received verbal firearm storage safety counseling from their doctors improved their gun safety practices.6  Numerous medical organizations, including the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American College of Physicians, and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), believe that gun violence can be lessened by providing patients and parents with information about gun safety. The AAP recommends that conversations about guns and gun safety start during a prenatal visit and be repeated every year as part of anticipatory guidance. Indeed, doctors routinely talk to their patients about a range of public health hazards in the home, including backyard swimming pools, tobacco, and household cleaners and toxins.

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  1.  Wollschlaeger v. Florida, No. 12-14009 (11th Cir. Jul. 25, 2014). []
  2. Wollschlaeger v. Farmer, 880 F. Supp. 2d 1251, 1267 (S.D. Fla., 2012). []
  3. Dennis Thompson, 20 U.S. Kids Hospitalized Each Day for Gun InjuriesWebMD (Jan. 27, 2014), available at http://www.webmd.com/parenting/news/20140127/twenty-us-kids-hospitalized-each-day-for-gun-injuries-study. []
  4. Douglas J. Wiebe, Firearms in U.S. Homes as a Risk Factor for Unintentional Gunshot Fatality, 35 Accident Analysis & Prevention 711, 713-14 (2003). []
  5. Guohua Li et al., Factors Associated with the Intent of Firearm-Related Injuries in Pediatric Trauma Patients, 150 Archives Of Pediatric & Adolescent Med. 1160, 1162 (1996). []
  6. Teresa L. Albright & Sandra K. Burge, Improving Firearm Storage Habits: Impact of Brief Office Counseling by Family Physicians, 16 J. of the Am. Bd. of Family Practice 40, 40 (2003). []

Victory in California: Governor Brown Signs Two New Gun Safety Bills

Posted on Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014

SONY DSCOn Friday, July 22, California Governor Jerry Brown signed two important gun safety bills into law, one that will close a large loophole in California’s “Unsafe Handgun” law and another that will speed up court communication with law enforcement regarding mental health records.

AB 1964: Closing a Dangerous Loophole

California’s “Unsafe Handgun” law, on the books since 1999, requires handguns sold in the state to first pass standard safety testing and be equipped with basic safety features, such as loaded chamber indicators, which are designed to help prevent accidental shootings. A loophole in this law allowed single-shot handguns to completely bypass these safety requirements. After being sold, these single-shot handguns could be easily modified back into their fully-functional, semiautomatic form, creating a dangerous and frequently exploited situation. Last year alone, 18,000 single-shot handguns were sold in California.

AB 1964 closes this loophole and will ensure that the “Unsafe Handgun” law truly covers all handguns. This will keep dangerous junk guns off the streets and ensure that every handgun sold in the state complies with California’s rigorous safety standards.

AB 1591: Speeding Up Communication between Courts and the CA Department of Justice

Under current law, when a court takes an action that would prohibit a person from possessing a firearm because of mental health—such as a finding that the person is mentally incompetent to stand trial—that action must be reported to the California Department of Justice within two court days. The reported information is critical in helping to ensure that firearms are not acquired by individuals who might pose a danger to themselves or others. AB 1591 speeds up communication between courts and the CA Department of Justice by requiring that this important data is reported as quickly as possible, within one court day.

The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence is confident both of these laws will reduce gun violence in our state and we applaud the Governor and the Legislature for taking steps to keep Californians safe. For more information on pending gun safety legislation in California, including SB 53, the Law Center’s priority bill for 2014 which would regulate ammunition sales, see our update on California Legislation. For a full description of existing laws to reduce gun violence in California, visit our summary of California gun laws.

Warning Signs: Preventing Gun Violence in Crisis Situations

Posted on Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014

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The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence is proud to partner with Americans for Responsible Solutions to release Warning Signs: Preventing Gun Violence in Crisis Situations. This collaborative report provides analysis of laws that help to empower community members to prevent gun violence in crisis situations.

Together, the Law Center and Americans for Responsible Solutions will continue to develop solutions to keep guns out of dangerous hands through careful research and legislative drafting. The Law Center’s unparalleled legal expertise and the formidable grassroots network of Americans for Responsible Solutions will ensure that the best information available on smart gun policies reaches legislators nationwide.

Download a PDF copy of Warning Signs: Preventing Gun Violence in Crisis Situations

Preventing the Next Mass Shooting Before It’s News

Columbine, Virginia Tech, Tucson, Aurora, Newtown. Most Americans can easily list many of the high profile mass shootings that our nation has experienced. News reports after these events frequently mention that friends, family members, and acquaintances noted a change in the shooter’s behavior in the time leading up to the tragedy. While a variety of legislative proposals can help reduce mass shootings, one approach is to give community members ways to act, so that access to guns can be temporarily removed when a person is in crisis.

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The Law Center’s 21st Anniversary Dinner – June 25, 2014

Posted on Monday, July 14th, 2014

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Thank you to everyone who joined us for the Law Center’s 21st Anniversary Dinner. We were honored to have the opportunity to award Anne Marks from Youth ALIVE! and Gabrielle Giffords and Mark Kelly for their meaningful work. If you missed the event, watch the highlights and hear what Gabby and the other speakers wanted to share with the crowd:

Thirteen-year-old Sukari Wright, a poet with Youth Speaks, also shared her incredibly moving experience with the crowd:

The Law Center’s Anniversary Dinner is always a meaningful event that brings together our community to honor the exceptional efforts of a few key individuals for their outstanding leadership in the gun violence prevention movement. The dinner, with an audience of 500 – 700 attorneys, legal and business professionals, and advocates for smart gun laws from all over the country, is a truly remarkable event without parallel.

We were pleased to honor Gabrielle Giffords and Mark Kelly as well as Youth ALIVE! for their courageous work on this issue at this year’s event.

Thank you to all who joined us on June 25th as we marked 21 years of the Law Center’s work saving lives with smart gun laws, honored outstanding leadership in our community, and energized the efforts of the national movement.


The Law Center’s 21st Anniversary Dinner
June 25, 2014
The Westin St. Francis | San Francisco

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Dangerous Constitutional Amendment Allows Convicted Felons to Challenge Common Sense Gun Laws

Posted on Friday, July 11th, 2014
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Photo by Brett Duke, NOLA.com The Times-Picayune

In early July, the Louisiana Supreme Court unanimously upheld a state law prohibiting convicted felons from possessing firearms. Despite this positive outcome, the case actually illustrates the very real dangers of an alarming trend that has recently emerged in certain parts of the country.

Challenges to the law arose after a dangerous and imprudent amendment was made to Louisiana’s constitution in 2012, requiring that all challenged state gun laws be subject to “strict scrutiny” review— the highest level of judicial review that exists. The Louisiana Constitution, like many other state constitutions, recognizes a right to keep and bear arms. However, in 2012, voters approved an NRA-supported amendment—the first of its kind approved in the U.S.—defining the right as “fundamental” and requiring courts to apply “strict scrutiny” when reviewing firearm regulations.

Because of this new “strict scrutiny” requirement, three convicted felons were able to challenge their convictions under a Louisiana statute which generally bars felons from possessing a firearm for ten years after the completion of their sentence. The challengers to the law in this case had been convicted of a variety of crimes including second degree battery, narcotics trafficking, and unauthorized entry of an inhabited dwelling.

The question was whether Louisiana may prohibit convicted felons from possessing firearms after serving their sentences. The Louisiana Supreme Court found “beyond question” that this law serves to protect public safety by keeping firearms out of the hands of those who are more likely to misuse them. In the words of the court, the case demonstrated that “convicted felons are not only at risk to re-offend, but are at risk to re-offend using firearms.” In upholding the law, the court concluded that “common sense and the public safety allow no other result.”

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