On Tuesday, the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit upheld the constitutionality of Maryland’s Firearm Safety Act, which prohibits civilian possession of assault weapons and large capacity ammunition magazines. Sitting en banc, the full Fourth Circuit declared that because these military-style weapons and accessories are most useful for killing enemies on the battlefield, not everyday self-defense, they do not fall under the purview of the Second Amendment. This is the fifth time a federal appeals court has upheld a state assault weapons ban, but it is the first time a court has definitively ruled that military-style assault weapons and large capacity ammunition magazines are not protected by the Second Amendment. This ruling sets an important precedent for public safety, and we applaud the judges of the Fourth Circuit for this outcome.
Dangerous military-style firearms and deadly accessories like large capacity ammunition magazines are often the weapon of choice for mass shooters looking to inflict the most possible carnage before they have to reload. Specifically, the AR-15—a civilian version of the US military’s M-16 rifle—and similar assault weapons were used in the horrific massacres in Newtown, Aurora, San Bernardino, and Orlando. The Maryland legislature passed the Firearm Safety Act after 20 first graders and six educators were killed with an AR-15 Bushmaster at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012. But the gun lobby soon challenged Maryland’s law on constitutional grounds, speciously claiming that the Second Amendment precludes passage of a law designed to protect the public from mass shootings committed with military-style weapons.
The litigation experts at the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence teamed up with Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence and the law firm of Katten Muchin Rosenman to file an amicus brief in this critical case. Our brief argued that the Supreme Court’s 2008 District of Columbia v. Heller decision specifically supports reasonable gun regulations, including restrictions on assault weapons and other “dangerous and unusual” firearms. The Heller decision, which recognized the right of law-abiding, responsible people to keep a handgun in the home for self-defense, made clear that the Second Amendment does not designate a “right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose”—allowing for smart gun laws like the one upheld by the Fourth Circuit this week.
In fact, Justice Scalia’s majority opinion in Heller made clear that the Second Amendment right “extends only to certain types of weapons,” meaning states can lawfully prohibit dangerous weapons that would be “most useful in military service.” The Fourth Circuit followed this reasoning exactly—the decision reads, “Put simply, we have no power to extend Second Amendment protection to the weapons of war that the Heller decision explicitly excluded from such coverage.” The Fourth Circuit’s en banc opinion is another emphatic defeat for the gun lobby, which continues to lose case after case—judges have ruled on the side of public safety in 94 percent of Second Amendment challenges brought since Heller.
Yesterday, the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit decided to strike down a dangerous medical gag law in Florida that levied penalties against doctors for discussing gun safety with patients.
It’s been proven again and again that the presence of guns in the home greatly increases the risk of suicide and unintentional shootings, especially by children. Because of this deadly risk, it is standard practice for doctors to inquire whether their patients own firearms so that they can advise them on the importance of safely storing weapons and other practices that come with responsible gun ownership. The medical community plays a critical role in educating the public on how to live a safe, healthy life and physicians’ right to speak freely with patients about gun safety is a necessary element of providing good healthcare, especially when patients demonstrate a higher risk of suicide or live in homes with children.
Doctors typically speak with patients about other commonsense safety issues, like wearing helmets while riding bicycles, using seatbelts in cars, and putting fences around swimming pools—gun safety is well within the purview of physicians’ advisement. The medical community strongly opposed the Florida legislature’s attempt to limit their free speech, and the full Eleventh Circuit overturned a faulty earlier decision, ruling that the Florida firearms gag law unfairly violated the First Amendment rights of doctors and put patients at unnecessary risk.
The Law Center teamed with law firm Munger, Tolles & Olson to file two amicus briefs in this critical case, which were joined by the American Public Health Association, the American Association of Suicidology, and Suicide Awareness Voices of Education.
We’re pleased the Eleventh Circuit struck down this attempt to quash the rights of doctors to speak with patients about gun safety. The court saw through the gun lobby’s argument that firearms owners need protection of the government from simple questions by trusted physicians, and we applaud the judges of the Eleventh Circuit for acting so forcefully to rebuke this unconstitutional law.
Last week, our staff and board gathered to honor Julie Leftwich, the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence’s legal director, as she transitions into new projects after more than two decades of service at our organization. Julie’s long history with the Law Center began with the 1993 mass shooting at 101 California Street in San Francisco—she was in the building the day a gunman, armed with military-style weapons, opened fire in the offices of the Pettit & Martin, killing eight and wounding another six.
That tragedy led to the founding of the Law Center (then, Legal Community Against Violence), and after working on a number of pro bono projects for the nascent organization, Julie was hired as our first staff attorney in 1996, where she began working to improve the quality of California’s gun safety laws, helping to transform the state’s policies into the model it is today.
During Julie’s tenure, California passed 64 smart gun laws, and as a result saw a dramatic reduction in its gun death rate by an astonishing 56 percent, which translates to thousands of lives every year. Today, the state is a safer place to live because of the laws and policies Julie so courageously fought for. Groundbreaking legislation like California’s gun violence restraining order, a ban on junk guns, and the 2016 ballot initiative Proposition 63, which Julie drafted, positions California as the national leader when it comes to groundbreaking, lifesaving gun safety laws.
Julie’s mission to save lives from gun violence didn’t stop with her innovative work in California; she played a major role in advancing smart gun laws at the national level. A leading Second Amendment expert, Julie’s work on dozens of influential amicus briefs over the years, including briefs in the landmark Supreme Court cases District of Columbia v. Heller and McDonald v. City of Chicago, contributed to our movement’s 94% success rate in defeating gun lobby challenges in the courts. She also worked extensively on developing and drafting state gun laws throughout the country, testifying before legislators and co-authoring model laws on issues like universal background checks and domestic violence. In her two decades with the Law Center, she wrote numerous op-eds and reports that educate the public on the dramatic, lifesaving impact smart gun laws have on communities nationwide. Additionally, Julie served as a longtime member of the American Bar Association’s Committee on Gun Violence.
“The contributions Julie has made to the Law Center’s success can be measured both by the tangible progress on gun safety legislation throughout the country and through her impact on the values, culture, and mentorship of our staff and attorneys for more than two decades,” said Robyn Thomas, executive director of the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. “We will miss her intelligence, her insight, her incredibly high quality work, and her humor.”
On Tuesday, President Trump nominated Tenth Circuit Judge Neil Gorsuch to the United States Supreme Court. The Law Center strongly opposes this choice, as Gorsuch’s dangerous, radical view of the Second Amendment prioritizes a gun lobby–backed political agenda over public safety. The Trump administration, showing brazen disregard for the people it purports to protect, have nominated a justice who has gone out of his way to attempt to undermine lifesaving smart gun laws that the vast majority of Americans and representatives on both sides of the aisle support.
During his time on the Tenth Circuit, Gorsuch repeatedly issued opinions aimed at weakening the longstanding federal law that has saved thousands of lives by prohibiting felons and domestic abusers from possessing guns. In one key case, United States vs. Games-Perez, Gorsuch put forth that not knowing one is a felon is an adequate excuse for not holding a felon accountable for illegally carrying a gun. The precedent this interpretation would set (had it not been forcefully rejected by his fellow judges on the Tenth Circuit) would create a dangerous loophole for felons to exploit when caught with an illegal gun and make it all the more difficult for law enforcement to do their jobs.
In another case, United States vs. Reese, Gorsuch again broke with common sense by supporting overturning the conviction of a felon who pled guilty to illegally possessing a gun. In United States vs. Pope, he spoke out in favor of allowing a domestic violence misdemeanant to possess guns, even though this federal law, part of the Violence Against Women Act, has existed without controversy for decades and saved the lives of many American women from dangerous abusers. Even the famously conservative Justice Antonin Scalia supported reasonable regulation of firearms, including smart gun laws that keep guns out of the hands of felons and domestic abusers. Gorsuch’s views are too far outside the mainstream to consider supporting.
In response to Gorsuch’s nomination, the gun lobby has already promised to lead efforts to expand on the Heller and McDonald Supreme Court decisions and make good on their pledge to create a nation armed to the teeth, with untrained and unchecked people openly carrying loaded weapons in classrooms, churches, movie theaters, and more. With a friend like Gorsuch sitting on the highest court in the land, they’ll be one step closer to dismantling the commonsense regulations we’ve spent decades fighting for.
We call on Congress to reject this dangerous and disturbing nomination.
The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence is deeply saddened by the passing of one of our most esteemed founders and friends, William Edlund, on December 24, 2016, at the age of 87. Among the earliest supporters of the Law Center, Bill’s insight and generosity helped serve as a foundation for the organization, and his presence on our board of directors will be greatly missed.
Bill will be remembered as a bold leader in San Francisco’s legal community and a courageous voice in the fight to end gun violence. He served as a prominent litigator at Pillsbury Madison & Sutro for more than 40 years and maintained an active practice at Bartko Zankel Bunzel & Tarrant until he fell ill in late 2016.
After the July 1, 1993, assault weapon massacre at the law firm Pettit and Martin in San Francisco, which killed eight and wounded another six, a group of local attorneys took action and formed the Legal Community Against Violence. Bill served as a founding board member, and spent more than two decades building the leadership and support base for our organization, helping us expand from a local to a national policy group. He also served as board president from 2012–13, overseeing our historic 20th anniversary celebration and our rebranding from LCAV to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
Over the course of 23 years, Bill worked closely with a great number of Law Center staff and board members, and learning of his death, many of them expressed deep gratitude for having had the opportunity to know Bill and witness his extraordinary commitment to civic leadership.
“Bill’s passing is a loss for the Law Center and for all of us who were fortunate enough to know him and work with him. For the 11 years that I’ve been executive director, and more than a decade before that, Bill was one of the most engaged board members, stalwart supporters, passionate advocates, and loyal friends to me and to this organization,” said Robyn Thomas, the Law Center’s executive director. “His contribution to our fight for a safer America will never be forgotten and his memory will live on through our work and commitment.”
“I’m deeply saddened by Bill’s passing. Bill will be remembered as a kind, thoughtful man who worked tirelessly to support the Law Center and the cause of gun violence prevention in the more than 20 years that I knew him,” said Julie Leftwich, legal director at the Law Center, who joined the organization as its first staff attorney in 1995. “All of us here feel very grateful for his leadership and friendship and will miss him dearly.”
We are deeply thankful that Bill’s family listed the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence as the organization to which donations may be directed in lieu of flowers. If you would like to make a gift in Bill’s memory, visit our donation page.
A terrifying scene unfolded at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood airport in Florida early Friday afternoon. A gunman opened fire in the baggage claim section of one of the passenger terminals, shooting 13, with five fatalities. The suspect is now in custody, and as the police begin their investigation, one thing is clear: guns escalate dangerous situations into deadly ones, and under our nation’s lax gun laws, it’s far too easy for those situations to occur.
Florida has some of our nation’s weakest gun laws, enabling dangerous people to carry out shootings like this one. The state receives an F on our Gun Law State Scorecard, and it fails to require background checks for private sales, has incredibly weak standards for allowing people to carry guns in public, and even bars doctors from speaking about firearm safety with their patients. Indeed, lawmakers in Tallahassee are currently debating a reversal to the state’s open-carry ban that would allow people to bring loaded, visible guns into airports, on college campuses, and at government meetings.
Needless to say, legislation like this is irresponsible, undermines public safety, and facilitates acts of violence in a state that sees far too many shootings each year already, including the deadliest mass shooting in US history in June 2016, at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando.
While we don’t have a single cure for the epidemic of gun violence that continues to plague our nation, we can fix our gun laws in ways that will help reduce the supply of deadly weapons and close the gaps in the law that allow dangerous people to carry out hateful acts of violence like we saw in Fort Lauderdale. It’s up to our lawmakers—both state and federal—to stand up to the gun lobby’s deadly agenda by passing the smart gun laws we know save lives.
To learn more about Florida’s gun laws, see our policy page.
To see how your legislators can improve your state’s gun laws, see the 2016 Gun Law State Scorecard.
We’re proud to release the 2016 edition of the annual Gun Law State Scorecard, which assigns letter grades to each state based on the strength or weakness of its gun laws. As in years past, this year’s Scorecard showcases simple but compelling evidence: by enacting smart gun laws, we can significantly reduce gun death rates and safeguard our communities.
The 2016 Gun Law State Scorecard reveals the strong correlation between smart gun laws and lower gun death rates. States with the weakest laws, like Mississippi and Alaska (ranked 50 and 44 out of 50), have some of the highest gun death rates in the nation (4 and 1, respectively). Meanwhile states with stronger gun laws like California and Massachusetts (ranked 1 and 4 out of 50) have some of the lowest gun death rates in the country (43 and 50, respectively), showing that commonsense solutions like universal background checks are saving lives from gun violence in states across the country.
Earlier this year, we witnessed the deadliest mass shooting in American history, when a gunman opened fire in an Orlando nightclub, killing 49 and wounding 53 more. The renewed national attention to this issue added many more necessary voices of support to the ever-growing movement for smart gun laws.
- Remarkable momentum for smart gun laws at the state level: In the four years since 20 children and six educators were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School, lawmakers in 42 states and Washington DC have passed over 160 new smart gun laws.
- Gun-safety ballot initiatives won big on Election Day: Voters in California, Nevada, and Washington sidestepped a Congress paralyzed by the gun lobby’s grip by enacting comprehensive gun safety laws at the ballot box.
- Support for domestic violence gun safety legislation continues to grow: Since women in domestic violence situations are five times more likely to be killed if their abuser has a gun, state lawmakers have strengthened laws that keep guns out of abusers’ hands. In 2016, six states passed laws preventing domestic abusers from accessing firearms—even in states with some of the weakest gun laws like Tennessee and Virginia.
- Defeat of campus-carry bills: The gun violence prevention movement scored major defensive victories by standing up against irresponsible legislation that would allow hidden, loaded weapons to be carried on college campuses. Activists defeated dangerous guns-on-campus bills in 17 states, including a veto from the governor of Georgia.
We are so proud of our work on the front lines in the battle for smart gun laws in 2016. Law Center attorneys drafted ballot language for California’s Proposition 63, the “Safety for All” initiative, passed by voters on Election Day by a 63% margin. Our staffers also wrote the model law Washington state used as a guide for its Extreme Risk Protection Order ballot initiative, worked with ARS to craft policy solutions for President Obama’s executive actions on guns, and partnered with legislators and activists in states across the country to pass bold new gun laws.
Background checks have stopped 2.8 million prohibited purchasers from buying guns from licensed dealers—these two-minute investigations are one of our most valuable tools when it comes to saving lives from gun violence. Today, the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence and Americans for Responsible Solutions released a new report examining the complex set of databases that make up National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). For the Record: NICS & Public Safety examines the background checks process, the challenges the system faces, and the best practices lawmakers can adopt to improve the quality and number of records in the NICS databases.
In 2014 alone, the NICS database stopped 147,000 prohibited people from buying guns from federally licensed dealers. But too many other dangerous individuals are slipping through the cracks due to missing or incomplete records in the NICS databases. For example, in 2014, more than 700,000 domestic violence protective orders never made it to the system, despite domestic abuse being a leading cause of gun violence.
For the Record: NICS & Public Safety also details how:
- The background check process does not provide a barrier to the legal sale or transfer of a gun—most checks are completed in less than two minutes.
- At least 20 states have improved the way they report mental health records since 2013, making these pieces of legislation one of the most popular ways to combat gun violence.
- In recent years, states like Arizona and Virginia have dramatically improved the way they send records to NICS, making it far more difficult for guns to fall into dangerous hands.
This new analysis from the nation’s leading gun law experts is essential to understanding how the background checks process works—the report sheds light on how making improvements to this complex system of databases can save lives. Our nation desperately needs tools like NICS to be as strong and effective as possible, and improving this system represents a leap forward in the effort to save lives from gunfire.
The daily presence of gun violence leaves our communities at grave risk—fortunately, this is not a problem without an effective, practical solution. Enacting universal background checks and strengthening the NICS databases are two of the most effective ways legislators can protect their constituents from gun violence while still respecting the rights of law-abiding citizens.
Today, the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence and Americans for Responsible Solutions are proud to announce a bold new effort with seven top law firms, as well as the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, to fight gun violence. This new initiative, the Firearms Accountability Counsel Taskforce (FACT), will be devoted to pursuing legal strategies to address America’s dire gun violence crisis and hold the gun industry responsible for unfair business practices that endanger public safety.
The law firms have committed hundreds of lawyers, thousands of hours, and millions of dollars to this effort, which will operate in tight coordination with the Law Center’s team of gun law experts. To date, FACT is comprised of:
- Arnold & Porter
- Covington & Burling
- Hogan Lovells
- Munger Tolles & Olson
- O’Melveny & Myers
- Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison
FACT’s areas of focus will include:
- Congressional restrictions on firearms-related information access
- Misleading gun industry public statements, advertising, and marketing
- Special immunity enjoyed by gun manufacturers and dealers
- Laws that prevent local officials from keeping communities safe from gun violence
- Dangerous, gun lobby-backed laws that make ordinary conflicts potentially deadly
FACT’s strategy represents a turning point for the gun violence prevention movement. By expanding the fight beyond Congress, which has failed to take meaningful action to save the more than 30,000 lives lost every year to gun violence, and into the justice system, FACT will be able to push back against the special treatment the gun industry has enjoyed for decades. FACT’s strategy builds off the success of pro bono efforts by the private bar to commit leadership, support, and resources to ensure a more just, fair, equal, and safe society.
We know that gun violence costs United States taxpayers an estimated $229 billion each year. Today, the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, Americans for Responsible Solutions, and the Minnesota Coalition for Common Sense released a new report detailing the devastating financial toll gun violence has on commerce in the state, which scores a C on our Gun Law State Scorecard.
The Economic Cost of Gun Violence in Minnesota: A Business Case for Action examines the enormous price—$764 million annually, in addition to the devastating human cost—Minnesotans pay as the state continues to grapple with this public health crisis. Research also shows that gun violence costs more than $50 million in lost business opportunity for the state each year. When cost estimates to the quality of life damage caused by gun violence are factored in, the total cost of gun violence in Minnesota rises to $2.2 billion annually.
The report outlines several key steps Minnesota’s legislators can take to address gun violence, including:
- Closing Background Check Loopholes: Minnesota currently does not require criminal background checks on all gun sales. This loophole lets felons, domestic abusers and the dangerously mentally ill purchase guns in Minnesota without a background check.
- Investing in the Community: Gun violence thrives in areas where environmental conditions—such as abandoned lots and unsafe public parks—leave communities feeling disempowered. By investing in programs that reclaim public space for community use and clean up abandoned properties in impacted areas, Minnesota can reduce violence while also creating social and economic opportunity for local communities.
- Supporting Community-Based Violence Intervention Programs: Proven community-based intervention strategies can effectively address gun violence in at-risk populations, including young men of color who live in underserved neighborhoods. By establishing programs that connect at-risk youth to badly needed social services and creating hospital-based intervention programs that use case managers to reduce the probability of violence by and against impacted individuals, Minnesota can achieve a substantial decline in violence. (Learn more about community investment strategies in our report Healing Communities in Crisis.)
This comprehensive, quantifiable review of the hundreds of millions of dollars gun violence costs Minnesota’s economy and business community each year reveals the scope of the problem and provides lawmakers with the essential legislative solutions they need to protect communities from needless tragedies and the unacceptable human and financial toll they exact on the state.
While this report focuses exclusively on Minnesota, the state is hardly unique. Gun violence creates an enormous financial burden all across America, with an estimated total taxpayer expense of $229 billion each year, according to a comprehensive 2015 analysis by Mother Jones.