A significant part of the work we do at the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence involves defending smart gun laws from Second Amendment challenges in the court system. Our expertise can help judges understand the critical importance of these laws, how they protect public safety, and their constitutionality. Challenges to smart gun laws fail at a remarkable rate—since the landmark Heller decision in 2008, courts have rejected an overwhelming 94% of Second Amendment challenges.
One way we work to ensure these important laws are upheld is by filing amicus briefs in key cases nationwide. Our latest brief, filed this week in the Delaware case Bridgeville Rifle and Pistol Club v. Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, sheds light on the importance of regulating firearms in public parks and forests.
The Bridgeville Rifle and Pistol Club, the appellant in this case, claims that regulations prohibiting the possession of firearms in Delaware state parks and forests violate the right to bear arms afforded by the Delaware constitution. But public parks and forests have consistently been found to constitute sensitive areas that have long been subject to increased government regulation, and the agencies charged with maintaining these government-run lands have a legitimate need to protect the safety of visitors to such areas.
Our brief presents current and reputable research demonstrating that allowing broader concealed carry of firearms has resulted in an increase in violent crime and accidents—not a decrease. Research also shows that firearms are rarely used in self-defense and disproves claims put forward by the Bridgeville Rifle and Pistol Club and opposing briefs in the case that concealed-carry licensees themselves are inherently more law-abiding than the regular population.
The Law Center’s Second Amendment experts have tracked and analyzed over 1,150 cases challenging smart gun laws since the Supreme Court’s landmark Heller opinion in 2008. And in that time, we’ve observed a clear trend: in 94% of these cases, courts have rejected constitutional challenges to gun laws. Why? Because the Constitution and precedent are clear: lifesaving, commonsense policies like background checks are fully consistent with the Second Amendment.
We round up and evaluate these Second Amendment cases in our biannual Post-Heller Litigation Summary—the most comprehensive, up-to-date survey of developments in firearm-related litigation over the last decade. Today, we’re releasing our spring update of the summary, which takes a look at Second Amendment decisions on topics like guns in public, particularly dangerous weapons, and restrictions on gun possession by criminal offenders, domestic abusers, and those experiencing a mental health crisis.
National attention turned to the Supreme Court recently when Neil Gorsuch was sworn in as the Court’s newest justice. Second Amendment issues cropped up throughout Gorsuch’s confirmation, from the gun lobby’s million dollar ad buy supporting Gorsuch, to Gorsuch’s dodge of a question on whether military-style assault weapons may be regulated consistently with the Constitution (see our litigation director Adam Skaggs’ analysis of this moment in US News and World Report). Intense focus on gun laws and the Second Amendment will undoubtedly continue in the current Supreme Court term, when the justices are scheduled to vote on whether to hear two cases explored in the newest Post-Heller Litigation Summary—Peruta and Binderup—both involving Second Amendment challenges to important state and federal firearm regulations.
In the last decade, gun lobby–backed plaintiffs have used the Heller decision to justify bringing hundreds of aggressive challenges to sensible gun policies, spending millions and millions of dollars in an attempt to reshape the Constitution. The Peruta and Binderup lawsuits are part of the pattern, challenging reasonable regulations on carrying hidden, loaded guns in public (Peruta) and gun possession by dangerous criminal offenders (Binderup). Thankfully, as the Law Center’s litigation tracking efforts have shown, lower courts have overwhelmingly rejected the gun lobby’s specious arguments and recognized that smart gun laws pose no threat to the Second Amendment, regardless of what the gun lobby’s lawyers would have you believe.
It’s notable that much of our post-Heller survey of Second Amendment jurisprudence focuses on decisions by state courts, federal district courts, and appellate courts. That’s because, with only one exception (a case involving stun guns rather than firearms), the US Supreme Court has declined to review any Second Amendment decisions by lower courts since 2010’s McDonald v. Chicago, the companion case to Heller. By denying review, the Court has left in place a growing body of precedent—from state and federal judges across the ideological spectrum—pointing to one conclusion: lawmakers are free to enact the lifesaving gun safety measures the public overwhelmingly supports without violating Second Amendment rights.
Once again, a senseless act of gun violence has left the California community of San Bernardino reeling. This morning, a gunman entered North Park Elementary School, made his way to the classroom where his estranged wife, Karen Elaine Smith, was teaching a class for students with special needs, and opened fire before turning the gun on himself.
Smith was killed, along with one of her eight-year-old students, and another student was critically wounded and remains hospitalized. The shooting is the 12th school shooting of 2017. America is averaging more than three incidents with guns in schools per month. Our nation simply cannot continue like this—it is far too easy for dangerous people to get their hands on guns in order to commit heartbreaking, irreversible damage to families and communities.
Police report this incident was an act of domestic violence. Armed domestic abusers, like the suspect in yesterday’s shooting, pose a particular risk to the public, law enforcement, and especially to their partners. Women are murdered with a gun once every five hours in the United States, often at the hands of an abusive spouse or domestic partner. Research shows:
- Over the past 25 years, more intimate partner homicides in the United States have been committed with guns than with all other weapons combined.
- More than three times as many women are murdered with guns used by their husbands or intimate partners than are killed by strangers’ weapons combined.
- Abusers are five times more likely to murder their intimate partners if a firearm is in the home than if no firearm is present.
- 57% of mass shootings begin as domestic violence incidents
Responding to domestic violence calls is a significant and often dangerous part of law enforcement officers’ duties as well. Nationally, 15% to 40% of all calls for police assistance are domestic disputes, and research has shown that family violence calls are “the most dangerous type of call for the responding officers.” In a 2016 report on officers who were killed responding to a family violence call, all but one of the officers examined was killed with a firearm.
Yesterday our nation was reminded, yet again, that a gun in the hands of a domestic abuser can wreak unspeakable terror on the most innocent of victims. It’s time our lawmakers have the courage to do more than offer their thoughts and prayers to those who survive terrible events like this—it is time to take action. We must demand that our elected leaders stand up for victims of domestic violence by passing the smart gun laws that keep guns out of the hands of abusers and keep our communities safe.
A terrifying scene unfolded in the Cincinnati nightclub Cameo early Sunday morning, when armed gunmen shot 17, one fatally, in the largest mass shooting so far in 2017. Witnesses described a “big brawl” before shots rang out, sending the nightclub into a panic.
Tragedies like this remind us that the proliferation of loaded, hidden weapons in public pose a serious risk to public safety—in this case, a disagreement between two groups escalated into a deadly shooting, forever altering the lives of the victims and their families.
In recent years, the gun lobby has sought to weaken Ohio’s gun laws—in 2016, we gave the state a D on our annual Gun Law State Scorecard. The state does not extend background checks to all gun sales, and last year it passed a law that, among other things, allows guns on college campuses and in sensitive areas like daycares, workplaces, and airports.
Expanding the number of places guns can be carried increases the risk that everyday conflict can erupt into tragedies with irreversible consequences. These dangerous laws also make it harder for law enforcement to identify perpetrators from supposed “good guys” with guns in emergency situations. Ohio also has an onerous preemption statute that prevents local lawmakers from passing laws specifically tailored to protect their communities from gun violence.
While we’re still learning more details about the circumstances surrounding the tragic mass shooting on Sunday, we know that deadly weapons in the wrong hands present a significant threat to public safety. Ohio lawmakers can do a lot more to prevent dangerous people from getting guns to carry out acts of violence like we saw in Cincinnati this weekend.
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.