The Commonsense Gun Laws Partnership: A Collaboration Dedicated to Preventing Gun Violence

Posted on Friday, August 15th, 2014

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Earlier this year, we announced an exciting new partnership between the Law Center and Americans for Responsible Solutions (ARS), the organization founded by former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, retired combat veteran and NASA astronaut Mark Kelly. Together, we are committed to bringing some sanity to our nation’s gun laws.

With our more than 20 years of research and knowledge on the nation’s gun laws, and the powerful grassroots network cultivated by Americans for Responsible Solutions, together we are producing tools that will empower lawmakers and community members to stop gun violence before it happens.

The Law Center and Americans for Responsible Solutions will assist legislators by creating a series of toolkits that will aid in developing solutions to protect communities from gun violence while ensuring that the legislation complies with the Second Amendment. The toolkits on each topic will provide:

  • Evidence of the particular gap in current laws that perpetuate gun violence;
  • Effective, tested solutions to close the loophole;
  • Policy rationale for action;
  • Legal basis for new laws; and
  • Most importantly – straight-forward features of the policies that will guide legislative drafting.

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Victory in the Courts: Maryland’s Ban on Assault Weapons and Large Capacity Ammunition Magazines Upheld

Posted on Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

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In a victory for gun safety, a U.S. District Court on Tuesday, August 12 upheld all aspects of Maryland’s Firearm Safety Act of 2013.  The law, enacted in the wake of the devastating shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, prohibits certain assault weapons and large capacity ammunition magazines (“LCAMs”).  Plaintiffs in the case, individual gun owners as well as a number of pro-gun organizations, argued unsuccessfully that the Act violates the Second Amendment.  With its decision, the District Court in Kolbe v. O’Malley joins an ever-growing number of courts that have unanimously upheld laws around the country prohibiting dangerous, military-style assault weapons and LCAMs.

In reviewing the law, the court first asked whether assault weapons and LCAMs (magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds) fall within the scope of the Second Amendment, which does not protect “dangerous and unusual weapons,” but only those “typically possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes.”  The court noted that assault weapons “represent no more than 3% of the current civilian gun stock, and ownership of those weapons is highly concentrated in less than 1% of the U.S. population.”  Moreover, assault weapons “are used disproportionately” in both mass shootings and attacks on law enforcement officers and “cause more injuries and more fatalities when they are used.”  Given this evidence, the court expressed its “serious[] doubts that the banned assault long guns are commonly possessed for lawful purposes” and was “inclined to find” that such weapons fall outside the Second Amendment as dangerous and unusual.

A final ruling on that question was not issued, however, because the court found the entire Act to easily survive constitutional review.  In holding that the Act only minimally burdens the Second Amendment, the court pointed out that the law “does not seriously impact a person’s ability to defend himself in the home…[i]n fact, the plaintiffs can point to no instance where assault weapons or LCAMs were used or useful in an instance of self-defense in Maryland.”  The court also noted persuasive evidence showing that “assault weapons have several military-style features which make them especially dangerous to law enforcement and civilians,” and that LCAMs are used disproportionately in mass shootings and in the killing of law enforcement officers.  Given these facts, the court concluded that the Act “substantially serves the government’s interest in protecting public safety, and it does so without significantly burdening” the Second Amendment right of “law-abiding, responsible citizens to use arms in defense of hearth and home.”

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 over 900 decisions tracked by the Law Center, approximately 96% of Second Amendment challenges were rejected—further proof that sensible firearm regulations are totally compatible with the Second Amendment.

For more, visit our overview of Maryland’s gun laws or read about limits on assault weapons and large capacity ammunition magazines in states across the country.

Eleventh Circuit Upholds Florida Law Preventing Doctors from Asking About Gun Ownership

Posted on Thursday, July 31st, 2014

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On July 25, 2014, in a surprising and disappointing decision, a three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit upheld a Florida state law that limits doctors’ ability to speak to their patients about gun safety.1 Dubbed the “gag rule,” this law prevents doctors from even asking patients about gun ownership as part of routine care to prevent the potentially devastating effects of gun violence. The decision reverses a U.S. District Court’s 2012 decision, which invalidated the law on the grounds that it violates physicians’ First Amendment rights and “chills practitioners’ speech in a way that impairs the provision of medical care and may ultimately harm the patient.”2

Gun violence is a public health epidemic in the U.S. and of great concern to health care providers. Over 7,000 children are hospitalized or killed due to gun violence every year.3 Extensive research has shown that the presence of a gun in a home makes its residents less safe. A national study of those who died from accidental shootings showed that victims were more than three times more likely to have had a gun in their home as those in the control group.4 The danger of unintentional shootings is especially grave for homes with childrenEighty-nine percent of unintentional shooting deaths of children occur in the home—and most of these deaths occur when children are handling a loaded gun in their parents’ absence.5

Doctors can play an important role in reducing childhood death and injury from guns. According to one recent study, 64% of individuals who received verbal firearm storage safety counseling from their doctors improved their gun safety practices.6  Numerous medical organizations, including the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American College of Physicians, and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), believe that gun violence can be lessened by providing patients and parents with information about gun safety. The AAP recommends that conversations about guns and gun safety start during a prenatal visit and be repeated every year as part of anticipatory guidance. Indeed, doctors routinely talk to their patients about a range of public health hazards in the home, including backyard swimming pools, tobacco, and household cleaners and toxins.

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  1.  Wollschlaeger v. Florida, No. 12-14009 (11th Cir. Jul. 25, 2014). []
  2. Wollschlaeger v. Farmer, 880 F. Supp. 2d 1251, 1267 (S.D. Fla., 2012). []
  3. Dennis Thompson, 20 U.S. Kids Hospitalized Each Day for Gun InjuriesWebMD (Jan. 27, 2014), available at http://www.webmd.com/parenting/news/20140127/twenty-us-kids-hospitalized-each-day-for-gun-injuries-study. []
  4. Douglas J. Wiebe, Firearms in U.S. Homes as a Risk Factor for Unintentional Gunshot Fatality, 35 Accident Analysis & Prevention 711, 713-14 (2003). []
  5. Guohua Li et al., Factors Associated with the Intent of Firearm-Related Injuries in Pediatric Trauma Patients, 150 Archives Of Pediatric & Adolescent Med. 1160, 1162 (1996). []
  6. Teresa L. Albright & Sandra K. Burge, Improving Firearm Storage Habits: Impact of Brief Office Counseling by Family Physicians, 16 J. of the Am. Bd. of Family Practice 40, 40 (2003). []

Victory in California: Governor Brown Signs Two New Gun Safety Bills

Posted on Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014

SONY DSCOn Friday, July 22, California Governor Jerry Brown signed two important gun safety bills into law, one that will close a large loophole in California’s “Unsafe Handgun” law and another that will speed up court communication with law enforcement regarding mental health records.

AB 1964: Closing a Dangerous Loophole

California’s “Unsafe Handgun” law, on the books since 1999, requires handguns sold in the state to first pass standard safety testing and be equipped with basic safety features, such as loaded chamber indicators, which are designed to help prevent accidental shootings. A loophole in this law allowed single-shot handguns to completely bypass these safety requirements. After being sold, these single-shot handguns could be easily modified back into their fully-functional, semiautomatic form, creating a dangerous and frequently exploited situation. Last year alone, 18,000 single-shot handguns were sold in California.

AB 1964 closes this loophole and will ensure that the “Unsafe Handgun” law truly covers all handguns. This will keep dangerous junk guns off the streets and ensure that every handgun sold in the state complies with California’s rigorous safety standards.

AB 1591: Speeding Up Communication between Courts and the CA Department of Justice

Under current law, when a court takes an action that would prohibit a person from possessing a firearm because of mental health—such as a finding that the person is mentally incompetent to stand trial—that action must be reported to the California Department of Justice within two court days. The reported information is critical in helping to ensure that firearms are not acquired by individuals who might pose a danger to themselves or others. AB 1591 speeds up communication between courts and the CA Department of Justice by requiring that this important data is reported as quickly as possible, within one court day.

The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence is confident both of these laws will reduce gun violence in our state and we applaud the Governor and the Legislature for taking steps to keep Californians safe. For more information on pending gun safety legislation in California, including SB 53, the Law Center’s priority bill for 2014 which would regulate ammunition sales, see our update on California Legislation. For a full description of existing laws to reduce gun violence in California, visit our summary of California gun laws.

Warning Signs: Preventing Gun Violence in Crisis Situations

Posted on Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014

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The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence is proud to partner with Americans for Responsible Solutions to release Warning Signs: Preventing Gun Violence in Crisis Situations. This collaborative report provides analysis of laws that help to empower community members to prevent gun violence in crisis situations.

Together, the Law Center and Americans for Responsible Solutions will continue to develop solutions to keep guns out of dangerous hands through careful research and legislative drafting. The Law Center’s unparalleled legal expertise and the formidable grassroots network of Americans for Responsible Solutions will ensure that the best information available on smart gun policies reaches legislators nationwide.

Download a PDF copy of Warning Signs: Preventing Gun Violence in Crisis Situations

Preventing the Next Mass Shooting Before It’s News

Columbine, Virginia Tech, Tucson, Aurora, Newtown. Most Americans can easily list many of the high profile mass shootings that our nation has experienced. News reports after these events frequently mention that friends, family members, and acquaintances noted a change in the shooter’s behavior in the time leading up to the tragedy. While a variety of legislative proposals can help reduce mass shootings, one approach is to give community members ways to act, so that access to guns can be temporarily removed when a person is in crisis.

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The Law Center’s 21st Anniversary Dinner – June 25, 2014

Posted on Monday, July 14th, 2014

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Thank you to everyone who joined us for the Law Center’s 21st Anniversary Dinner. We were honored to have the opportunity to award Anne Marks from Youth ALIVE! and Gabrielle Giffords and Mark Kelly for their meaningful work. If you missed the event, watch the highlights and hear what Gabby and the other speakers wanted to share with the crowd:

Thirteen-year-old Sukari Wright, a poet with Youth Speaks, also shared her incredibly moving experience with the crowd:

The Law Center’s Anniversary Dinner is always a meaningful event that brings together our community to honor the exceptional efforts of a few key individuals for their outstanding leadership in the gun violence prevention movement. The dinner, with an audience of 500 – 700 attorneys, legal and business professionals, and advocates for smart gun laws from all over the country, is a truly remarkable event without parallel.

We were pleased to honor Gabrielle Giffords and Mark Kelly as well as Youth ALIVE! for their courageous work on this issue at this year’s event.

Thank you to all who joined us on June 25th as we marked 21 years of the Law Center’s work saving lives with smart gun laws, honored outstanding leadership in our community, and energized the efforts of the national movement.


The Law Center’s 21st Anniversary Dinner
June 25, 2014
The Westin St. Francis | San Francisco

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Dangerous Constitutional Amendment Allows Convicted Felons to Challenge Common Sense Gun Laws

Posted on Friday, July 11th, 2014
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Photo by Brett Duke, NOLA.com The Times-Picayune

In early July, the Louisiana Supreme Court unanimously upheld a state law prohibiting convicted felons from possessing firearms. Despite this positive outcome, the case actually illustrates the very real dangers of an alarming trend that has recently emerged in certain parts of the country.

Challenges to the law arose after a dangerous and imprudent amendment was made to Louisiana’s constitution in 2012, requiring that all challenged state gun laws be subject to “strict scrutiny” review— the highest level of judicial review that exists. The Louisiana Constitution, like many other state constitutions, recognizes a right to keep and bear arms. However, in 2012, voters approved an NRA-supported amendment—the first of its kind approved in the U.S.—defining the right as “fundamental” and requiring courts to apply “strict scrutiny” when reviewing firearm regulations.

Because of this new “strict scrutiny” requirement, three convicted felons were able to challenge their convictions under a Louisiana statute which generally bars felons from possessing a firearm for ten years after the completion of their sentence. The challengers to the law in this case had been convicted of a variety of crimes including second degree battery, narcotics trafficking, and unauthorized entry of an inhabited dwelling.

The question was whether Louisiana may prohibit convicted felons from possessing firearms after serving their sentences. The Louisiana Supreme Court found “beyond question” that this law serves to protect public safety by keeping firearms out of the hands of those who are more likely to misuse them. In the words of the court, the case demonstrated that “convicted felons are not only at risk to re-offend, but are at risk to re-offend using firearms.” In upholding the law, the court concluded that “common sense and the public safety allow no other result.”

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Court Upholds Colorado Laws Banning Large Capacity Magazines and Requiring Background Checks for Private Gun Sales

Posted on Saturday, July 5th, 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.

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.