Gun Studies & Statistics

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

This week 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.”

READ MORE »

Court Upholds Colorado Laws Banning Large Capacity Magazines and Requiring Background Checks for Private Gun Sales

Posted on Tuesday, July 1st, 2014

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The U.S. District Court of Colorado ruled on Thursday, June 26th that two Colorado laws recently enacted to help reduce gun violence do not violate the Constitution.  Plaintiffs in the case, Colorado Outfitters v. Hickenlooper, challenged Colorado’s newly enacted ban on the possession of ammunition magazines that hold over 15 rounds and a requirement that background checks must be conducted on all private firearm sales.

Chief Judge Krieger, who ruled in the case, noted that the burden placed on the Second Amendment by limiting large capacity ammunition magazines is “not severe” as the law “does not ban any firearm nor does it render any firearm useless.”  The court rejected the plaintiffs’ assertions that large capacity magazines are necessary for self-defense purposes, pointing to an almost complete lack of instances where more than 15 rounds were necessary in a self-defense situation.  The court also highlighted persuasive evidence presented by the state showing that large capacity ammunition magazines are used in a high percentage of gun crimes, including attacks on police officers and mass shootings.  As a result, the court easily found that Colorado’s limit to 15 rounds of ammunition is reasonably related to the important government interest of protecting public safety.

The court also found Colorado’s new requirement to require background checks on all gun sales to be constitutional.  Casting aside plaintiffs’ argument that this requirement was too difficult to comply with, the court noted that “there are more than 600 firearms dealers in Colorado that are actively performing private checks, and…it takes an average of less than fifteen minutes for a check to be processed.”  The court held that the background check requirement was reasonably related to both the reduction of crime and the protection of public safety given that “almost 40% of gun purchases are made through private sales, in person or over the internet; 62% of private sellers on the internet agree to sell to buyers who are known not to be able to pass a background check; and 80% of criminals who use guns in crime acquired one through a private sale.”

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 the over 900 cases currently being tracked by the Law Center, approximately 96% of Second Amendment challenges were rejected.  This provides further proof that sensible firearm regulations are totally compatible with the Second Amendment.

For more, visit our overview of Colorado’s gun laws or read about limits on ammunition magazines nationwide and background check requirements in states across the country.

Big Second Amendment Victory: District Court Upholds D.C. Firearms Registration Law

Posted on Thursday, May 15th, 2014

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In a lengthy and well-reasoned decision released earlier today, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia upheld every aspect of D.C.’s comprehensive firearms registration program. The court found that the challenged laws, which require residents to register all firearms with local authorities, were sufficiently related to the District’s goals of ensuring public safety and protecting District police. The court noted that the testimony of four expert witnesses for the District provided enough evidence showing the registration system to be an important law enforcement tool that would save lives by preventing criminals from obtaining firearms.

The court brushed aside the gun lobby’s argument that the registration system was invalid because it would be circumvented by criminals. Stating that the argument made “little sense” and would “invalidate any and all gun laws,”  the court emphasized that “[a]lthough the various registration requirements at issue will not prevent all criminals from obtaining firearms, it surely will prevent some from doing so. That is enough.”

The case, known as Heller II, was brought in the aftermath of the landmark Heller decision in which the Supreme Court struck down D.C.’s handgun ban. After Heller, the D.C. Council enacted the Firearms Registration Amendment Act (FRA), which amended what remained of the District’s gun laws in order to create a new and constitutionally compliant scheme for regulating firearms. The plaintiffs, funded and represented by the gun lobby, immediately challenged this new system as violating the Second Amendment. After extensive and costly litigation, the D.C. Circuit Court upheld most aspects of the FRA in 2011, including the District’s ban on assault weapons, large capacity ammunition magazines, and the registration requirement as it applied specifically to handguns. The rest of the case was brought back to the District Court in order to gather more facts.

Today’s decision broadly upholds D.C.’s common sense registration provisions, including mandatory firearms safety training for registered gun owners, a limit of one pistol registration per month, and the various administrative aspects of the system, including in-person registration. The court’s decision reaffirms the notion that, after the Heller decision, legislatures still have great leeway in enacting thoughtful, rational gun laws in order to protect the public and law enforcement officers. This adds to the gun lobby’s ever-growing losing streak of expensive and wasteful Second Amendment challenges to common sense gun laws. Second Amendment challenges have been rejected in 96% of the more than 900 civil and criminal cases tracked by the Law Center across the country since the Heller decision in 2008.

For more, read our information on other cases that have addressed the Second Amendment since the pivotal 2008 Heller case or read our summary of laws that require the registration of firearms.

Supreme Court Leaves in Place New Jersey Law Limiting Guns in Public Places

Posted on Monday, May 5th, 2014

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The U.S. Supreme Court today refused to hear a case that challenged an important gun safety law in New Jersey which requires applicants for a concealed weapon permit show a “justifiable need” before they may carry a firearm in public. By not hearing Drake v. Jerejian, the Supreme Court leaves in place a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit finding New Jersey’s concealed weapons permitting system to be constitutional and an important part of protecting citizens from dangerous firearms in public spaces.

The question of whether the Second Amendment applies outside of the home is a major issue across the nation right now.  Several states, including New Jersey, New York, and California, give law enforcement the discretion to decide whether a person has a legitimate need to carry a concealed weapon in public places. Strong concealed weapons permitting systems serve to improve public safety by helping to keep guns out of public places.

Of the five U.S. Courts of Appeals that have heard Second Amendment challenges to these kinds of laws, four have found them to be constitutional.  Only recently did a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit unexpectedly break with the other courts in finding San Diego’s permitting system to violate the Second Amendment – a radical decision that has the potential to be overturned if the Ninth Circuit decides to rehear the case with a full panel of judges.

The Supreme Court’s decision today is part of a larger trend in which the Court has repeatedly refused to hear Second Amendment challenges to common sense gun laws.  Since the landmark Supreme Court decisions in Heller and McDonald, the Court has denied review in over 60 Second Amendment challenges to our nation’s gun laws.  As a result, the Court has refused to disturb the large number of federal and state court decisions upholding strong gun regulations.

In rejecting the gun lobby’s request to hear the Drake case today, the Supreme Court has left this issue in the hands of the lower courts, the vast majority of which have approved laws, like those in New Jersey, which serve to protect citizens from a flood of dangerous firearms in public places.

For more, read our information on other cases that have addressed the Second Amendment since the pivotal 2008 Heller case or read our summary of concealed weapon permitting laws nationwide.

Tracking State Gun Laws: 2014 Developments

Posted on Friday, May 2nd, 2014

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In April of this year, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal signed HB 60, a bill which expands the ability to carry firearms in public spaces such as bars and airports. The media was quick to report that this bill is evidence of a backlash against the many significant gun violence prevention laws enacted in the states last year, despite the media’s predominant narrative from last year that, after Newtown, more states weakened gun laws and the gun lobby “won”. The truth is that the recent media narratives are far from accurate.

Since Newtown, about the same number of laws (64) have strengthened state gun regulations as those that have weakened them (70), not including 38 newly-enacted gun laws that have a minimal impact on gun violence. However, a strict comparison of these numbers without deeper insight into the substance of the laws and where they were enacted is only half the story. Of the states that enacted laws to strengthen gun regulation, 8 states made very significant and, in some cases, sweeping changes to the way it regulates firearms. Alternatively, only 4 states enacted laws that have significantly weakened gun regulation.

Despite popular belief, in the last sixteen months since Newtown, the media has incorrectly portrayed the complicated and nuanced activity in fifty different state legislative bodies. The new laws have been tallied, and often, have been inappropriately equalized. Small bills which keep concealed weapons permit holders’ information private have been categorized as having equal weight to sweeping new laws that require background checks and ban assault weapons. The stories proclaiming the Georgia bill to be a pro-gun backlash make little of the fact that it was the NRA’s top priority in Georgia for two years and, after failing last year, barely scraped by this year and only in a watered-down version. The backlash stories also fail to mention the groundswell of activism that rose in opposition to the bill and succeeded in forcing the gun lobby to strip provision after provision from the measure.

The Law Center has tracked state firearms laws in all fifty states since 2009. Above is a map outlining the breadth of laws that have passed since the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary. Our analysis of legislative trends is based on watching and analyzing all gun legislation as it moves through state houses. The data shows us that the public’s mobilization after Newtown resulted in real and sustained change in legislative outcomes, as our team tracks new laws to strengthen gun policy come to unexpected states like South Carolina and Florida while an enormous number of bills to weaken state gun laws get watered down and end without progress.

In addition, a Mother Jones analysis comparing the population of states where gun laws were strengthened to states where they were weakened concluded that more than half of the country lives in states with stronger gun laws since Newtown.

More important than the numbers, or even the context surrounding the numbers, are the real people who have dedicated their lives to changing our nation’s gun laws since Newtown. New organizations such as Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, Americans for Responsible Solutions, Sandy Hook Promise, and Texas Gun Sense and many, many more have formed in just the last sixteen months. Real change happens when real people take action. The story after Newtown is that in every state people are making their voices heard, fighting to strengthen firearms laws, and opposing the gun lobby’s profit-driven efforts. This part of the story is only just beginning and real change will be measured in the lives that are saved.

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In the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy, there is no doubt that public support for sensible gun laws has soared. Many legislators are following the lead of the people and fighting for strong new policies to fill the gaps in gun regulation left by Congress. READ MORE »

The Supreme Court Agrees that Domestic Violence and Guns Don’t Mix

Posted on Wednesday, March 26th, 2014

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Today, the Supreme Court issued an incredible unanimous decision in a case that will make it easier to protect domestic violence victims from gun violence. In an opinion for an eight Justice majority, the Court confirmed that any crime involving unwanted physical touching by a domestic partner can qualify as a crime of domestic violence for purposes of the federal prohibition on domestic violence offenders owning firearms. This resounding victory will ensure that guns are kept out of the hands of domestic abusers–a group particularly likely to use firearms to perpetrate violence.

A gun in the hands of a domestic abuser can make a dangerous situation worse. Studies have shown time and again that guns escalate already violent situations, for example:

  • Abused women are five times more likely to be killed by their abuser if the abuser owns a firearm.
  • Domestic violence assaults involving a gun are 23 times more likely to result in death than those involving other weapons or bodily force.
  • More than two-thirds of spouse and ex-spouse homicide victims between 1980 and 2008 were killed with firearms.
  • In 2011, nearly two-thirds of women killed with guns were killed by their intimate partners.

Indeed, as the Supreme Court’s majority opinion recognized these facts, stating:

Domestic violence often escalates in severity over time and the presence of a firearm increases the likelihood that it will escalate to homicide. ‘All too often,’ as one Senator noted during the debate over [this law], ‘the only difference between a battered woman and a dead woman is the presence of a gun.’

Currently, federal law bars persons convicted of certain domestic violence crimes from possessing firearms. In this case, the defendant had argued–and the lower court had ruled–that a person must be convicted of a domestic violence crime that requires an element of “strong and violent physical force” in order to be excluded from firearms ownership by virtue of the conviction.  In United States v. Castleman, the Supreme Court resoundingly rejected that theory and found that Congress intended to cover all domestic violence crimes whether or not “strong and violent” force was involved.

The Law Center was proud to contribute to the defense of this vital law. We joined an amicus brief written by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, alongside the Coalition to Stop Gun ViolenceMoms Demand Action for Gun Sense in AmericaStates United to Prevent Gun Violence, and the Violence Policy Center, that argued that the proper interpretation of federal law includes all domestic violence crimes, not just those involving “strong and violent physical force.”  The brief outlines the social science research demonstrating a strong connection between domestic violence of any type and guns.

For more, read our analysis of federal and state law regarding gun prohibitions on domestic abusers or read about other recent gun violence prevention success stories.

Ninth Circuit Upholds San Francisco’s Safe Storage & Ammunition Laws

Posted on Tuesday, March 25th, 2014

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Today a three judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously upheld the City of San Francisco’s ordinances requiring the safe storage of handguns and banning the sale of hollow-point ammunition. San Francisco’s safe storage law requires handguns to be either stored in a locked container or secured with a trigger lock when they are not carried by the owner of the handgun. San Francisco’s ammunition law bans the sale of hollow-point ammunition, which is a particularly deadly form of ammunition that expands or fragments upon impact–causing massive, and irreparable damage to a person’s body.

The court’s analysis followed the pattern most courts use in addressing Second Amendment challenges: first looking at whether the challenged law burdens conduct protected by the Second Amendment, and second, if it does burden such conduct, whether the law’s burden on Second Amendment rights is outweighed by its public safety benefits.

With respect to the safe storage law, although the court found that the law did place some burden on Second Amendment rights, it found that the burden was a small one since the ordinance allows the carrying of unlocked firearms.  The court also noted that modern gun safes can be quickly accessed and modern trigger locks can be quickly disabled in the event of an emergency. The court went on to conclude the law was constitutional given the strong evidence presented by the City of a link between unlocked handguns and gun deaths.  Specifically the court noted:

The record contains ample evidence that storing handguns in a locked container reduces the risk of both accidental and intentional handgun-related deaths, including suicide. Based on the evidence that locking firearms increases safety in a number of different respects, San Francisco has drawn a reasonable inference that mandating that guns be kept locked when not being carried will increase public safety and reduce firearm casualties. This evidence supports San Francisco’s position that [the safe storage ordinance] is substantially related to its objective to reduce the risk of firearm injury and death in the home.

The court reached similar conclusions about the ammunition law. Although the court found that the law burdened conduct protected by the Second Amendment, the court also found the law was simply a regulation on the manner in which someone can exercise their Second Amendment rights.  Indeed, the court noted that the plaintiffs had produced no evidence that ordinary ammunition is ineffective for self-defense. Given the dangers associated with hollow-point ammunition, the court had no trouble finding that banning it was also substantially related to San Francisco’s interest in public safety and upholding the law.

This decision is consistent with the vast majority of other courts which have upheld reasonable gun laws and rejected Second Amendment challenges by the gun lobby. The Law Center was proud to support the city of San Francisco in the process of drafting these important regulations and have supported the city since as it defends their laws from the gun lobby’s frivolous law suits . The Law Center filed an amicus brief in support of the city of San Francisco last year in this case.

For more information, check out our policy pages on safe storage laws and ammunition regulation or read about other recent gun violence prevention success stories.

A New Law in Idaho Creates the Potential for Openly Carried Weapons on Campus and in Dorms

Posted on Thursday, March 13th, 2014
(Photo: AP/Houston Chronicle, Johnny Hanson)

(Photo: AP/Houston Chronicle, Johnny Hanson)

A bill that prohibits state colleges and universities from regulating firearms on their campuses was signed by the governor of Idaho yesterday. The governor approved the law despite strong opposition from the Idaho Board of Education, Chief of Police, and the presidents of every Idaho public university, college, and community college. No public colleges or universities in Idaho currently allow guns on their campuses.

Although the law still allows public colleges and universities to regulate guns on campus in some respects, Idaho Senate Bill 1254 prohibits them from banning the carrying of firearms by individuals with an enhanced concealed carry permit.  An individual need only obtain an additional eight hours of firearms safety training and fire 98 live rounds to qualify for this enhanced permit. However, because of a incredibly dangerous loophole,  these permit holders will be able to carry their firearms openly on campus, which makes Idaho the first state in the country to allow people to openly carry weapons on campus. 

People with enhanced permits will still be restricted from carrying a concealed firearm within a student dormitory, residence hall, or public entertainment facility, but this is the only restriction the law places on enhanced permit holders. The law does not prevent enhanced permit holders from carrying their firearms openly in the same places, or anywhere else on campus.

Whether Carried Openly or Concealed, Guns on Campus Increase the Risk of Violence. Allowing guns on campuses has been shown to create a greater risk for both homicide and suicide. The American Association of State Colleges and Universities reports that college-age students experience some of the highest rates of serious mental illness. A Journal of American College Health study demonstrated that between 9% and 11% of college students seriously considered suicide in the previous school year and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that about 1,100 college students commit suicide each year. Access to guns makes suicide attempts more likely to be fatal– 85% of gun suicide attempts result in death—as illustrated by data from the U.S. Department of Education.

In addition to the risks of suicide, a 2002 study from the Journal of American College Health found that students who owned guns were more likely than non-gun-owning students to binge drink and then engage in risky activities “such as driving when under the influence of alcohol, vandalizing property, and having unprotected intercourse.”

Evidence suggests that permissive concealed gun carrying generally will increase crime. This fact belies any need for students, faculty, and visitors to carry guns on campus for self-defense or any other reason. READ MORE »

United States Supreme Court Refuses to Block Sunnyvale, California’s Measure C Magazine Capacity Limit

Posted on Thursday, March 13th, 2014

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Last year, the voters of Sunnyvale, California decided to do something about gun violence in their community by voting overwhelmingly for Measure C, a ballot initiative that enacted several ordinances strengthening the City’s gun laws. Of course, the gun lobby responded to Measure C with its usual bullying tactics—filing two lawsuits in a desperate attempt to stop parts of Measure C from going into effect.

Fortunately, the Law Center was there to help, and secured the prestigious law firm of Farella Braun + Martel LLP to defend the city on a pro bono basis. Since, Sunnyvale’s new law has been consistently upheld despite the gun lobby’s efforts, as a state court denied an emergency motion by the plaintiffs in that case to stop Measure C’s ammunition record-keeping provision from going into effect.

Today, Sunnyvale’s new law was upheld again, as U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy refused an emergency request by the plaintiffs to stop Measure C’s ban on the possession of large capacity ammunition magazines from going into effect. The plaintiffs were forced to seek “emergency” relief from Justice Kennedy after a federal district court last week denied their motion for a preliminary injunction to stop the law from taking effect, and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals similarly refused to block the law. 

These lethal magazines allow a shooter to fire dozens of rounds—and kill countless people—without pausing to reload, and because of this, they have been consistently used in mass shootings, including in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.  In this lawsuit, the plaintiffs are making the radical claim that the Second Amendment completely prohibits communities from doing anything to stop the spread of these deadly magazines.

Fortunately, the district court largely rejected those arguments, and Justice Kennedy—widely considered the “swing vote” in controversial Supreme Court cases—declined to disturb that ruling at this stage. While the district court found that the law did place a burden on Second Amendment rights, the court found that burden was “light” because “[m]agazines having a capacity to accept more than ten rounds are hardly crucial for citizens to exercise their right to bear arms.”  Indeed, the court went on to observe that the measure left open “countless other handgun and magazine options” for gun users.  READ MORE »

Victory in San Francisco: San Francisco’s Magazine Capacity Limit Upheld

Posted on Thursday, February 27th, 2014

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Recently two California cities—San Francisco and Sunnyvale—took the lead in keeping their communities safe from gun violence by banning the possession of large capacity ammunition magazines. These lethal magazines allow a shooter to fire dozens of rounds—and kill countless people—without pausing to reload, and because of this, they have been consistently used in mass shootings, including in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.

In the months following the shooting in Newtown, several states and local communities turned to enacting strong regulations of these weapons of war. When the gun lobby failed to defeat these common sense laws in the political process, they turned to challenging them in the courts, with claims that these laws violate the Second Amendment. In both of the recent cases in California, the plaintiffs have sought preliminary injunctions from the court to stop the laws from taking effect.

Last week, the court in the San Francisco case denied the plaintiffs’ request, finding that they are unlikely to succeed in their claim that the law violates the Second Amendment. The court found that the law was only—at most—a minor burden on Second Amendment protected conduct. In fact, the court expressed some skepticism that large capacity magazines are protected by the Second Amendment at all and noted that the evidence suggested that the average self-defensive gun use only involved firing about two shots.

The court went on to find that the ordinance was a valid measure to promote public safety given the link between large capacity ammunition magazines and mass shootings. As the court put it, the ordinance “prevents mass murders from firing a larger number of rounds faster by depriving them of” high capacity ammunition magazines.

This ruling is consistent with similar rulings upholding large capacity ammunition magazine bans in Connecticut and New York. Of course, this fight is not over.  There are also pending cases raising similar issues in Colorado, Illinois, and Maryland. Plus, the San Francisco ruling is likely to be appealed and another judge of the same court heard argument on a similar motion in the Sunnyvale case late last week. The Law Center will continue to do everything it can to support these communities as they defend these critical laws in the courts.

For more, read our summary of large capacity ammunition laws or read about other recent gun violence prevention success stories.