Gun Studies & Statistics

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 »

Tracking State Gun Laws: 2014 Developments

Posted on Tuesday, March 4th, 2014

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Each year, in state legislative houses across the country, elected officials vote on hundreds of  bills that have the potential to save lives—or to jeopardize them. Although the media tends to focus on the fact that Congress has yet to make any meaningful progress to protect Americans from gun violence, the action at the state level is the bigger and more crucial story. The Law Center is currently tracking over 1,300 firearms bills in state legislatures across the country. Of these bills, about half would strengthen firearms laws and half would weaken them. There is also a substantial change on the grassroots level—as a more coordinated effort from groups old and new are making their voices heard for the safety of their communities.

The Law Center tracks and analyzes all gun legislation nationwide and below is a map of legislation moving through the state houses. We have only included bills that have moved out of their house of origin or further, which shows the bills that are most likely to become law.

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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 »

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.

Extreme New Bill in Georgia Aimed at Allowing More Guns in Bars and Other Public Spaces

Posted on Thursday, February 20th, 2014

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Right now, an outrageous bill is making its way through the Georgia Legislature. House Bill 875 is a particularly extreme example of the gun lobby’s strategy to broaden the laws around guns in public by dramatically expanding the locations where concealed weapons are permitted. House Bill 875 would, among other things, allow concealed weapon permit holders to carry firearms in bars, churches and other houses of worship, parts of airports and courthouses, and make it easier to carry a gun on college and university campuses.

During the floor debate in the House, Republican Representative Chuck Sims said that, as a funeral director, he deals with the tragic aftermath of gun violence. “Guns don’t belong in church, and a gun doesn’t belong in a bar. It just doesn’t,” he said.

He’s not the only Georgian to speak out against the expansion of concealed weapons into public spaces. Permissive concealed carry laws violate the shared expectation that public places will be safe environments free from guns and gun violence.1 According to a recent poll conducted for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in January, 78% of Georgians do not support allowing firearms on college campuses and 72% oppose allowing guns in bars. Despite this clear message from the public, House Bill 875 passed the House of Representatives this week and is now headed to the Senate.

House Bill 875 would also weaken Georgia’s already lax requirements for obtaining a concealed weapon permit. For example, if the bill were enacted, a person who has been convicted of a misdemeanor for pointing a gun at another person could obtain a concealed carry permit.

The reality is that concealed handgun holders, who possess, at most, a very limited amount of firearms training, create new risks of intentional or accidental shootings. Members of the public who carry guns risk escalating everyday disagreements into public shootouts, especially in places where disputes frequently occur—in bars, at sporting events, or in traffic. A study from the Violence Policy Center on Texas’ permissive concealed carry law found that license holders were arrested for weapons-related crimes at a rate 81% higher than that of the state’s general population age 21 and older.

In addition to the expansion of guns in public, House Bill 875 would also allow individuals to sue local governments for enacting gun violence prevention laws. The local governments could be required to pay litigation expenses, attorneys fees, and damages in certain cases. These are only some of the many irresponsible provisions contained in the bill which the NRA touts as the “most comprehensive pro-gun reform legislation introduced in recent state history.”

Want to know more? Read our summary of concealed weapons permitting laws nationwide or check out other recent examples of extreme gun laws and policies in America on our Extremism in Action page.

  1. For more about this issue, see the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence’s publications Guns in Public Places: The Increasing Threat of Hidden Guns in America, and America Caught in the Crossfire: How Concealed Carry Laws Threaten Public Safety. The Law Center has also published a model law regulating the carrying of firearms in public places. []

Extreme Ninth Circuit Concealed Weapon Decision Out Of Sync With Other Courts

Posted on Friday, February 14th, 2014

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California has some of the strongest gun laws in the nation and these strong laws have had a significant role in keeping Californians safe. Over the past twenty years, California’s gun laws have contributed to a significant—56%—drop in California’s gun death rate. However, a radical Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision has put one of the state’s key laws in jeopardy. Yesterday, two conservative judges issued a decision that could potentially undermine a decades old law allowing law enforcement to have discretion over who is allowed to carry a hidden, loaded gun in public.

This law, like laws in several other states across the country, only allows law enforcement to issue a permit to carry a concealed loaded gun in public if the applicant can demonstrate “good cause” for the issuance of a permit—commonly called a “may issue” permitting system.

In California, counties can define “good cause” differently, and many require applicants to show that they are at a special risk of being targeted by criminals that is greater than the general population in order to demonstrate “good cause.” In this case, Peruta v. County of San Diego, the plaintiffs claim that the Second Amendment requires counties to issue permits to anyone who applies who claims a general need for self-defense, regardless of whether they have a special risk.

Since the controversial 2008 Supreme Court decision District of Columbia v. Heller, the gun lobby has flooded the courts with similar claims, which have nearly all been rejected. In fact, cases challenging similar “may issue” systems in New York, Maryland, and New Jersey have been rejected by three different federal appellate courts. In yesterday’s decision, however, two judges on a three judge panel of the Ninth Circuit decided that California’s good cause requirement must be interpreted to allow anyone who claims a general desire for personal self-defense in public to be issued a permit, contrary to other circuits’ decisions on this issue.

READ MORE »

Developing Trend in Gun Legislation: The Trayvon Martin Exception to Stand Your Ground Laws

Posted on Friday, February 7th, 2014

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Yesterday jury selection began in the murder trial of Michael Dunn who shot and killed 17-year-old Jordan Davis. Witnesses say Dunn became enraged at Davis for playing music too loudly and provoked a confrontation that resulted in Dunn shooting and killing the unarmed teenager.

Dunn will likely base his defense on Florida’s stand your ground law—better described as a “shoot first” law—that allows someone to use deadly force outside the home if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm. Florida’s law, as well as similar laws in several other states, does not require that the person using force retreat to a place of safety, if possible, before using force.

Eight months before Jordan Davis was killed, George Zimmerman followed Trayvon Martin, an unarmed teenager walking to his father’s girlfriend’s house. By now, most of us know the story. Although Florida’s shoot first law was not incorporated into George Zimmerman’s defense, the court had instructed the jury on Florida’s controversial law and one of the jurors subsequently stated that the jury had found the law applicable to Zimmerman.

Again, a few weeks ago, yet another person behaving lawfully in public was shot and killed. Chad Oulson, who was texting his 3-year-old daughter’s caretaker during movie previews, angered Curtis Reeves, an armed, retired police officer. Reeves began to argue with Oulson. A confrontation ensued and Reeves shot and killed Oulson. Reeves is expected to also claim self-defense using Florida’s shoot first law.

A 17-year-old playing music in a car. A 16-year-old walking to see his father.  A father texting the babysitter during movie previews. These are only a fraction of the victims. These tragic events also demonstrate how shoot first laws continue to threaten public safety by encouraging people to take the law into their own hands and act as armed vigilantes, often with deadly consequences. The strongest of these laws also have a profound impact on the criminal and civil justice systems, tying the hands of law enforcement and depriving victims of remedies by providing blanket immunity from criminal prosecution and civil lawsuits to individuals who claim they were acting in self-defense.

Many states have had enough of this bloodshed and lawmakers have introduced legislation to repeal or limit the use of shoot first laws. Most notably, Alabama has introduced the “Trayvon Martin exception” as an amendment to its current shoot first law. The new legislation aims to protect innocent victims like Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, and Chad Oulson. The bill would prohibit use of the self-defense claim if a shooter pursued the victim who was behaving lawfully in a public place and the pursuit resulted in a deadly confrontation. READ MORE »

Victory in the Courts: Connecticut Post-Newtown Gun Law Upheld By Federal District Court

Posted on Friday, January 31st, 2014

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The people of Connecticut know first-hand how gun violence can devastate a community. They watched in horror when a shooter at Sandy Hook Elementary School used assault weapons and large capacity ammunition magazines to kill 26 people — including 20 small children. Within months, the Connecticut legislature took immediate action to try to prevent such a tragedy from happening again by passing a law that strengthens the state’s prohibition on assault weapons and bans large capacity ammunition magazines.

In what has become a pattern when they fail to stop laws they don’t like in the political process, the gun lobby filed a lawsuit right after this law was passed, alleging that the law violates the Second Amendment.1 Yesterday, Connecticut’s new gun law was upheld by a federal district court in a victory for smart gun laws that could have reverberations nationwide.

The Law Center and several of our allies supported the defense in this case by filing an amicus brief that argued that the law does not violate the Second Amendment and that the regulation of these military-style weapons is a reasonable public safety measure.

In yesterday’s decision, the court upheld the law in its entirety and rejected the plaintiffs’ Second Amendment challenge. Although the court did find that the law imposed some burden on the plaintiffs’ Second Amendment rights, the court held that the law left open many other kinds of firearms and magazine the plaintiffs could use for self-defense.  Thus, the court found that since the law was reasonably related to the state’s interest in public safety and protecting law enforcement, it was constitutional.

The court’s rejection of the gun lobby’s extreme arguments in this case echos a similar decision in New York last month upholding that state’s ban on assault weapons and large capacity ammunition magazines.  These cases represent major victories because similar lawsuits are pending across the country, including in California, Colorado, Illinois, and Maryland, as part of a concerted effort by the gun lobby to bully state and local governments into not passing these critical public safety laws.

For more, read some of the recent gun violence prevention success stories.

  1. The plaintiffs also alleged the law violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and was unconstitutionally vague.  The court rejected both of those arguments. []