Success Stories for Safer Communities

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.

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.

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. []

Gun Lobby Challenge to Sunnyvale’s New Voter-Supported Gun Law Fails Early Test

Posted on Thursday, December 19th, 2013

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When Sunnyvale, California’s voters approved of Measure C, a new city ordinance with several commonsense gun safety measures, the gun lobby immediately attacked. Challengers to the new laws—a  gun dealer and a gun industry lobbying group—sued the city with claims that Measure C’s requirement that ammunition sellers keep records of their sales conflicted with California state law.  Fortunately, yesterday, a California state court rejected that argument and denied the plaintiffs’ emergency request that the law be put on hold while their lawsuit is decided.

Thanks to this initial ruling, Sunnyvale’s law—which was approved by 66% of Sunnyvale voters—will be allowed to go into effect and will help to deter minors, convicted felons, the mentally ill, and other prohibited persons from purchasing ammunition.

California cities have broad authority to pass local ordinances to keep their communities safe from gun violence and the Sunnyvale ordinance is nothing out of the ordinary. In fact, more than a dozen other cities and two counties, including Los Angeles and San Francisco, have enacted similar laws requiring ammunition sellers to keep records of ammunition sales.

This portion of Sunnyvale’s Measure C was based on the Law Center’s model ammunition ordinance, and when the city was sued, the Law Center was able to secure the highly-regarded law firm Farella Braun + Martel LLP as pro bono counsel for Sunnyvale.

READ MORE »

Third Circuit Upholds New Jersey Concealed Carry Law

Posted on Friday, August 2nd, 2013

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Yesterday, the Third Circuit announced a major decision that will help promote public safety in New Jersey.  In Drake v. Filko, the court upheld a law that requires people who would like to have a concealed weapon permit to demonstrate a “justifiable need” to carry a handgun.  This requirement gives law enforcement the discretion to grant permits to those who legitimately need a concealed weapon, while allowing law enforcement to reject permit requests from people known to pose significant safety risks to the community (such as domestic abusers who have not yet been convicted of crimes).

In upholding this requirement, the court joined the First, Second, and Fourth Circuits which have upheld similar laws.

The court began by noting that the issue of whether the new individual Second Amendment right recognized in the controversial landmark Supreme Court case Heller v. District of Columbia extends outside of the home is unsettled.  However, the court observed that “[f]irearms have always been more heavily regulated in the public sphere” and that historical analysis does not lead “inevitably to the conclusion that the Second Amendment confers upon individuals a right to carry handguns in public.” Nevertheless, the court proceeded with its analysis on the assumption that the right does have some application outside the home.

The court went on to hold that the “justifiable need” requirement qualified as a “longstanding” regulation and therefore “presumptively lawful” under Heller.  The court reached this conclusion because New Jersey’s law had some sort of justifiable need requirement for concealed carry applications since the early 20th century.  This is the same time period that the first bans on felons possessing firearms were enacted, which the Supreme Court had found longstanding and therefore presumptively lawful in Heller. Thus, the court held that the justifiable need requirement was outside the scope of the Second Amendment and could be upheld on that basis alone.

Nevertheless, although it did not need to do so, the court found that given the inherently dangerous nature of handguns in public, the justifiable need requirement is reasonably related to the government’s interest in protecting public safety.  The court also rejected the plaintiffs’ extreme argument that this law restricts the individual’s Second Amendment rights in the same way that a “prior restraint” on speech restricts First Amendment rights.

Although one judge dissented from the panel’s ruling, even that judge rejected the more extreme arguments of the gun lobby.  He agreed that First Amendment prior restraint analysis should not be applied to restrictions on the public carrying of firearms. He also agreed that intermediate, rather than strict, was the appropriate level of scrutiny to apply, an acknowledgement that the legislature should have some discretion in how they choose to promote public safety.

This ruling is a well-reasoned and welcome step forward in keeping New Jersey residents safe.  In cases like this, the gun lobby has tried to use the courts to force all states to adopt a Florida or Texas style “shall issue” system where virtually anyone can walk the streets with a gun and law enforcement has no discretion at all.  Fortunately, as this case demonstrates, their efforts have been overwhelmingly rejected.  For more information on Second Amendment litigation, including the other circuit court decisions on concealed carry permits, please see our Post-Heller Litigation Summary.

Microstamping: Landmark California Law Will Help Solve Crimes

Posted on Thursday, May 23rd, 2013

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Last week, the California Department of Justice certified that microstamping technology is ready for California. As a result of this certification, microstamping – a technology that imprints a unique code on bullet cartridge cases as they are fired from a gun – will be required for all new handgun models manufactured for sale in the state, allowing for the implementation of a 2007 state law that is the first of its kind nationwide.

The Law Center supported the law by testifying at legislative and regulatory hearings because microstamping will bring significant benefits to law enforcement’s ability to investigate gun crimes. Microstamping allows law enforcement to connect an ammunition cartridge case recovered at a crime scene directly to the gun that fired it. The technology uses precise, microscopic engravings on the internal mechanisms of a handgun to stamp a unique code identifying the gun’s make, model and serial number onto every expelled cartridge case.

Cartridge cases are much more likely to be recovered at the scene of a shooting than the gun used, but, without microstamping, ballistic experts cannot use those cases to identify a specific weapon unless the firearm has also been recovered.

Through the adoption of this innovative technology, California has once again positioned itself as a leader in the effort to prevent gun violence. The state’s certification should also provide encouragement to the several other states have proposed, but not adopted, microstamping legislation in recent years. Most importantly, the attorney general’s announcement sends a clear message to gun manufacturers: it’s time to adopt this technology and help law enforcement solve gun crimes.

Fourth Circuit Upholds Restriction on the Public Possession of Handguns

Posted on Friday, April 5th, 2013

In a closely watched case, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit issued a significant decision on March 21, in which it affirmed the ability of state law enforcement to limit the carrying of guns in public places. Reversing the decision of a federal district court in Maryland, the circuit court held that a requirement under Maryland law – that an individual demonstrate a “good and substantial reason” in order to qualify for a permit to carry a handgun in public – does not violate the Second Amendment.

Notably, the Fourth Circuit rebuked the district court for making a “trailblazing pronouncement that the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms for the purpose of self-defense extends outside the home” and it advised courts that they should await direction from the U.S. Supreme Court before determining whether or to what extent the Second Amendment might protect the possession of firearms in public.

The decision confirms that reasonable restrictions on carrying of handguns in public are constitutional, even if they strictly limit the number of individuals who may carry a handgun. As the Fourth Circuit explained, “The State has clearly demonstrated that the good-and-substantial-reason requirement advances the objectives of protecting public safety and preventing crime because it reduces the number of handguns carried in public. That is, limiting the public carry of handguns protects citizens and inhibits crime.”

Want more? Check out the other recent success stories.