Opposing the Nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court

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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.

 

Remembering Bill Edlund, Founding Board Member and Long-Time Friend of the Law Center

Bill Edlund with his wife, Iris, and Law Center executive director Robyn Thomas

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.

Five Dead & Eight Wounded at Fort Lauderdale Airport

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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.

 

 

 

Explore the 2016 Gun Law State Scorecard

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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.

Explore the 2016 Gun Law State Scorecard to learn more about the state of gun laws in America.

New Report—For the Record: NICS & Public Safety

nics-and-public-safety-coverBackground 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.

Read the full report: For the Record: NICS and Public Safety

Teaming Up With Leading Law Firms to Fight Gun Violence

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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:

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.

To learn more about FACT, read today’s story in the New York Times.

 

 

New Report: The Economic Cost of Gun Violence in Minnesota

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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.
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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.

Read the full report: The Economic Costs of Gun Violence in Minnesota: A Business Case for Action

Prop 63 Passes: Another Victory for Common Sense in California

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On Election Day, the state of California declared yet another victory for public safety. Yesterday, voters in our home state overwhelmingly backed Proposition 63, with 63% of the vote. This bold package of smart gun laws will help keep guns and ammunition out of the wrong hands and save lives.

We were honored to partner with Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom on this groundbreaking initiative by identifying deadly gaps in the state’s gun laws and drafting initiative language. Our legal director, Julie Leftwich, and staff attorney, Ari Freilich, spent more than a year testifying at legislative hearings, securing critical endorsements, and vigorously advocating for Prop 63 on television, on the radio, and in dozens of news articles.

Proposition 63 closes a dangerous loophole in California’s gun laws by establishing a clear, verifiable process for the relinquishment of guns by newly convicted criminals—unlike any other law nationwide—to help get illegally possessed weapons out of our communities. It also requires the reporting of lost or stolen firearms, prohibits the possession of military-style large capacity ammunition magazines, and requires ammunition sellers to obtain a state license and conduct background checks on ammunition purchasers.

For the last two decades, the Law Center has been at the forefront of the fight against gun violence in California. Ballot initiatives like Proposition 63 send a clear message to the gun lobby and legislators across the nation: voters want the commonsense solutions to gun violence that a vast majority of Americans support, and when leaders in Congress fail to act, the people have to stand up and make change happen themselves. 

California was one of three states that passed lifesaving gun safety measures through ballot initiatives on Election Day. Nevada adopted universal background checks, which will help keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people by ensuring every person buying a gun online, at a gun show, in a private sale, and by a dealer will be required to pass a background check. This now brings the total number of states require background checks for unlicensed sales up to 19. Using the Law Center’s model law as a guide, Washington State resoundingly passed a lifesaving Extreme Risk Protective Order initiative. It empowers families and law enforcement to protect at-risk individuals by removing guns from a person determined to be a risk to themselves or others. California was the first state to enact such a law, in the wake of the mass shooting at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

The resounding success of these measures at the state level, along with the scores of lifesaving smart gun laws passed by state legislatures this year, shows beyond a doubt that the momentum for commonsense solutions to the gun violence crisis is swiftly approaching a tipping point. In the face of unthinkable carnage, and in a year that brought the deadliest mass shooting in our nation’s history at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, the tide is finally turning. The Law Center’s advocates and attorneys are hard at work generating ideas to capitalize on this momentum in the upcoming legislative cycle so that we can use these historic victories at the ballot box as a springboard to even greater reform in 2017.

Strong Gun Laws Work to Keep Guns Away From Criminals

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Our national gun violence crisis continues—2016 brought us the deadliest mass shooting in American history, when a gunman opened fire inside an Orlando nightclub, killing 49. Since then, gun rights and gun policy have played a leading role in our country’s debate about how to make our communities safer.

Now, a groundbreaking new report gives the lie to another favorite gun lobby talking point: that strengthening laws to keep guns out of dangerous hands is pointless because criminals don’t follow the law anyway. The report, Target on Trafficking: New York Crime Gun Analysis from New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office, debunks that tired canard once and for all—and shows how strong gun laws reduce crime and save lives.

Between 2010 and 2015, police recovered nearly 53,000 guns from crime scenes in New York State. Using data on these guns obtained from the ATF, Schneiderman analyzed how these weapons were obtained and used by criminals in New York.

The results are striking. About three-quarters of the guns used in New York crimes are handguns, and nearly nine in ten of these guns—fully 86%—came from out-of-state. Most of them came from just six states with weak gun laws where it’s easy for traffickers to obtain deadly weapons and funnel them into the black market. These states stretch south from New York along Interstate 95, a route that has become known as the “Iron Pipeline” because it supplies such a significant share of the illicit gun market.

The reason criminals turn to the pipeline is simple: New York’s strong laws prevent them from acquiring guns at home. The state is one of only six to earn a top grade in our annual Gun Law State Scorecard, largely because it requires permits to buy handguns and requires background checks for all gun sales, effective policies that stop criminals from purchasing weapons in New York.

Laws like these protect public safety. After Connecticut adopted a permit-to-purchase law like New York’s, gun-related homicides dropped 40 percent. When Missouri did the opposite in 2007, repealing a permit law on the books since the 1920s, the gun murder rate went up by nearly 20 percent. The number of criminals who got their guns in-state increased dramatically, too.

So it is no surprise that, besides making it more difficult for criminals to obtain firearms, smart gun laws in states like New York also reduce the level of gun violence as a whole. A comprehensive analysis from the Center for American Progress recently found there was an “undeniable correlation between certain strong gun laws and lower rates of gun violence.” And data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate that, controlling for population, the Empire State’s strong laws place it among the five states with the lowest overall rates of gun violence.

Perhaps it’s obvious that rates of gun violence would be lower in states with laws that make it harder for dangerous people to get their hands on guns. What doesn’t make sense is why lawmakers in states with porous gun laws—and soaring rates of overall gun violence—refuse to enact policies that make it harder for criminals to acquire deadly weapons when the research shows again and again these commonsense solutions lead to lower levels of gun violence.

Of course, the gun lobby’s ability to block proven, evidence-based solutions in some states is not the only aspect of our politics that defies reason. The vast majority of Americans—more than 92%—agree that smart gun laws like universal background checks are the best path to reducing the heavy toll gun violence has on our nation. After years of inaction, Congress is finally starting to fight back against the gun lobby’s spurious rhetoric—Sen. Chris Murphy’s 15-hour filibuster for universal background checks and Rep. John Lewis’s historic sit-in on the House floor following the Orlando shooting are powerful signs that the tide is turning and our leaders are ready to demand change.

This report provides critical evidence that smart gun laws like universal background checks work to keep guns out of dangerous hands—and that all states need to follow suit by enacting these commonsense measures that help safeguard our nation against gun violence.

For more information on how gun trafficking affects states with strong gun laws, read Target on Trafficking.

Guns and Voter Intimidation: Menace at the Ballot Box

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Next Tuesday, millions of Americans will head to the polls to exercise their right to vote. Presidential politics aside, there are four states with lifesaving gun safety propositions on the ballot—California, Maine, Nevada, and Washington—but there’s another angle to gun laws that election boards and voters should be paying attention to: are guns allowed in polling places, and if so, how do we keep people safe? And does open-carrying a deadly weapon into a polling place constitute voter intimidation? The answers are very complicated.

Only six states categorically ban guns in polling places—Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas. Four others—Missouri, Mississippi, Nebraska, and South Carolina—only ban concealed weapons in polling places, which means voters may carry guns and rifles into the polls so long as they’re visible. With political tensions running hot in certain areas, creating circumstances under which the visible presence of a deadly weapon could be perceived as a grave threat. While many who openly carry guns do so with respect to the law and their fellow citizens, others use the opportunity to intimidate fellow voters and threaten the First Amendment rights of individuals expressing themselves—in this case, at the ballot box.

State legislatures are woefully behind when it comes to protecting Americans from the threat of gun violence while they vote. Many states, like Virginia, have laws banning voter intimidation tactics, but do not specifically discuss the presence of guns as a form this intimidation could take. Election workers are barred from carrying guns, but independent poll observers—volunteers who ensure that ballots are not tampered with—are not explicitly banned from this practice unless they’re in one of the six states that bans guns at the polls. Election boards in Colorado are also preparing their workers for the worst, adding active shooter response exercises to their election judge training.

Some polling places are in schools or on private property. For example, in New Hampshire, an open-carry state, guns are not explicitly banned from school property. Some districts in the state are considering closing school on Election Day out of parental concerns that guns carried into schools by voters may upset or endanger students.

Carrying a deadly weapon in public comes with the inherent responsibility of knowing how guns affect others. Lawmakers should act to precisely define actions that constitute voter intimidation and enact laws that protect the public from menace at the ballot box. Most states do not have policies addressing firearms in polling places, and it’s important for voters to understand how their jurisdiction handles guns on Election Day.