Mid-Year Update: Tracking the Trends in Smart Gun Laws

Posted on Monday, July 20th, 2015

Every year, our attorneys comb the thousands of gun bills introduced into state legislatures across the nation. We’re looking for the bills that will have an impact—both positive and negative—on the devastating effects of gun violence in America.

So far, in 2015, we’ve tracked, summarized, and analyzed 1160 gun bills, and there are still more to come—some states, like California, haven’t finished their legislative cycle yet.

Some standout trends we’ve noticed this year include:

  • Defensive Victories: We’ve seen significant momentum in defeating gun lobby priorities like allowing firearms in schools—campus carry bills were defeated in 14 states and another 15 bills allowing concealed weapons at K—12 schools failed, thanks to efforts by gun violence prevention advocates.

To get the full picture of 2015’s legislative trends, check out the Gun Law Trendwatch 2015 Mid-Year Update. And don’t forget–in December we’ll release an end-of-year summary of all the state legislative activity in 2015, as well as our annual Gun Law State Scorecard, which ranks the states based on the strength of their gun laws.

The Policies that Could Have Prevented the Charleston Shooting

Posted on Monday, July 13th, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-07-13 at 2.55.47 PMIn the aftermath of the horrific, racially motivated mass shooting in Charleston that left nine people at Emanuel AME Church dead, the FBI revealed that the shooter should have failed his background check when he purchased the murder weapon in April. This tragic error draws attention to dangerous flaws in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) that we at the Law Center have been critical of since the system’s inception.

To be clear, NICS has prevented over two million dangerous, prohibited purchasers like felons, domestic abusers, drug addicts, and the dangerously mentally ill from buying guns since its inception, saving countless lives. But there is, clearly, much room for improvement to ensure that the failure that enabled the Charleston shooting doesn’t happen again:

  • State Reporting Improvements: Many states fail to report essential information like criminal history, mental health status, domestic violence records, and, especially important in the Charleston case, illicit drug abuse records to the agencies that perform background checks. Increasing NICS funding and changing federal law to require states to report relevant records to the NICS system will close this dangerous gap in the background checks system.
  • Universal Background Checks: The best way to save lives from gun violence is require background checks on all private sales, including online and at gun shows. South Carolina has abysmal gun laws (we gave them an F on our 2014 Gun Law State Scorecard), and had the Charleston shooter failed his background check at the gun shop (as he should have), he still would have easily been able to purchase a gun through a private sale, where no background check is required. Eighteen states currently have some form of private sale background checks, but until we pass this smart gun law everywhere, we cannot act surprised when dangerous criminals get their hands on deadly weapons so easily.

NICS is great starting place for protecting our citizens from gun violence, but the system must continue to be improved and we must demand that our lawmakers stand up to the gun lobby and adopt lifesaving policies like universal background checks. Momentum is on our side, with 99 new smart gun laws passed in 37 states since Newtown, and we at the Law Center will continue to fight to keep deadly weapons out of the hands of dangerous people.

For more information on the importance of universal background checks, visit our policy page.

Keeping California on the Leading Edge of Smart Gun Laws

Posted on Thursday, July 9th, 2015

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The 2015 legislative session is in full swing, and the Law Center is committed to continue shaping 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.

This year, we are particularly focused on two important bills to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and away from our schools:

SB 347 “prohibited persons”: would require that criminals convicted of firearms-related misdemeanors, like stealing a gun or selling ammunition to children or felons, are not able to possess or purchase a gun within 10 years of their conviction. This bill will protect public safety, given that individuals who commit gun-related crimes are much more likely than law-abiding citizens to commit future offenses, including acts of violence.

SB 707 “gun-free school zone”: would eliminate a dangerous loophole in California’s Gun-Free School Zone Act by prohibiting individuals licensed to carry concealed handguns from carrying their weapons onto school grounds without the written permission of school officials. This bill would 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.

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Law Center and ARS Release Commonsense Solutions Toolkit on Protecting Kids from Unintended Shootings

Posted on Wednesday, June 24th, 2015

We know the fight to end gun violence cannot be won alone—which is why we’ve spent the last year partnering with one of the movement’s most powerful, active organizations, Americans for Responsible Solutions. We’re proud to release the latest in our series of Commonsense Solutions toolkits—this installment addresses the urgent need to protect children from firearms.

Commonsense Solutions: State Gun Laws to Protect Kids from Unintended Shootings is a comprehensive legal resource that offers detailed proposals for smart gun laws and in-home best practices to keep kids from accessing firearms. Our recommendations include child access prevention laws, safe storage methods, and requirements that gun dealers provide safety information.

Too many families have needlessly suffered the devastation of a child lost to an unlocked gun. Almost 1.7 million children under the age of 18 live in homes with loaded, unlocked guns, making them 16 times more likely to be killed in unintentional shootings than in other high-income countries. Commonsense requirements for gun storage and handling can protect the littlest among us from preventable tragedies.

Check out our other Commonsense Solutions toolkits:

State Laws to Address Gun Violence Against Women

State Laws to Expand Background Checks for Unlicensed Gun Sales

How State Laws Can Reduce Gun Deaths Associated with Mental Illness

Charleston and Smart Gun Laws

Posted on Monday, June 22nd, 2015

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As we struggle to process the horrific mass shooting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, we are yet again reminded of the unacceptable toll gun violence has on our communities. More than 30,000 Americans die from gunfire each year. To put this in perspective, during the first seven years of the Iraq War, over 4,400 American soldiers were killed—almost as many civilians are killed with guns in the US every seven weeks.

This year, guns will kill more people under 25 than automobiles, and the gun homicide rate in the US is 20 times higher than in other developed nations. Communities of color are disproportionately impacted, with black men 10 times more likely to be murdered with a gun than white men.

While there may not be a single policy that would have prevented the Emanuel AME Church shooting, the research does show, categorically, that states with comprehensive gun regulation have significantly lower gun death rates, while states with weak gun laws have high gun death rates. South Carolina, which scored an F on our annual Gun Law State Scorecard, has abysmal gun laws and the fifth highest gun homicide rate in the country—41 percent higher than the national average.

South Carolina could make its citizens significantly safer by adopting the following policies:

  • Universal Background Checks: Federal law leaves open a dangerous loophole that allows prohibited people (including criminals, the dangerously mentally ill, drug abusers, and those under indictment for felonies, as some reports indicate the Charleston shooter was) to easily purchase guns through unlicensed sales.
  • Gun Violence Restraining Orders: Last year, California passed a landmark Gun Violence Restraining Order (GVRO) law that empowers families to petition a judge to remove guns from relatives who pose a risk to themselves or others. Mass shooters often exhibit dangerous warning signs and GVRO laws help keep guns out of dangerous hands.
  • Permit to Purchase: Several states, including North Carolina, require all handgun buyers to obtain a “permit to purchase” from local law enforcement, even for unlicensed sales. If South Carolina adopted this law, it would add an additional layer of screening and make it harder for dangerous people to buy firearms.
  • Hate Crime Laws: South Carolina is one of only five states without a hate crime law. By imposing stiffer penalties on crimes motivated by bias, these acts are more effectively discouraged.

The good news is that in the face of tragedies like the one in Charleston, smart gun laws are winning in statehouses across the country. Since the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, an unprecedented 99 new smart gun laws have passed in 37 states, including a historic universal background checks ballot initiative in Washington State. And the gun lobby continues to lose in the courts—93% of Second Amendment challenges to existing gun regulations have failed since the landmark Heller decision in 2008. The American people overwhelmingly support smart gun laws, and we owe it to the victims of the shooting at Emanuel AME Church—as well as the 30,000 others lost to gun violence each year—to keep standing up to the gun lobby and fighting for these lifesaving policies.

Victory in Iowa: Background Checks Saved

Posted on Friday, June 12th, 2015

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Last week, the gun violence prevention movement notched yet another big victory for smart gun laws, this time in Iowa. Currently, potential buyers must apply for a permit to purchase a handgun, renewed annually, but legislation supported by the gun lobby would have repealed this essential safety requirement.

Had the bill passed, a person buying a handgun from a private seller in Iowa would not be required to submit to a background check. These essential provisions help keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people like convicted felons and domestic abusers. Background checks are widely supported by most Americans, and polls show even 74 percent of NRA members support these lifesaving measures.

Many players in the gun violence prevention movement came together to save Iowa’s crucial background check laws. The Law Center is proud to have worked on the frontlines to help defeat this ill-conceived bill, lending the weight of our legal expertise to the chorus of opposition to the gun lobby’s dangerous agenda.

The defeat of this legislation keeps Iowa one of the 18 states who have private sale background checks, and sets an encouraging precedent for the rest of the nation in protecting the public and promoting smarter laws for safer communities.

This victory for background checks in Iowa, and recent others in Washington and Oregon show the powerful impact our movement can have when working together for smart laws that save lives.

For more information on background checks, see our policy page.

San Francisco’s Smart Gun Laws Remain Unchallenged by Supreme Court

Posted on Tuesday, June 9th, 2015

 

There’s good news this week for San Franciscans—and supporters of smart gun laws nationwide. The US Supreme Court announced that it would not review Jackson v. City and County of San Francisco, a Ninth Circuit decision upholding a pair of lifesaving San Francisco ­ordinances that prohibit deadly hollow-point “cop killer” ammunition and require the safe storage of firearms.

The notion that the Second Amendment is not a barrier to commonsense gun laws is central to the Law Center’s mission. We’ve been working tirelessly with San Francisco lawmakers for almost two decades to make the city safer from gun violence, and the result is smart gun laws like these.

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The city’s safe storage ordinance encourages responsible gun ownership practices by requiring that handguns be either stored in a safe or disabled with a trigger lock at all times when not actually on the owner’s person. This was a direct response to the fact that one in three handguns is kept loaded and unlocked, which drastically increases the risk of deadly shootings in the home—especially of children. Safe storage is also a critical component to Child Access Prevention (CAP) laws, supported by prosecutors like Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer and New York County’s District Attorney, Cy Vance Jr., whom we’re honoring at our Anniversary Dinner in San Francisco on June 18.

San Francisco also enacted a prohibition on hollow-point bullets, which are designed to expand upon impact, in order to reduce the likelihood that shooting victims will die of their injuries by lowering the lethality of the ammunition sold within the city.

The Supreme Court’s refusal to review the decision upholding these laws marks the 67th time that the Court has denied review in a lawsuit based on an alleged violation of the Second Amendment since the landmark Heller decision in 2008. Since Heller was decided, the lower courts have rejected 93% of all Second Amendment claims and the Supreme Court has demonstrated its unwillingness to take up the issue—further reinforcing the Law Center’s position that smart gun laws are very much compatible with the Second Amendment.

For more information about smart gun storage laws, see the Law Center’s Safe Storage and Gun Locks Policy Summary.

 

Disorganized Crime: How Smart Gun Laws Can Stop Gangs

Posted on Friday, May 22nd, 2015

strawsEarlier this week, a shootout at a Waco, Texas, bar left nine dead, 18 injured, and more than 170 arrested. The vast majority of those involved appear to be members of various rival biker gangs. More than 100 handguns were among nearly 500 weapons collected—an alarmingly high concentration of guns in the hands of a volatile population.

While we don’t yet know the origin of the guns recovered at the scene of the firefight, motorcycle gangs and other organized crime groups tend to rely heavily on trafficked guns, which are often all too easy for dangerous people to obtain through illegal means or legal loopholes:

  • Corrupt Dealers: Trafficked guns most often come from licensed firearms dealers who sell inventory off the books. Strong dealer regulations like videotaping transactions and employee background checks help curb this practice.
  • Straw Purchases: Felons and other people prohibited from possessing guns often engage another person—someone who can pass a background check—to execute the paperwork when purchasing a gun, which is illegal.
  • Private Sales: Many states do not require a background check for the private sale of a gun, which makes it shockingly easy for prohibited people to get their hands on firearms. Universal background checks prevent dangerous people from accessing guns and save lives.

We know that guns used in crimes move from states with weak gun laws, like Texas and Arizona, to states with smart gun laws, like California and New York. Enforcing existing laws and bringing in new legislation like universal background checks will prevent dangerous people, such as those involved in organized crime, from obtaining the weapons that allow them to wreak such havoc in communities like Waco.

Learn more about the dangers of trafficking—and the legal solutions to curtail it—at our Trafficking Policy Page.

 

Could the FBI and ATF Merge to Create an Innovative Approach to Gun Laws?

Posted on Tuesday, May 19th, 2015

Our partners at the Center for American Progress (CAP) released “The Bureau and the Bureau,” a new investigative report on the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives and the poor management, inadequate resources, and onerous regulations that have led to the weak enforcement of gun laws in the United States. The report recommends that we fold the ATF into the FBI—an idea that has roots in President Reagan’s first campaign, and has been debated by Congress in different forms intermittently ever since.

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“Highlighting the challenges that ATF faces is not just another idle exercise in criticizing the inefficient bureaucracy of the federal government. The problem of gun violence in the United States is urgent: every day in America, assailants using guns murder 33 people. It is imperative that the federal government takes action to enforce the laws designed to stem the tide of this violence and that it does moreto ensure that guns do not end up in the hands of criminals and other dangerous individuals.” –”The Bureau and the Bureau,” Center for American Progress

CAP’s two-year investigation examined all aspects of both agencies—leadership structure, budgetary appropriations, coordination and communications, and the potential cost savings of merging the two bureaus. CAP’s report also shares ideas for a new organizational structure for the combined ATF and FBI. At the Law Center, we support common-sense solutions that will end the harrowing burden gun violence places on our communities. It’s essential that law enforcement organizations like the ATF have the highest caliber leadership and adequate funding to save lives, end gun trafficking, and enforce regulations on gun dealers. Because of political opposition from the gun lobby, the ATF was without a director for seven years, until B. Todd Jones was confirmed by the United States Senate in July 2014. He resigned after just seven months, following a failed effort to ban green tip “cop killer” bullets.

The instability of the ATF’s management structure makes now the right time to rethink the way the FBI and ATF work together. The gun lobby has pressured Congress to underfund the ATF and adopt burdensome regulations that make it harder for agents to enforce the smart gun laws already on the books, all of which has brought the ATF to a fever pitch of inefficiency.

CAP’s assessment that the FBI can provide strong oversight to an agency with a mission so critical to the safety of our citizens is an essential part of the conversation that needs to be had about enacting and enforcing smart gun laws at the federal level.

Read the full 160-page report on the Center for American Progress website.

Victory: Chicago Suburb’s Ban on Deadly Weapons Upheld

Posted on Friday, May 1st, 2015

In yet another major win for smart gun laws, the Seventh Circuit ruled this week that an ordinance adopted by Highland Park, Illinois, prohibiting assault weapons and large capacity ammunition magazines (LCAMs) does not violate the Second Amendment.

We were proud to file an amicus brief in the case, Friedman v. City of Highland Park, with the help of Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP, this year’s recipient of the Law Center’s Richard W. Odgers Pro Bono Partner Award. Highlighting the devastating role that assault weapons and large capacity magazines play in mass shootings and other gun crimes, the brief argued that the city’s prohibition on these military-style weapons is consistent with the Second Amendment.

The Law Center was founded in the wake of an assault weapon rampage, where the shooter also used large capacity magazines to kill nine and injure six at a law firm at 101 California Street in San Francisco in 1993. These weapons make it significantly easier for people to shoot more rounds more quickly, increasing the number of victims. Large capacity ammunition magazines are used disproportionately in mass shootings like those in Newtown, Aurora, Tucson, and Virginia Tech.

In a 2–1 decision authored by the prolific appellate judge, Frank Easterbrook, the Seventh Circuit agreed with the Law Center’s assessment of the case. “That laws similar to Highland Park’s reduce the share of gun crimes involving assault weapons is established by data,” Judge Easterbrook wrote. “A ban on assault weapons and large capacity magazines… may reduce the carnage if a mass shooting occurs.”

Also of great importance to the court was the ordinance’s minimal impact on self-defense. “Unlike the District of Columbia’s ban on handguns [at issue in the landmark Heller case], Highland Park’s ordinance leaves residents with many self-defense options.” As a result, the court concluded that the city’s prohibition on assault weapons and large capacity ammunition magazines does not violate the Second Amendment.

This victory yet again demonstrates the unprecedented momentum across the country for common-sense gun laws. The ruling is the second so far this year regarding prohibitions on military-style weapons, following the Ninth Circuit’s recent ruling upholding a Sunnyvale, CA, ban on possessing large capacity magazines. Several similar cases are currently pending in federal appellate courts across the country, including the Second, Fourth, and Tenth Circuits. The Law Center filed amicus briefs in each of these cases as part of our commitment to fight for smart gun laws that will save countless lives. We expect positive outcomes in these cases–stand with us in the fight for safer communities for everyone and become a member today.

Learn more about large capacity ammunition magazines and the dangers of assault weapons by visiting our policy page.