Smart Gun Laws and Suicide Prevention

Posted on Friday, September 11th, 2015

September is National Suicide Prevention Month. More than 40,000 Americans die by suicide every year, and more than half of those deaths involve guns. To put that number in perspective, almost five times as many Americans will die this year from self-inflicted gunshot wounds than died in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan combined.

Waiting periodOur mission is to fight for the laws we know will save lives, and that includes ones that prevent suicide. The gun lobby likes to treat these deaths like they don’t matter. They claim it’s not a gun issue. That if we keep guns out of the hands of suicidal people, they’ll just find another way. We refuse to accept that, and the data backs us up. Some facts from Harvard University’s School of Public Health:

  • Suicide is often impulsive: 71% of attempts take place within one hour of making the decision
  • Suicide attempts with a gun are 85% fatal—more than all other methods combined
  • Gun availability is a significant risk factor: 52% of suicides involve firearms

A compelling new study published in the American Journal of Public Health examined the Law Center’s data to measure the impact of gun laws on suicide rates. They found that, just like with gun death rates, gun suicide rates—and overall suicide rates—are significantly lower in states with smart gun laws such as safe storage, waiting periods, and universal background checks.

Laws are just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to stopping suicide. Access to better healthcare and reducing the stigma surrounding mental illness are also essential steps that save lives.

For more information on how smart gun laws can reduce these types of deaths–especially for teenagers, who are at a particularly high risk–read and share our Commonsense Solutions toolkit on mental health, produced with our partners at Americans for Responsible Solutions.

We won’t let the gun lobby bully our leaders into thinking that certain lives don’t “count” when it comes to gun violence. And we won’t stop fighting for lifesaving smart gun laws until every American is protected from the devastation of gunfire.

Keeping California on the Leading Edge of Smart Gun Laws

Posted on Saturday, August 29th, 2015


The Law Center is committed to continuing to shape California’s common-sense approach to responsible gun ownership and safety. Our attorneys are busy: tracking laws, testifying at public safety hearings, and working alongside lawmakers to pass legislation that will keep the Golden State a model for the rest of the nation when it comes to enacting smart gun laws that save lives.

California’s 2015 legislative session has now concluded, and we are proud that the Governor signed SB 707 (“gun-free school zone”) to eliminate a dangerous loophole in California’s Gun-Free School Zone Act by prohibiting individuals licensed to carry concealed handguns from carrying concealed, loaded weapons onto school grounds without the written permission of school officials. This legislation will help ensure that school administrators have the discretion they need to provide students with a safe and secure learning environment.

To learn more about all of the firearm-related bills introduced in the California State Legislature this year, check out our comprehensive 2015 California Legislative Summary below.

For more info on legislative trends that are currently developing nationwide, read our 2015 State Gun Law Trendwatch.


After a Summer of Violence, Smart Gun Laws Are the Solution

Posted on Friday, August 28th, 2015

RoanokeThe horrific streak of highly publicized shootings this summer has left many reeling, including us. With each passing day, the death toll from gun violence climbs, and the urgent need to adopt smart gun laws becomes clearer and clearer. At the Law Center, we’re mourning these horrific tragedies, but we’re also taking action: our legal experts have redoubled their efforts to find common-sense solutions to the epidemic of gun violence playing out in America.

There are a few key policy areas that must be strengthened in order to prevent tragedies of the magnitude we’ve seen over the last few months, beginning with the racially motivated massacre at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, right up to this week’s on-camera execution of two Virginia journalists. We lose 80 Americans a day to gun violence, and, in 2015, for the first time, more young people will die from guns than from cars. If we want that madness to end, we must push for smarter gun laws:

Universal background checks provide the first line of defense—they help keep guns from falling into the wrong hands. Federal law still has a dangerous loophole that allows prohibited people—the dangerously mentally ill, drug abusers, convicted domestic abusers and felons—to easily purchase guns through private or online sales. With the rise of the internet and social media since the Brady Bill was first passed in 1993, the need to close this loophole has become exponentially more urgent.

State reporting improvements also must be made in order for the National Instant Criminal Background Check System to issue accurate reports on potential gun buyers. Many states fail to comprehensively report essential information like criminal history, mental health status, domestic violence records, and illicit drug abuse records to the agencies that perform background checks. Increasing NICS funding and stronger incentives and penalties on states to report relevant records to NICS will close this dangerous gap in the background checks system.

Gun Violence Restraining Orders (GVRO) empower families and law enforcement to petition a judge to remove guns from relatives who pose a risk to themselves or others. Shooters often exhibit dangerous warning signs, and GVRO laws help keep guns away from people with the intent to harm. California passed a landmark GVRO last year, in response to the shooting at the University of California, Santa Barbara. How many other mass shootings could have been prevented had the shooters’ families had legal recourse to keep them away from deadly weapons?

In statehouses across the country, the fight for smart gun laws continues—the good news is, we’re winning. Since the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012, lawmakers have passed more than 99 lifesaving smart gun laws in 37 states. In states with smart gun laws, like the ones mentioned above, their gun death rates have plummeted, as you can see on our annual Gun Law State Scorecard. And we continue to defeat the gun lobby in court—93 percent of Second Amendment challenges to existing gun laws have failed since the landmark Heller decision in 2008. Americans overwhelmingly support smart gun laws, and we owe it to the 30,000 victims of gun violence to fight for these lifesaving policies.

Protecting Strong Gun Laws: The Supreme Court Leaves Lower Court Victories Untouched

Posted on Wednesday, August 26th, 2015


In the last seven years, the U.S. Supreme Court has rejected more than sixty cases seeking to expand the very limited right defined in the unprecedented Second Amendment case, District of Columbia v. Heller. By repeatedly declining to review lower court decisions upholding federal, state, and local gun laws, the Supreme Court has maintained important limitations on the Second Amendment and has reconfirmed that the CERTGraphicAmendment is not an obstacle to smart gun laws that keep our communities safe from gun violence.

Since the Court’s decision in the Heller case 2008, lower courts across the country have been inundated with costly and time-consuming challenges to state and local gun laws.  However, lower courts have consistently upheld these laws, noting that many of these laws have been successful at protecting people from gun violence and keeping guns out of the hands of criminals while still allowing law-abiding citizens to keep guns in their homes for self defense.  Since 2008, there have been over 1,000 Second Amendment cases challenging gun laws nationwide, with an overwhelming majority—94%—of the lower court decisions upholding those laws.

Many of these Second Amendment challenges to gun laws make their way to the Supreme Court.  However, the Court has refused to hear these cases,1 leaving lower court decisions upholding the laws intact and keeping strong gun laws on the books.  For example, the Supreme Court has refused to hear cases that:

  1. In 2010, the Court decided McDonald v. City of Chicago, which held that the right recognized in Heller extends to state and local governments.  That case involved a Chicago law nearly identical to the one struck down in Heller and did not expand the substantive scope of the Second Amendment. []

22nd Anniversary Dinner

Posted on Thursday, July 30th, 2015

The Law Center’s 22nd Anniversary dinner was a resounding success, bringing our community together, honoring our legacy, and raising much-needed funds to keep our top-notch attorneys fighting for smart gun laws across the country. The event was especially powerful in light of the tragic mass shooting in Charleston the night before, a topic our speakers addressed with reflection, thought-provoking analysis, and renewed commitment to solving the epidemic of gun violence that kills over 30,000 Americans every year.

We are so grateful to all of our generous sponsors, supporters, and volunteers for making this year’s dinner a night to remember. Missed the dinner but still want to support our work? Please consider donating to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence today.


Mid-Year Update: Tracking the Trends in Smart Gun Laws

Posted on Monday, July 20th, 2015

Every year, our attorneys comb the thousands of gun bills introduced into state legislatures across the nation. We’re looking for the bills that will have an impact—both positive and negative—on the devastating effects of gun violence in America.

So far, in 2015, we’ve tracked, summarized, and analyzed 1160 gun bills, and there are still more to come—some states, like California, haven’t finished their legislative cycle yet.

Some standout trends we’ve noticed this year include:

  • Defensive Victories: We’ve seen significant momentum in defeating gun lobby priorities like allowing firearms in schools—campus carry bills were defeated in 14 states and another 15 bills allowing concealed weapons at K—12 schools failed, thanks to efforts by gun violence prevention advocates.

To get the full picture of 2015’s legislative trends, check out the Gun Law Trendwatch 2015 Mid-Year Update. And don’t forget–in December we’ll release an end-of-year summary of all the state legislative activity in 2015, as well as our annual Gun Law State Scorecard, which ranks the states based on the strength of their gun laws.

The Policies that Could Have Prevented the Charleston Shooting

Posted on Monday, July 13th, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-07-13 at 2.55.47 PMIn the aftermath of the horrific, racially motivated mass shooting in Charleston that left nine people at Emanuel AME Church dead, the FBI revealed that the shooter should have failed his background check when he purchased the murder weapon in April. This tragic error draws attention to dangerous flaws in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) that we at the Law Center have been critical of since the system’s inception.

To be clear, NICS has prevented over two million dangerous, prohibited purchasers like felons, domestic abusers, drug addicts, and the dangerously mentally ill from buying guns since its inception, saving countless lives. But there is, clearly, much room for improvement to ensure that the failure that enabled the Charleston shooting doesn’t happen again:

  • State Reporting Improvements: Many states fail to report essential information like criminal history, mental health status, domestic violence records, and, especially important in the Charleston case, illicit drug abuse records to the agencies that perform background checks. Increasing NICS funding and changing federal law to require states to report relevant records to the NICS system will close this dangerous gap in the background checks system.
  • Universal Background Checks: The best way to save lives from gun violence is require background checks on all private sales, including online and at gun shows. South Carolina has abysmal gun laws (we gave them an F on our 2014 Gun Law State Scorecard), and had the Charleston shooter failed his background check at the gun shop (as he should have), he still would have easily been able to purchase a gun through a private sale, where no background check is required. Eighteen states currently have some form of private sale background checks, but until we pass this smart gun law everywhere, we cannot act surprised when dangerous criminals get their hands on deadly weapons so easily.

NICS is great starting place for protecting our citizens from gun violence, but the system must continue to be improved and we must demand that our lawmakers stand up to the gun lobby and adopt lifesaving policies like universal background checks. Momentum is on our side, with 99 new smart gun laws passed in 37 states since Newtown, and we at the Law Center will continue to fight to keep deadly weapons out of the hands of dangerous people.

For more information on the importance of universal background checks, visit our policy page.

Law Center and ARS Release Commonsense Solutions Toolkit on Protecting Kids from Unintended Shootings

Posted on Wednesday, June 24th, 2015

We know the fight to end gun violence cannot be won alone—which is why we’ve spent the last year partnering with one of the movement’s most powerful, active organizations, Americans for Responsible Solutions. We’re proud to release the latest in our series of Commonsense Solutions toolkits—this installment addresses the urgent need to protect children from firearms.

Commonsense Solutions: State Gun Laws to Protect Kids from Unintended Shootings is a comprehensive legal resource that offers detailed proposals for smart gun laws and in-home best practices to keep kids from accessing firearms. Our recommendations include child access prevention laws, safe storage methods, and requirements that gun dealers provide safety information.

Too many families have needlessly suffered the devastation of a child lost to an unlocked gun. Almost 1.7 million children under the age of 18 live in homes with loaded, unlocked guns, making them 16 times more likely to be killed in unintentional shootings than in other high-income countries. Commonsense requirements for gun storage and handling can protect the littlest among us from preventable tragedies.

Check out our other Commonsense Solutions toolkits:

State Laws to Address Gun Violence Against Women

State Laws to Expand Background Checks for Unlicensed Gun Sales

How State Laws Can Reduce Gun Deaths Associated with Mental Illness

Charleston and Smart Gun Laws

Posted on Monday, June 22nd, 2015


As we struggle to process the horrific mass shooting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, we are yet again reminded of the unacceptable toll gun violence has on our communities. More than 30,000 Americans die from gunfire each year. To put this in perspective, during the first seven years of the Iraq War, over 4,400 American soldiers were killed—almost as many civilians are killed with guns in the US every seven weeks.

This year, guns will kill more people under 25 than automobiles, and the gun homicide rate in the US is 20 times higher than in other developed nations. Communities of color are disproportionately impacted, with black men 10 times more likely to be murdered with a gun than white men.

While there may not be a single policy that would have prevented the Emanuel AME Church shooting, the research does show, categorically, that states with comprehensive gun regulation have significantly lower gun death rates, while states with weak gun laws have high gun death rates. South Carolina, which scored an F on our annual Gun Law State Scorecard, has abysmal gun laws and the fifth highest gun homicide rate in the country—41 percent higher than the national average.

South Carolina could make its citizens significantly safer by adopting the following policies:

  • Universal Background Checks: Federal law leaves open a dangerous loophole that allows prohibited people (including criminals, the dangerously mentally ill, drug abusers, and those under indictment for felonies, as some reports indicate the Charleston shooter was) to easily purchase guns through unlicensed sales.
  • Gun Violence Restraining Orders: Last year, California passed a landmark Gun Violence Restraining Order (GVRO) law that empowers families to petition a judge to remove guns from relatives who pose a risk to themselves or others. Mass shooters often exhibit dangerous warning signs and GVRO laws help keep guns out of dangerous hands.
  • Permit to Purchase: Several states, including North Carolina, require all handgun buyers to obtain a “permit to purchase” from local law enforcement, even for unlicensed sales. If South Carolina adopted this law, it would add an additional layer of screening and make it harder for dangerous people to buy firearms.
  • Hate Crime Laws: South Carolina is one of only five states without a hate crime law. By imposing stiffer penalties on crimes motivated by bias, these acts are more effectively discouraged.

The good news is that in the face of tragedies like the one in Charleston, smart gun laws are winning in statehouses across the country. Since the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, an unprecedented 99 new smart gun laws have passed in 37 states, including a historic universal background checks ballot initiative in Washington State. And the gun lobby continues to lose in the courts—93% of Second Amendment challenges to existing gun regulations have failed since the landmark Heller decision in 2008. The American people overwhelmingly support smart gun laws, and we owe it to the victims of the shooting at Emanuel AME Church—as well as the 30,000 others lost to gun violence each year—to keep standing up to the gun lobby and fighting for these lifesaving policies.

Victory in Iowa: Background Checks Saved

Posted on Friday, June 12th, 2015


Last week, the gun violence prevention movement notched yet another big victory for smart gun laws, this time in Iowa. Currently, potential buyers must apply for a permit to purchase a handgun, renewed annually, but legislation supported by the gun lobby would have repealed this essential safety requirement.

Had the bill passed, a person buying a handgun from a private seller in Iowa would not be required to submit to a background check. These essential provisions help keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people like convicted felons and domestic abusers. Background checks are widely supported by most Americans, and polls show even 74 percent of NRA members support these lifesaving measures.

Many players in the gun violence prevention movement came together to save Iowa’s crucial background check laws. The Law Center is proud to have worked on the frontlines to help defeat this ill-conceived bill, lending the weight of our legal expertise to the chorus of opposition to the gun lobby’s dangerous agenda.

The defeat of this legislation keeps Iowa one of the 18 states who have private sale background checks, and sets an encouraging precedent for the rest of the nation in protecting the public and promoting smarter laws for safer communities.

This victory for background checks in Iowa, and recent others in Washington and Oregon show the powerful impact our movement can have when working together for smart laws that save lives.

For more information on background checks, see our policy page.