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

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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 Amendment 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:

Notes
  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.

Effectiveness of the Brady Act and Background Checks

President Bill Clinton signs the Brady Handgun Violence Protection Act

Since the enactment of the Brady law on March 1, 1994, through December 31, 2012, background checks blocked more than 2.4 million prohibited purchasers like domestic abusers, convicted felons, mentally ill persons, and other dangerous individuals from purchasing a firearm or receiving a permit to purchase or carry a firearm.1

In 2012 alone, background checks blocked 192,043 prohibited persons from gaining access to firearms,2 including 82,000 felons or roughly 225 felons every day.3

Statistics reported by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence confirm that background checks work and have had a significant positive impact on national crime rates. Before the Brady law was enacted, America’s gun homicide rate was on a dramatic rise, increasing by 55 percent from 1984 to 1993 even as non-gun homicides were falling over this period.4 After Brady background checks were required, however, gun murders began to steadily decline and ultimately fell by 32 percent from 1993 to 2006.5 The rate of robberies and aggravated assaults committed with firearms also decreased by 42 percent over this period.6

However, the Brady law only requires background checks by federally licensed firearms dealers.  Research has found that states with more expansive background check laws experience 48 percent less gun trafficking, 38 percent fewer deaths of women shot by intimate partners, and 17 percent fewer firearms involved in aggravated assaults.7 States with universal background check requirements also have a 53 percent lower gun suicide rate, and a 31 percent lower overall suicide rate than states without these laws.8 This correlation is unchanged even after controlling for the effects of poverty, population density, age, education, and race/ethnicity.9 After controlling for these variables, universal background checks were associated with 22% fewer suicides and 35% fewer firearm suicides per capita.10

One state has also provided a tragic case study in the importance of background checks in preventing gun violence and saving lives.  In 2007, Missouri repealed its permit-to-purchase handgun licensing law, which had, since 1921, required all handgun purchasers to undergo a background check and obtain a license in order to lawfully purchase a handgun from any seller.   This change eliminated mandatory background checks for handguns sold by private sellers in the state.  Johns Hopkins researchers determined that repeal of Missouri’s background check requirement was linked to a 14% increase in Missouri’s murder rate through 2012 and a 25% percent increase in firearm homicide rates.11 These researchers estimated that in tragic human terms, the law’s repeal translated into an additional 49 to 68 murders every year.12 This spike in murders in Missouri only occurred for murders committed with a firearm and was widespread across the state’s counties.13  Meanwhile, none of the states bordering Missouri experienced significant increases in their murder rates, and the national murder rate actually declined during this period by over five percent.14  Other researchers confirmed that repeal of Missouri’s background check requirement was associated with a 16.1% increase in the state’s rate of firearm suicide.15

Another state offers a sharp contrast with Missouri.  In 1995, Connecticut implemented a permit-to-purchase handgun licensing law which required applicants to pass a background check in order to purchase a handgun from any seller.  Researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health published a study in the American Journal of Public Health in June 2015 in which they reported that Connecticut’s law was associated with a 40 percent reduction in the state’s firearm-related homicide rate.16  These researchers compared Connecticut’s homicide rates during the 10 years following the law’s implementation to the rates that would have been expected had the law not been implemented. The large drop in homicides was found only in firearm-related killings, not in homicides by other means, confirming that this law drove the reduction in the state’s overall homicide rates.17 Additionally, other researchers found that Connecticut’s Permit to Purchase handgun law was associated with a 15.4% reduction in firearm suicides.

 

Notes
  1. Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of Justice, Background Checks for Firearm Transfers, 2012 – Statistical Tables, at http://www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=pbdetail&iid=5157.
  2. Id. at Table 1, Estimated number of firearm applications received and denied since the inception of the Brady Act, 1994–2012.
  3. Id. at Table 6, Percent change in the number of applications, denials, and reasons for denial, 1999–2012.
  4. Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, 20 Years of Brady Background Checks: The Case for Finishing the Job to Keep America Safer 1, 8-9 (Feb. 2014), available at http://www.bradycampaign.org/sites/default/files/Brady-20-years-report.pdf.
  5. Id.
  6. Id.
  7. See Igor Volsky, This New Study Proves That Background Checks Save Lives, Think Progress (Feb. 15, 2014), http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2014/02/15/3297141/study-proves-background-checks-save-lives/.
  8. Michael D. Anestis, et al, The Association Between State Laws Regulating Handgun Ownership and Statewide Suicide Rates, Am. J of Pub. Health (2015).
  9. Id.
  10. Id.
  11. Daniel Webster, Cassandra Kercher Crifasi, and Jon S. Vernick, Erratum to: Effects of the Repeal of Missouri’s Handgun Purchaser Licensing Law on Homicides, 3 Journal of Urban Health 91, (June 2014).
  12. Id.
  13. Id.
  14. Id.
  15. CK Crifasi, et al, Effects of Changes in Permit-to-Purchase Handgun Laws in Connecticut and Missouri on Suicide Rates, Prev. Med. (2015).
  16. Kara E. Rudolph, et al, Association Between Connecticut’s Permit-to-Purchase Handgun Law and Homicides, Am. J of Pub. Health (Jun. 2015).
  17. CK Crifasi, et al, Effects of Changes in Permit-to-Purchase Handgun Laws in Connecticut and Missouri on Suicide Rates, Prev. Med. (2015).

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

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

Statistics on the Dangers of Gun Use for Self-Defense

Guns kept in the home are more likely to be involved in a fatal or nonfatal unintentional shooting, criminal assault or suicide attempt than to be used to injure or kill in self-defense.1  That is, a gun is more likely to be used to kill or injure an innocent person in the home than a threatening intruder.

Though guns may be successfully used in self-defense even when they are not fired, the evidence shows that their presence in the home makes a person more vulnerable, not less.  Instead of keeping owners safer from harm, objective studies confirm that firearms in the home place owners and their families at greater risk.  Research published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that living in a home where guns are kept increased an individual’s risk of death by homicide by between 40 and 170%.2  Another study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology similarly found that “persons with guns in the home were at greater risk of dying from a homicide in the home than those without guns in the home.”  This study determined that the presence of guns in the home increased an individual’s risk of death by homicide by 90%.3

Claims that guns are used defensively millions times every year have been widely discredited.  Using a gun in self-defense is no more likely to reduce the chance of being injured during a crime than various other forms of protective action.4 At least one study has found that carrying a firearm significantly increases a person’s risk of being shot in an assault; research published in the American Journal of Public Health reported that, even after adjusting for confounding factors,  individuals who were in possession of a gun were about 4.5 times more likely to be shot in an assault than those not in possession.5

The gun lobby has often cited to a thoroughly debunked statistic that guns are used defensively 2.5 million times per year in the United States.  That discredited estimate came from a 1995 study that suffered from several fatal methodological flaws, including its reliance on only 66 responses in a telephone survey of 5,000 people, multiplied out to purportedly represent over 200 million American adults.6  The authors of that discredited study themselves stated that in up to 64% of their reported defensive gun use cases, the guns were carried or used illegally, including cases where the victim was actually the aggressor.7

A study published in 2013 by the Violence Policy Center, using five years of nationwide statistics (2007-2011) compiled by the federal Bureau of Justice found that defensive gun use occurs at a dramatically lower rate, about 98.5% lower than the gun lobby has claimed.8  The V.P.C. also found that for every one justifiable homicide in the United States involving a gun, guns were used in 44 criminal homicides.9  This ratio does not take into account the tens of thousands of lives lost in gun suicides or accidental shootings every year.

Another study reviewing surveys of gun use in the U.S. determined that a majority of self-reported defensive gun uses may also have been illegal and against the interests of society.10

 

Notes
  1. Arthur L. Kellerman et al., Injuries and Deaths Due to Firearms in the Home, 45 J. Trauma 263, 263, 266 (1998).
  2. Garen J. Wintemute, Guns, Fear, the Constitution, and the Public’s Health, 358 New England J. Med. 1421-1424 (Apr. 2008).
  3. Linda L. Dahlberg et al., Guns in the Home and Risk of a Violent Death in the Home: Findings from a National Study, 160 Am. J. Epidemiology 929, 935 (2004).
  4. David Hemenway, Private Guns, Public Health 78 (2004).
  5. Charles C. Branas, et al, Investigating the Link Between Gun Possession and Gun Assault, 99 Am. J. Pub. Health 2034 (Nov. 2009), at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2759797/pdf/2034.pdf.
  6. See David Hemenway, Policy and Perspective: Survey Research and Self-Defense Gun Use: An Explanation of Extreme Overestimates, 87 J. Crim. L. & Criminology 1430, 1432 (1997).
  7. Gary KIeck & Marc Gertz, Armed Resistance to Crime: The Prevalence and Nature of Self-Defense with a Gun, 86 J. CRIM. L. & CRIMINOLOGY 150, 174 (1995).
  8. Marty Langley & Josh Sugarmann, Firearm Justifiable Homicides and Non-Fatal Self-Defense Gun Use: An Analysis of Federal Bureau of Investigation and National Crime Victimization Survey Data, Violence Policy Center 1, 9 (Apr. 2013), at http://www.vpc.org/studies/justifiable.pdf.
  9. Marty Langley & Josh Sugarmann, Firearm Justifiable Homicides and Non-Fatal Self-Defense Gun Use: An Analysis of Federal Bureau of Investigation and National Crime Victimization Survey Data, Violence Policy Center 1, 2 (Apr. 2013), at http://www.vpc.org/studies/justifiable.pdf. See also, Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Dept. of Justice, Crime in the United States, 2009, Expanded Homicide Data Table 15, at http://www2.fbi.gov/ucr/cius2009/offenses/expanded_information/data/shrtable_15.html (last visited Oct. 10, 2010)(reporting that of the 13,636 Americans who were murdered in 2009, only 215 involved justifiable homicide by firearms and only 165 involved justifiable homicide by handguns).
  10. David Hemenway, Deborah Azrael & Matthew Miller, Gun Use in the United States: Results from Two National Surveys, 6 Inj. Prevention 263, 263 (2000).

Statistics on the Costs of Gun Violence

chart-2-gunResearchers conservatively estimate that gun violence costs the American economy at least $229 billion every year, including $8.6 billion in direct expenses such as for emergency and medical care.1  Gun violence costs more than $700 per American every year, more than the total economic cost of obesity and almost as much as the annual price tag for the entire Medicaid program.2

Half of these costs are borne by U.S. taxpayers.3  But these costs are not borne evenly; the data shows that states with smart gun laws save lives and funds.  Wyoming, with the nation’s highest rate of gun deaths, also bears the highest gun violence costs per capita of any state: gun violence costs Wyoming around $1,400 per resident every year, twice the national average.4  By comparison, Hawaii, among the two states with the nation’s lowest rate of gun deaths, had costs associated with gun violence of $234 per resident per year, about 1/6th of Wyoming’s.5

In California, the direct costs of hospital use for firearm assault injuries alone was estimated at $87.4 million in 2010.  65% of these costs were borne by taxpayers.6

 

Notes
  1. Mark Follman, Julia Lurie, Jaeah Lee & James West, The True Cost of Gun Violence in America (2015), available at http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2015/04/true-cost-of-gun-violence-in-america.
  2. Id.
  3. Philip Cook et al., The Medical Costs of Gunshot Injuries in the United States, 282 JAMA 447 (1999); Embry M. Howell et al., State Variation in Hospital Use and Cost of Firearm Assault Injury, 2010, 1, 6 (2014), available at http://www.urban.org/research/publication/state-variation-hospital-use-and-cost-firearm-assault-injury-2010.
  4. Mark Follman, Julia Lurie, Jaeah Lee & James West, The True Cost of Gun Violence in America (2015), available at http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2015/04/true-cost-of-gun-violence-in-america.
  5. Id.
  6. Embry M. Howell et al., State Variation in Hospital Use and Cost of Firearm Assault Injury, 2010, 1 (2014), available at http://www.urban.org/research/publication/state-variation-hospital-use-and-cost-firearm-assault-injury-2010.

Introduction to Gun Violence Statistics

The United States experiences epidemic levels of gun violence, claiming over 30,000 lives annually, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For every person who dies from a gunshot wound, two others are wounded. Every year, approximately 100,000 Americans are victims of gun violence. In addition to those who are killed or injured, there are countless others whose lives are forever changed by the deaths of and injuries to their loved ones.

Gun violence touches every segment of our society. It increases the probability of deaths in incidents of domestic violence, raises the likelihood of fatalities by those who intend to injure others and among those who attempt suicide, places children and young people at special risk, and disproportionately affects communities of color.

Mass shooting tragedies like the school shootings at Virginia Tech in April 2007 and Northern Illinois University in February 2008 – or the 1993 office shooting in San Francisco that led to the formation of the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence – receive significant media attention. However, gun deaths and injuries in the U.S. usually occur quietly, without national press coverage, every day.

2014 Annual Gun Law State Scorecard

As the second anniversary of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary approaches, the Law Center is proud to release our 2014 Gun Law State Scorecard, grading each state on its gun laws and analyzing trends in gun legislation nationwide.

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In the past two years, states have seen historic and unprecedented progress in adopting gun laws to help keep communities safe from gun violence. A total of 99 new laws strengthening gun regulations have passed in 37 states nationwide since December 12, 2012, and 10 states have made major overhauls to their gun laws. 2014 was a remarkable year for smart gun laws, with California’s Gun Violence Restraining Order law, Washington State’s successful ballot initiative for universal background checks, and seven states adopting legislation to keep guns out of the hands of domestic violence abusers, and look forward to building on this positive momentum in 2015.

Find out how your state did and learn how to improve your state’s grade at gunlawscorecard.org.

Commonsense Solutions: State Laws to Expand Background Checks for Unlicensed Gun Sales

The single biggest gap in our nation’s gun laws is the lack of a background check requirement when a gun is sold by an unlicensed individual. Unlike licensed gun dealers, unlicensed “private” sellers are not required to conduct background checks on gun purchasers. This gap allows thousands of dangerous people, including convicted felons, domestic abusers, and the dangerously mentally ill, to acquire guns every year, even though they are legally ineligible to possess them.

As part of our ongoing partnership, the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence and Americans for Responsible Solutions have created the third in our series of Commonsense Solutions toolkits. These comprehensive resources for legislators and advocates explore the many facets of America’s gun violence epidemic through distinct lenses, such as domestic violence and mental health. Commonsense Solutions: State Laws to Expand Background Checks for Unlicensed Gun Sales addresses the private sale background check gap and provides detailed, real-world solutions for state legislators to pass universal background checks and save lives.

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Regulating Guns in America: 2014 Edition

 
The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence is proud to release the 2014 edition of our seminal publication, Regulating Guns in America: A Comprehensive Analysis of Gun Laws Nationwide.

This one-of-a-kind report on federal, state, and local gun laws is an invaluable resource for lawmakers, activists, and others seeking in-depth information on firearms regulation in a single publication. In addition to summarizing existing law and providing background information on gun policy, Regulating Guns in America offers common-sense, actionable legislative recommendations to prevent gun violence and save lives.

Topics covered include:

  • Background Checks & Access to Firearms
  • Gun Dealer Sales & Other Transfers
  • Gun Owner Responsibilities
  • Classes of Weapons
  • Consumer and Child Safety
  • Guns in Public Places
  • Investigating Gun Crimes
  • Local Authority to Regulate Firearms
  • Dangerous Trends in State Legislation
  • The Second Amendment

Download your copy of Regulating Guns in America today. Those interested in a print copy should email [email protected] for more information.

For the latest information on firearms regulations in all 50 states and the smart gun laws that can save lives, be sure to bookmark the Laws and Policies section of our website: smartgunlaws.org/gun-policy.

Domestic Violence and Guns: State by State

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American women are particularly vulnerable to certain forms of gun violence, including homicides by domestic abusers and stalkers. More than two-thirds of those murdered by their spouses between 1980 and 2008 were killed with guns. Moreover, abused women are five times more likely to be killed by their abuser if the abuser owns a firearm. These statistics represent real people whose lives could have been saved if their abusers didn’t have access to guns.

The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence has partnered with the Center for American Progress to develop 50 fact sheets—one for each state—summarizing current laws on domestic violence and guns and offering straightforward, real-world solutions for how smart gun laws can better protect women.

Download the Domestic Violence and Guns fact sheets to see how your state measures up.

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