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.
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.
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.
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.
We already know that the deadly combination of guns and domestic violence has a devastating effect on too many American families—firearms are the most common, and by far the most lethal, weapons used by abusers who kill their partners. October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and we hope Americans gain a deeper understanding of the pernicious danger domestic abusers pose to the safety of our communities—especially when guns are involved.
- Domestic violence episodes involving guns are 12 times more likely to result in death than other weapons or bodily force.
- Domestic abuse situations are five times more likely to be fatal if the abuser has access to a gun.
- Women in the United States are 11 times more likely to be murdered with a gun than in other high-income countries.
And yet, in spite of these horrifying statistics, federal law still contains deadly loopholes that allow domestic abusers to buy and possess firearms—especially if they already own them. We need to call upon our lawmakers to close these deadly gaps, enact background checks on every gun transfer, and report all records to the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System.
Despite Congressional inaction on this issue, 20 states have enacted new laws to protect victims of domestic violence from gunfire since 2013. These powerful pieces of legislation keep people convicted of domestic violence from accessing guns and make it easier for law enforcement to remove guns from abusers who own them. Laws like this are important because they directly address gaps in current policy regarding stalkers and dating partners, help disarm violent spouses, and help background check systems identify convicted abusers.
The momentum for better domestic violence laws shows no signs of slowing down—even states with strong gun cultures, like Tennessee and Louisiana, which both score an F on our Gun Law State Scorecard, have recently enacted laws barring domestic abusers from possessing firearms. These lifesaving smart gun laws help keep families—particularly women, who are disproportionately affected by this issue—safe from domestic violence involving guns.
For more information on the laws states can pass to help protect victims of domestic abuse, see our Commonsense Solutions Toolkit: State Laws to Address Gun Violence Against Women.
For more information about existing domestic violence gun laws, visit our policy page.
This November, California voters will have the chance to usher in a new set of laws designed to make the state safer from the tragic incidents of gun violence that forever change the lives of hundreds of people a day in the United States. The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence is proud to stand with Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom in supporting Proposition 63, the Safety for All act, a series of lifesaving smart gun laws that will further California’s commitment to improving public safety. We’ve been working on this initiative for more than a year, drafting the language, testifying before the state legislature, advocating to the media, and building coalitions to support for this set of commonsense gun laws.
We worked with the Lt. Governor to draft the policy last year, which closes some glaring gaps in the state’s otherwise leading-edge gun laws—one of only six states to score an A- on our Gun Law State Scorecard. Our attorneys have been drafting gun policy in our home state for more than two decades, and are thrilled at the opportunity to lend our expertise and support to this lifesaving set of laws.
Prop 63 includes seven provisions that will:
- Require Background Checks on Ammunition Sales: The initiative requires licensing of ammunition vendors and point-of-sale background checks for ammunition purchases. Under Prop 63, if a person is convicted of a felony, a violent misdemeanor, has a protective order against them, or has been adjudicated dangerously mentally ill, that person will no longer be able to buy ammunition in California. This provision will make California the first state to require ammunition background checks at the point of sale.
- Ensure People Prohibited from Owning Guns Do Not Possess Them: This provision will help enforce laws already on the books and close a deadly gap in existing laws that allows dangerous offenders to illegally keep their guns after being convicted of major crimes. For more information on the importance of relinquishment laws, check out Keeping Illegal Guns Out of Dangerous Hands: America’s Deadly Relinquishment Gap.
- Require Reporting Lost or Stolen Guns: The initiative requires firearm owners to notify law enforcement if their gun has been lost or stolen. If Prop 63 is enacted, California will join 11 other states in requiring lost or stolen reporting, helping to break up gun trafficking rings, return stolen guns to lawful owners, and reduce the number of firearms entering the black market.
- Prohibit Possession of Large-Capacity Military-Style Magazines: Prop 63 prohibits the possession of large-capacity magazines of 11 rounds or more and provides for their legal disposal. If passed, California would join New York, New Jersey, Hawaii, and the District of Columbia in banning possession of these military-style magazines, the accessory of choice to make mass shootings even more deadly.
- Share Data with Federal System on Prohibited People: The initiative mandates that California share data with the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System. This increases the quality and number of records in the background checks database, helping to identify prohibited purchasers at the point of sale or transfer.
- Require that gun dealers conduct employee background checks and report lost or stolen ammunition: Prop 63 ensures that people who work for gun dealers pass annual background checks in order to sell or handle deadly weapons and requires dealers to notify police if ammunition is lost or stolen from them. This provision will combat weapons trafficking, keeping stolen guns and ammunition off the black market.
- Clarify the consequences of gun theft: Prop 63 clarifies that gun theft—no matter the value of the firearm—is a felony, making it illegal for people convicted of stealing firearms to purchase or possess them.
California has long led the nation when it comes to championing the smart gun laws that save lives, and Prop 63 reinforces that leadership by keeping guns and ammunition away from dangerous members of our society. We’re proud to stand with Lt. Governor Newsom in the fight to bring sanity back to America’s gun laws, and we urge all Californians to vote YES on Prop 63 on November 8.
Americans overwhelmingly agree that it’s common sense to prevent dangerous people from accessing deadly weapons—yet there’s a dangerous gap in our laws that makes it easy for armed felons and violent criminals to illegally keep their guns after they’re convicted.
In our new report, Keeping Illegal Guns Out of Dangerous Hands: America’s Deadly Relinquishment Gap, we researched relinquishment laws in all 50 states and identified a series of best practices lawmakers can adopt to save lives from gun violence and close this deadly loophole.
An essential step to keeping Americans safe from gun violence is to ensure that armed individuals convicted of serious crimes simply turn in, sell, or otherwise rid themselves of their weapons after conviction.
In California, law enforcement reported that in 2014 alone, more than 3,200 people illegally kept their guns after a new criminal conviction, many of whom went on to commit crimes with those guns. Relinquishment laws would help prevent this.
California, which has the most progressive gun violence prevention laws in the nation, has acted to close this gap in one important way—the state has enacted a law that lays out clear, mandatory procedures for the relinquishment of guns by domestic abusers under a restraining order. Importantly, this law has teeth: it requires these abusers to provide receipts to a judge verifying that they sold or transferred their guns as required. But, the state hasn’t extended this best practice to the criminal context, even for people convicted of domestic abuse crimes.
Our research on gun relinquishment also revealed:
- States often rely on the honor system to manage the relinquishment process, trusting violent criminals and other prohibited people to voluntarily turn in their weapons.
- It costs taxpayers millions of dollars each year—$285 million in California alone—when prohibited people like violent felons are picked up on weapons charges and subsequently incarcerated, and many return to prison because they kept their guns illegally.
- Only five states provide any statutory process for disarming people prohibited from having guns—Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New York, and Pennsylvania
The firearm relinquishment gap puts Americans in all 50 states at grave risk. Keeping Illegal Guns Out of Dangerous Hands aims to address the challenge of relinquishment and to encourage lawmakers to establish best practices and mandatory procedures to stem the tide of illegal weapons in our communities. We hope this report will help provide a path to effective gun violence prevention for lawmakers, so fewer Americans fall victim to heartbreaking, preventable shootings.
As the summer draws to a close, young adults, as well as university staff and faculty members, are preparing for the first day back on campus. Schools are meant to be a safe haven from the everyday violence that we see in our neighborhoods, and ensuring that safety means keeping guns off campus. This year, lawmakers and gun violence prevention advocates in 17 states did their part to keep young people out of harm’s way by defeating bills that would have allowed loaded weapons on campus or in school buildings. Even conservative states like Georgia, Florida, and Arizona stopped legislation that would have allowed CCW holders to bring guns into university facilities.
Unfortunately, the gun lobby has made increasing the number of deadly weapons on campus and in schools a top priority. We already know that permissive concealed carry laws are tied to increases in violent crime and that workplaces that allow guns are significantly more dangerous to workers—more guns on campus pose a risk for people who live and work at schools too. Additionally, the university experience introduces new pressures to students, which contribute to an increase in risky behavior—like drinking and drug use—that makes college campuses an especially dangerous place for relaxed gun access.
The gun lobby is also pushing an agenda that suggests campus carry is a safety measure that protects young women from sexual assault. In theory, victims could use a gun to defend against a sexual predator, but the reality is darker—assailants would be allowed to carry weapons too. Sexual violence on campuses is frequently committed by a friend or acquaintance, and often linked to situations where people are intoxicated—a potentially deadly scenario if concealed weapons are present.
Additionally, faculty have discussed the burden that guns in the classroom places on the First Amendment right of academic freedom. As they have observed, the presence of guns in the classroom could impair the candid discourse so critical to the collegiate classroom experience. University professors in Texas, where campus carry was enacted last year, have filed lawsuits to have the new law blocked, and some have even resigned over the issue.
Allowing firearms on campus exposes young people to more guns, increasing the risk of suicide, homicide, and injury. There’s simply no credible statistical evidence that students or teachers carrying weapons reduces violence in an educational setting. The gun lobby’s specious claim that arming schoolteachers, staff, students, or administrators will make campuses safer won’t actually prevent the next school shooting, but smart gun laws coupled with strong gun safety and violence prevention education can help save lives and reduce injury. Young adults need safe spaces to grow and develop. The threat of gun violence shouldn’t come from inside a school building.
To learn more about guns in schools, check out our policy page.
For a roundup and analysis of the state legislative cycle’s gun bills, read the latest issue of Trendwatch.