Success Stories for Safer Communities

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.

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 »