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.
We’re already more than halfway through 2016, and the year has been full of highs and lows for the gun violence prevention movement. We witnessed the deadliest shooting in our nation’s history in June, and July saw the shooting deaths of law enforcement officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge in the wake of a string of high-profile police shootings of black American men.
But, we were able to take some solace in the heartening actions undertaken by bold, courageous members of Congress. After years of frustration over federal inaction on gun violence prevention, Senator Chris Murphy led a 15-hour filibuster on the floor of the Senate. Days later, Representative John Lewis led a sit-in on the House floor for more than 20 hours to force a vote on measures to require background checks on all gun sales and to prohibit suspected terrorists from purchasing firearms.
And, as always, our attorneys are hard at work, writing model laws, educating lawmakers and the public on smart gun laws, and tracking these bills as they wind their way through the legislative system. This year, we’ve tracked at least 1,455 gun bills and are anticipating more from states with legislatures still in session. For a full analysis of this cycle’s firearms legislation, take a look at our special edition of Gun Law Trendwatch—2016 Mid-Year Review.
The most exciting advances for smart gun laws still lie ahead—this November, voters in Maine and Nevada will consider measures for universal background checks on their ballots. And signatures were approved for two more ballot initiatives: one for Washington State to adopt a gun violence protective order (GVPO) law and another in California to support the Safety for All Act, sponsored by Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom.
Our legal experts stand on the front lines of the fight for smart gun laws—we track and analyze gun laws in all 50 states, file amicus briefs in critical Second Amendment cases across the country, and work with lawmakers and advocates to craft and promote legislation that will reduce gun violence and save lives. 2016 is shaping up to be another remarkable year for gun safety.
Hate and violence tore through Dallas, Texas on Thursday night, in a reprehensible attack on law enforcement that sought to further divide Americans as they peacefully gathered to mourn lives lost earlier this week to deadly force. Five Dallas law enforcement officers were murdered, and seven more were injured, as were two civilians, by a sniper who carried out his attack during a nonviolent protest over the shooting deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. This horrific event specifically targeted police as they carried out their duty to protect the demonstrators.
As more details emerge, one fact is already clear. This gunman was motivated by hate, and hate is enabled and amplified by too-easy access to firearms. We see so many types of shootings each year committed by individuals acting out hateful agendas driven by a wide variety of factors: gang-related activity, ties to terrorist organizations, domestic abuse, and mass shootings of all kinds. These tragedies all have one significant thing in common: a gun in the hands of a person who wishes to do lethal harm to others. Guns escalate dangerous situations into deadly ones, and under our nation’s current gun laws, it’s too easy for that escalation to occur.
Our lawmakers have an urgent responsibility to change the bloody status quo by enacting smart gun laws that prevent deadly weapons from falling into the wrong hands. After years of being stymied at the federal level, we were heartened to see leaders in Washington standing up for stronger gun laws after the shooting in Orlando. Those lawmakers now have every opportunity to continue the momentum and enact commonsense solutions that will help protect our communities from tragedy.
State lawmakers have seen great success getting such laws passed since the massacre at Sandy Hook, enacting more than 140 smart gun laws in 42 states, but there is still much work to be done, particularly in places like Texas. Texas received an F on our Gun Law State Scorecard and has continued to weaken its gun laws over the past year, when it became an open-carry state and enacted a law requiring that guns be allowed on college campuses. And Texas currently doesn’t require background checks for firearms transfers between unlicensed individuals or regulate transfer or possession of assault weapons or large capacity magazines—all commonsense measures that we know reduce gun violence and save lives.
We don’t have a panacea for stopping dangerous people from wanting to harm and kill. But we do know how to fix our gun laws in ways that will reduce the supply of dangerous guns, and close loopholes that let people who want to commit acts of hate obtain them.
Last night’s tragic shooting also comes as we still struggle to process the devastating deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. The protesters in Dallas were seeking justice for two men who were subjected to brutal violence that disproportionately affects African-Americans. Although gun violence, racial bias, and police use of deadly force are complex issues, easy access to guns makes everything worse. As we have seen, guns escalate dangerous situations into deadly ones, and the proliferation of guns in America has made fear a part of everyday life for both citizens and police officers.
As we grapple with these difficult issues, we should not lose sight of our common enemy: hate and divisiveness, the fuel for the deadly actions that took the lives of police officers in Dallas and take the lives of more Americans every day. On this dark day, our hearts are with the families of Lorne Ahrens, Michael Krol, Michael Smith, Brent Thompson, and Patrick Zamarripa; the families of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile; and the families of the more than 117,000 other Americans shot every year.
To learn more about Texas gun laws, see our policy page.
Read our statement about the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.
This week’s fatal shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile by police officers are deeply disturbing examples of the disproportionate, unacceptable levels of gun violence the African-American community is subject to in America today. Deadly force should never be a first resort, especially by those sworn to protect our citizens.
Gun violence is a complex problem that manifests itself in nearly every area of American life. We experience mass shootings, domestic violence shootings, accidental shootings, suicidal shootings, gang-related shootings, bias-driven shootings, terrorist shootings, “stand-your-ground” shootings, shootings by law enforcement… 117,000 of us are shot every year. No other industrialized nation has this problem. America—all of us—must do more, right now, to address the deadly role guns play in our society, especially for African-American men, who make up only 6% of the population but account for 51% of all homicide victims. It just isn’t right.
Here at the Law Center, we recognize that law enforcement is a key ally in fostering public safety and supporting the smart gun laws and community intervention programs our staff and members tirelessly advocate for. We also understand that with the proliferation of so many guns on our streets, being a police officer is a dangerous job. Yet it’s clear that systemic reforms are needed in order to ensure that deadly force is only ever used as an absolute last resort.
To help the public get a grasp on the scope of the problem, the Washington Post maintains a comprehensive database of fatal police shootings. 509 so far this year. We need to be better than this.