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. []

Extreme Ninth Circuit Concealed Weapon Decision Out Of Sync With Other Courts

Posted on Friday, February 14th, 2014

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California has some of the strongest gun laws in the nation and these strong laws have had a significant role in keeping Californians safe. Over the past twenty years, California’s gun laws have contributed to a significant—56%—drop in California’s gun death rate. However, a radical Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision has put one of the state’s key laws in jeopardy. Yesterday, 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.

This law, like laws in several other states across the country, only allows law enforcement to issue a permit to carry a concealed loaded gun in public if the applicant can demonstrate “good cause” for the issuance of a permit—commonly called a “may issue” permitting system.

In California, counties can define “good cause” differently, and many require applicants to show that they are at a special risk of being targeted by criminals that is greater than the general population in order to demonstrate “good cause.” In this case, Peruta v. County of San Diego, the plaintiffs claim that the Second Amendment requires counties to issue permits to anyone who applies who claims a general need for self-defense, regardless of whether they have a special risk.

Since the controversial 2008 Supreme Court decision District of Columbia v. Heller, the gun lobby has flooded the courts with similar claims, which have nearly all been rejected. In fact, cases challenging similar “may issue” systems in New York, Maryland, and New Jersey have been rejected by three different federal appellate courts. In yesterday’s decision, however, two 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 other circuits’ decisions on this issue.

READ MORE »

Developing Trend in Gun Legislation: The Trayvon Martin Exception to Stand Your Ground Laws

Posted on Friday, February 7th, 2014

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Yesterday jury selection began in the murder trial of Michael Dunn who shot and killed 17-year-old Jordan Davis. Witnesses say Dunn became enraged at Davis for playing music too loudly and provoked a confrontation that resulted in Dunn shooting and killing the unarmed teenager.

Dunn will likely base his defense on Florida’s stand your ground law—better described as a “shoot first” law—that allows someone to use deadly force outside the home if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm. Florida’s law, as well as similar laws in several other states, does not require that the person using force retreat to a place of safety, if possible, before using force.

Eight months before Jordan Davis was killed, George Zimmerman followed Trayvon Martin, an unarmed teenager walking to his father’s girlfriend’s house. By now, most of us know the story. Although Florida’s shoot first law was not incorporated into George Zimmerman’s defense, the court had instructed the jury on Florida’s controversial law and one of the jurors subsequently stated that the jury had found the law applicable to Zimmerman.

Again, a few weeks ago, yet another person behaving lawfully in public was shot and killed. Chad Oulson, who was texting his 3-year-old daughter’s caretaker during movie previews, angered Curtis Reeves, an armed, retired police officer. Reeves began to argue with Oulson. A confrontation ensued and Reeves shot and killed Oulson. Reeves is expected to also claim self-defense using Florida’s shoot first law.

A 17-year-old playing music in a car. A 16-year-old walking to see his father.  A father texting the babysitter during movie previews. These are only a fraction of the victims. These tragic events also demonstrate how shoot first laws continue to threaten public safety by encouraging people to take the law into their own hands and act as armed vigilantes, often with deadly consequences. The strongest of these laws also have a profound impact on the criminal and civil justice systems, tying the hands of law enforcement and depriving victims of remedies by providing blanket immunity from criminal prosecution and civil lawsuits to individuals who claim they were acting in self-defense.

Many states have had enough of this bloodshed and lawmakers have introduced legislation to repeal or limit the use of shoot first laws. Most notably, Alabama has introduced the “Trayvon Martin exception” as an amendment to its current shoot first law. The new legislation aims to protect innocent victims like Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, and Chad Oulson. The bill would prohibit use of the self-defense claim if a shooter pursued the victim who was behaving lawfully in a public place and the pursuit resulted in a deadly confrontation. READ MORE »

Victory in the Courts: Connecticut Post-Newtown Gun Law Upheld By Federal District Court

Posted on Friday, January 31st, 2014

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The people of Connecticut know first-hand how gun violence can devastate a community. They watched in horror when a shooter at Sandy Hook Elementary School used assault weapons and large capacity ammunition magazines to kill 26 people — including 20 small children. Within months, the Connecticut legislature took immediate action to try to prevent such a tragedy from happening again by passing a law that strengthens the state’s prohibition on assault weapons and bans large capacity ammunition magazines.

In what has become a pattern when they fail to stop laws they don’t like in the political process, the gun lobby filed a lawsuit right after this law was passed, alleging that the law violates the Second Amendment.1 Yesterday, Connecticut’s new gun law was upheld by a federal district court in a victory for smart gun laws that could have reverberations nationwide.

The Law Center and several of our allies supported the defense in this case by filing an amicus brief that argued that the law does not violate the Second Amendment and that the regulation of these military-style weapons is a reasonable public safety measure.

In yesterday’s decision, the court upheld the law in its entirety and rejected the plaintiffs’ Second Amendment challenge. Although the court did find that the law imposed some burden on the plaintiffs’ Second Amendment rights, the court held that the law left open many other kinds of firearms and magazine the plaintiffs could use for self-defense.  Thus, the court found that since the law was reasonably related to the state’s interest in public safety and protecting law enforcement, it was constitutional.

The court’s rejection of the gun lobby’s extreme arguments in this case echos a similar decision in New York last month upholding that state’s ban on assault weapons and large capacity ammunition magazines.  These cases represent major victories because similar lawsuits are pending across the country, including in California, Colorado, Illinois, and Maryland, as part of a concerted effort by the gun lobby to bully state and local governments into not passing these critical public safety laws.

For more, read some of the recent gun violence prevention success stories.

  1. The plaintiffs also alleged the law violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and was unconstitutionally vague.  The court rejected both of those arguments. []

The Newtown Reality: The Fight Over the Second Amendment & Smart Gun Laws

Posted on Wednesday, January 8th, 2014

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Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR.

It has been a year since the horrific tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary, and in this year, so much has changed. While the efforts to prevent gun violence have been bogged down in gridlock, partisanship, and polarization at the federal level, the issue is very much alive at the state and local levels, from California and Colorado to Texas and Florida.

The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence is bringing together three thoughtful legal experts to discuss what is going on in the states, how effective regulation can be crafted within the restraints of the Second Amendment and the political dynamics that surround the issue. Please join us for what will surely be a fascinating panel discussion.

THE NEWTOWN REALITY:
The Fight Over the Second Amendment and Smart Gun Laws

January 9, 2014 | Noon – 1:30 PM
Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP
355 South Grand Ave, 35th Floor | Los Angeles

FREE | RSVP REQUIRED
CLE CREDIT AVAILABLE | Lunch will be served.

ON THE PANEL:
Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean and Distinguished Professor of Law at UC Irvine School of Law
Mike Feuer, Los Angeles City Attorney
Robyn Thomas, Executive Director, Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence

READ MORE »

Victory in the Courts: New York’s New Gun Law Largely Upheld By Federal District Judge

Posted on Tuesday, January 7th, 2014

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2013 began with New York passing a comprehensive upgrade of its already strong gun laws in response to the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.  And, a few days ago, 2013 ended with an incredible victory for smart gun laws, as a federal court largely upheld New York’s new law and rejected a lawsuit from the gun lobby.

The NY Secure Ammunition & Firearms Enforcement Act (known as the “NY SAFE Act”), strengthened many aspects of New York’s gun laws, including its bans on assault weapons and large capacity ammunition magazines.  The gun lobby predictably responded to their own failure to stop this law in the legislature with a lawsuit against the state of New York alleging–among other things–that the bans on assault weapons and large capacity ammunition magazines violate the Second Amendment.  The Law Center and our allies responded by filing an amicus brief supporting the law and arguing that the law is consistent with the Second Amendment and the Supreme Court’s decision in District of Columbia v. Heller.

In a decision released just last week, the court agreed, and upheld the ban on assault weapons and large capacity ammunition magazines.  After citing conflicting evidence, the court declined to decide whether assault weapons or large capacity ammunition magazines are in “common use,” a gun-lobby argument that claims that because assault weapons and large capacity magazines are allegedly prevalent that they are therefore protected by the Second Amendment under the Heller decision.  Instead, the court found that, whether or not these weapons are in common use, bans on assault weapons and large capacity ammunition magazines don’t prohibit gun owners from exercising their Second Amendment rights.  The court went on to hold that the bans on assault weapons and large capacity ammunition magazines were reasonably related to the state’s interest in protecting public safety given the widespread use of these weapons and magazines in mass shootings. Thus, the court upheld these restrictions.

Although the court did strike down a part of New York’s new gun safety law which prohibited a gun owner from loading more than seven rounds into a magazine at one time, the court’s rejection of the gun lobby’s main claims and their radical theories about the Second Amendment’s scope is a great victory for advocates of smart gun laws, that will surely have reverberations in similar cases pending in Connecticut, Maryland, Colorado, and California.1

For more, read some of the recent gun violence prevention success stories.

 

  1. The court also rejected most of the plaintiffs’ other challenges to the law, including claims that several provisions of the law were overly vague. However, it did strike down a provision banning semi-automatic rifles with “muzzle breaks” as overly vague since the legislation inadvertently failed to use the correct term, “muzzle brake.” A muzzle brake helps to prevent recoil and upward movement of the barrel of a gun during rapid fire. The court also struck down a provision prohibiting semi-automatic handguns that are “semi-automatic versions” of fully automatic firearms because it did not give sufficient notice of what specific kinds of guns were prohibited. []

Gun Lobby Challenge to Sunnyvale’s New Voter-Supported Gun Law Fails Early Test

Posted on Thursday, December 19th, 2013

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When Sunnyvale, California’s voters approved of Measure C, a new city ordinance with several commonsense gun safety measures, the gun lobby immediately attacked. Challengers to the new laws—a  gun dealer and a gun industry lobbying group—sued the city with claims that Measure C’s requirement that ammunition sellers keep records of their sales conflicted with California state law.  Fortunately, yesterday, a California state court rejected that argument and denied the plaintiffs’ emergency request that the law be put on hold while their lawsuit is decided.

Thanks to this initial ruling, Sunnyvale’s law—which was approved by 66% of Sunnyvale voters—will be allowed to go into effect and will help to deter minors, convicted felons, the mentally ill, and other prohibited persons from purchasing ammunition.

California cities have broad authority to pass local ordinances to keep their communities safe from gun violence and the Sunnyvale ordinance is nothing out of the ordinary. In fact, more than a dozen other cities and two counties, including Los Angeles and San Francisco, have enacted similar laws requiring ammunition sellers to keep records of ammunition sales.

This portion of Sunnyvale’s Measure C was based on the Law Center’s model ammunition ordinance, and when the city was sued, the Law Center was able to secure the highly-regarded law firm Farella Braun + Martel LLP as pro bono counsel for Sunnyvale.

READ MORE »

2013 State Scorecard: Why Gun Laws Matter

Posted on Monday, December 9th, 2013

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The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence is proud to partner with the Brady Campaign to release our 2013 State Scorecard: Why Gun Laws Matter. This collaborative report empowers us all by putting the Law Center’s in-depth research on America’s gun laws into the hands of the advocates across the nation so they can continue to fight for effective gun policies in their communities.

Download the full 2013 State Scorecard: Why Gun Laws Matter here.

Since Newtown, so much has changed. The slaughter of innocent children at Sandy Hook Elementary School sent shockwaves through the nation and ignited a passionate call for our leaders to take steps to prevent gun violence. When Congress failed to pass any new gun violence prevention legislation in 2013, including the overwhelmingly popular legislation to expand background checks, state legislatures answered the call.

Starting last January, legislators in state houses across the country began introducing a record number of bills to strengthen gun laws. Even states with historically weak gun laws, like Florida, Missouri, and Texas, took action towards sensible gun legislation. In fact, twenty-one states enacted new laws to curb gun violence in their communities, with eight of these states passing major reforms—far eclipsing the corporate gun lobby’s limited success in state legislatures in 2013.

Click on each state’s initials in the map below to see our analysis of the gun laws in that state.

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The 2013 Law Center & Brady Campaign State Gun Laws Scorecard1

To view a larger version of this map, click here.

Gun laws really do matter. State gun laws fill enormous gaps that exist in our nation’s federal laws, and help to reduce gun violence and keep citizens safe. In part because these laws help to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people and aid law enforcement in solving gun crimes, many of the states with the strongest gun laws also have the lowest gun death rates.

READ MORE »

  1. The combined expertise of the Law Center and Brady Campaign informed our grading system. Only states that have enacted several significant firearms laws received enough points to receive a grade in the A range. The states in the B and C ranges have enacted fewer laws, but do have some important gun safety measures on the books. The D states have only a small handful of firearms regulation while the F states have enacted little to no firearms regulation and, in many cases, have lost points for irresponsible gun laws. []