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.

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 »

President Obama Creates New Executive Action to Strengthen Gun Background Checks

Posted on Friday, March 7th, 2014

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In January, the Department of Health and Human Services released a draft of a new rule proposed by the Obama administration that could strengthen the system for background checks on gun sales. This rule would help ensure that the system can properly identify any person prohibited from possessing firearms because of severe mental illness. As a part of the process for executive orders to go into place, the Department of Health and Human Services must consider public comment — and that process is now underway. Public comments on this proposed rule to strengthen background checks on gun sales will be accepted through Monday, March 10th.

Under federal law, people become disqualified from purchasing a firearm when they are involuntarily committed to a mental institution or subject to similar procedures because of severe mental illness.  In order for the process to identify these people, however, states have to submit identifying information to the federal background check system.  Some states have been reluctant to submit this information, claiming that the federal privacy laws regarding personal medical information prevent this disclosure.  The proposed rule would make it clear that certain agencies can submit limited information to the background check system without violating federal privacy laws.

The proposed rule also includes strong protections for the privacy of the mentally ill.  More specifically, it clearly limits the disclosure that would be allowed in three ways:

  • Speaker:  Only entities with lawful authority to make decisions that cause individuals to become prohibited from possessing firearms, or that serve as repositories of this information for reporting purposes, would be permitted to disclose this information;
  • Message:  The disclosure would be restricted to identifying information (name, birthdate, etc.) and would not include medical records, or diagnostic or clinical information; and
  • Audience:  Entities would only be allowed to disclose this information to the federal database used for firearm purchaser background checks, or to a state agency for the purpose of reporting to that database.  The information would not be made public or disclosed to any other person.

The Obama administration, particularly the Department of Health and Human Services, should be commended for drafting the proposed rule, which strikes the proper balance between public safety and the privacy interests of the mentally ill. The Law Center supported the new rule to strengthen background checks by submitting a comment, stating that this proposed rule will remove ambiguity and help states submit the appropriate records into the background check system, which could prevent suicides and save countless lives from unnecessary gun violence.

However, the gun lobby has attacked this reasonable and responsible action, sending a large number of gun activists to object to this proposal. Show the administration that the public supports such important steps to keep guns out of the wrong hands by visiting the federal commenting portal today

Law Center and Attorney General Harris Defend California Law in Pivotal Ninth Circuit Concealed Weapon Case

Posted on Thursday, February 27th, 2014

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A radical Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision earlier this month put one of California’s key laws in jeopardy. In that case, 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. Today, California Attorney General Kamala Harris filed a request that the Ninth Circuit reconsider the case in front of an en banc panel of judges.

The law at issue here allows law enforcement to issue a permit to carry a hidden, loaded gun in public if the applicant can demonstrate “good cause” for receiving a permit. This type of system is commonly called a “may issue” permitting system and is not uncommon in other states across the country. In Peruta v. County of San Diegotwo 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 three other circuits’ decisions on this issue.

Given that this decision guts a critical piece of California law regarding guns in public, it is no surprise that the Attorney General has decided to get involved in the case and request an en banc rehearing. Today, the Law Center—which also filed an amicus brief in front of the original three judge panel—filed an amicus brief that supports the Attorney General’s request. Our brief argues that the Peruta decision is a dramatic departure from other courts’ analysis of this issue. In fact, cases challenging similar “may issue” systems in New York, Maryland, and New Jersey have been rejected by three different federal appellate courts.

The briefs filed by the Law Center, Attorney General Harris, and other organizations send a clear message to the Ninth Circuit to stop this radical decision by two judges which could overturn decades of California law that helps law enforcement prevent gun violence. This unprecedented ruling starkly departs from other courts’ interpretations of the Second Amendment by failing to consider the public safety benefits of granting law enforcement discretion in deciding who should be allowed to carry a concealed weapon and by failing to recognize the well-established history of regulating guns in public.  Courts that have taken those considerations into account have all upheld these critical laws. 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. []