From Virginia Tech to Isla Vista: New Approaches to Keeping Guns from Dangerous People

Posted on Tuesday, July 1st, 2014

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Join us:

Thursday, July 10th | 3:30 – 5:00 PM
San Francisco Public Library
Koret Auditorium, 100 Larkin St.

Panelists:

Josh Horwitz, JD – Executive Director of the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence
Jeffrey Swanson, PhD – Professor of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences at Duke University School of Medicine
Shannon Frattaroli, PhD, MPH – Associate Professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
Renee Binder, MD – Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at University of California San Francisco
Garen Wintemute, MD, MPH - Professor of Emergency Medicine at the University of California, Davis
Julie Leftwich, JD – Legal Director of the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence

Please send your RSVP to [email protected].

Isla Vista Mass Shooting: Preventing Gun Access During a Mental Health Crisis

Posted on Tuesday, May 27th, 2014

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Once again, our hearts are broken after hearing of the shooting rampage Friday night in the college town of Isla Vista. A 22-year-old college student drove around town, shooting from his car, unloading 10-round magazines, and killing three people before shooting himself.  Ultimately, the attack left seven dead and 13 wounded.

The story is one that the nation has seen before — a young man in the midst of a mental health crisis and few legal mechanisms to keep him from accessing dangerous and deadly weapons. The shooter was receiving psychiatric treatment in the months prior to the shooting, and his family had reportedly informed local officials of their concerns about his mental state weeks before the shooting. Rather than focus on his access to guns, however, police officers interviewed him in his home for an evaluation of his mental state.  The officers found him to be “polite and kind” and did not perform a search for weapons.

People who witness another person’s suicidal or violent threats sometimes contact law enforcement, but these warnings rarely result in a gun restrictions under current law.  Even in California, which has some of the strongest gun laws in the country, there is still no legal mechanism for these warnings from family members or other community members to limit the person’s access to guns.

It doesn’t have to be this way. A basic framework already exists for screening gun purchasers:  federal law requires licensed gun dealers to conduct background checks on purchasers. The background check system is currently in the process of transforming from a system that categorically excludes certain people to a system that can be used to impose “temporary holds” on potentially dangerous individuals pending proper evaluation.

We can enact laws that allow for additional evaluation before a potentially dangerous or suicidal person has access to a gun. Some of these proposals involve empowering community members – teachers, school administrators, family members, and law enforcement officers – to speak out about dangerous people so that the person cannot access guns until law enforcement and mental health professionals have completed a thorough assessment.  Other versions of this proposal – called a gun violence restraining order – would allow family members to seek a court order that temporarily restricts a person’s access to guns.  These proposals enjoy broad support from the mental health community and have great potential to reduce both gun homicides and gun suicides as well.  Suicides account for about 60% of gun deaths nationwide.

We at the Law Center are exploring policy options to enable these temporary holds.  They will provide an avenue for family and other community members to bring the issue of guns in the hands of dangerous people to the attention of the authorities, so that temporary gun restrictions can be imposed pending further evaluation of the person’s intent.

For more, visit our analysis of mental health and our nation’s gun laws or read about the latest in gun legislation moving through the California legislature.

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.

Lives on the Line: Dismantling Chicago’s Gun Violence Epidemic – May 9, 2014

Posted on Friday, May 9th, 2014

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Thanks to everyone who participated in this event in person and through livestream! If you missed the event, you can watch it below:

Gun violence is taking a shockingly serious toll in Chicago. In one recent 36-hour period, 36 people were reported as injured from gun violence. This is simply unacceptable.

Across the city, people are coming together to find ways to address the city’s unique struggle with guns in the hands of dangerous people. To learn how to make Chicago’s communities safer, we need to better understand the city’s complex and lethal battle against gun violence.

The Law Center produced a recent event in which a panel of experts discussed Chicago’s battle against gun violence and the ways that people are working from the streets to the state capitol to push for lasting solutions to this deadly epidemic.

Our panel of experts and advocates working at the individual, city, and state levels helped to illuminate the unique set of challenges at play in Chicago and shared how we can win the fight to save lives.

Lives on the Line:
Dismantling Chicago’s Gun Violence Epidemic

May 9, 2014 | Noon – 1:30 PM
Kirkland & Ellis LLP
300 North LaSalle | Chicago

On the panel:
Janey Rountree, JD, the Deputy Chief of Staff for Public Safety for Mayor Rahm Emanuel
Colleen Daley, the Executive Director of the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence (ICHV)
Nosheen Hydari, AMFT, a crisis therapist for the Emergency Services On-Call team at Community Counseling Centers of Chicago (C4)
Robyn Thomas, Executive Director of the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence

Find out more about the speakers below.
READ MORE »

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 »

White House Seeks Immediate Input on Mental Health Gun Prohibitions

Posted on Thursday, April 3rd, 2014

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Yesterday’s mass shooting at Fort Hood, Texas, the second at that location in five years, shocked and appalled us, and our heart goes out to all the people touched by the tragedy.  Like the shooter in so many of the recent mass shootings that we as a nation have witnessed, Ivan Lopez had previously been identified as having severe mental health problems, but he still had access to the gun he used in the shooting.  Once again, we are faced with the possibility that commonsense laws could have prevented this tragedy.  As a result, this shooting only increases our determination to address the legal loopholes that provide access to firearms by dangerous people.

The good news is there is something we can all do right now to help address this problem. In January, the Obama Administration proposed a new rule that will prevent certain dangerously mentally ill people from obtaining access to firearms. The new rule will help states identify the groups of people that are ineligible to purchase or possess guns under federal law, so that they can be reported to the background check system.  While this new rule may not have prevented this particular shooting, it will certainly decrease the risk of similar tragedies.

Federal law prohibits a person from purchasing or possessing guns if he or she has been “committed to a mental institution” or “adjudicated a mental defective.” Until now, many states have been confused about which groups of people are ineligible to purchase or possess guns based on these terms, since the federal law and ATF’s current regulations do not provide much guidance. As a result, many states have not reported the proper people to the database used for firearm purchaser background checks.

In April 2007, this confusion directly resulted in another mass shooting, when Virginia Tech student Seung-Hui Cho shot and killed 32 people and injured 17 others before committing suicide on the college campus in Blacksburg, Virginia. A Virginia special justice had declared Mr. Cho to be “an imminent danger” to himself as a result of mental illness on December 14, 2005, and ordered Mr. Cho to seek outpatient treatment. However, Cho was able to purchase firearms through two licensed dealers after two background checks. While Virginia law at that time required that some mental health records be submitted to the databases used for background checks, it did not require reporting of people committed as outpatients because of confusion about whether the federal law applied.

While many states altered their laws to require the reporting of people like Mr. Cho in the years since Virginia Tech, some states still do not report people committed as outpatients. In fact, as of May 2013, 15 states had each identified less than 100 people that should be prohibited from purchasing a gun on the basis of mental illness altogether. The proposed rule will help change this situation, by clarifying that people who have been ordered by a court to obtain mental health treatment as outpatients are ineligible to purchase or possess firearms under the federal law. People who have been determined to be “incompetent to stand trial” or “guilty but mentally ill” in a criminal case will also be ineligible under the proposed rule. These changes will help prevent people like Seung-Hui Cho from obtaining access to firearms, and will help prevent tragedies like Virginia Tech and Fort Hood.

Public comments on this proposed rule will only be accepted through Monday, April 7. The Law Center applauds the Administration’s efforts to reduce access to firearms by the dangerously mentally ill. Join the Law Center in supporting these efforts by expressing your approval for the proposed rule on the federal regulatory portal here: http://bit.ly/MentalHealthEA.

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.

Marvin Gaye’s 75th Birthday Celebration – April 2, 2014

Posted on Tuesday, March 18th, 2014

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Wednesday, April 2, 2014 is Marvin Pentz Gaye’s 75th Birthday!

We are so grateful to be named the beneficiary of this annual event by Marvin Gaye’s family for the second year in a row.

Join us at Restaurant Marvin for the 7th Annual Marvin Gaye Day Celebration as an incredible group of musicians generously donate their time to pay tribute to Marvin and to contribute to our work fighting for smart gun laws nationwide.

Join us:

April 2, 2014 at 4PM
Restaurant Marvin
2007 14th Street NW | Washington, DC 20009

Keeping families and communities everywhere safe from gun violence has been so important to us since we lost Marvin.  After the terrible tragedy in Newtown, my family was compelled to stand up and do something to prevent others from having to deal with the loss of a loved one by gunfire. We’ve chosen to support the work of the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence because their work is so fundamental to keeping us all safe. It feels very meaningful to celebrate Marvin’s life and legacy as a peaceful and loving spirit while contributing to this critical issue.

- Janis Gaye

Mark Barden, who lost his son Daniel in the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in Newtown, Connecticut will join Gordon “Guitar” Banks, Gaye’s music director, for jam session as part of the musical line up.

The event will also include performances by Gaye’s original band, The Marquees, a Marvin tradition since 2008. Joining them are soul singers Martin Luther and Maimouna Youssef, who will perform a rousing tribute to Gaye and Tammi Terrell — Gaye’s duet partner on seven Top 40 singles including “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and “You’re All I Need To Get By”. The Savoy-Ellingtons, children of musical great Duke Ellington, and a roster of local artists will all pay tribute with musical performances throughout the day.

Washington D.C. based indie rock band, U.S. Royalty, joins the line-up this year showing how Marvin’s influence transcends not only time, but also genre. Additionally, neighboring vinyl shop, Som Records will host a “Hitsville Pop-up Shop” at Marvin selling the best vinyl from the 1960s to the early 1980s from 4pm-close.