By now, you have probably heard the news. Last week, a 9-year-old girl accidentally shot and killed her shooting instructor while firing an Uzi at the Last Stop shooting range in White Hills, Arizona. In the public outcry that followed, the Law Center received many requests from the media about how a tragedy like this could even occur. Sadly, this was not an isolated incident. In 2008, a similar shooting occurred in Massachusetts when an 8-year-old boy lost his life while handling an Uzi at a gun show.
The unfortunate reality is very few states have laws on the books prohibiting child access to powerful automatic weapons. These horrific incidents highlight the need for stronger laws that restrict easy access to firearms by children and cut down on accidental shootings. The problem is real: between 1999 and 2010, more than 8,300 Americans were killed by accidental gun fire and roughly 25% of those deaths were young people under the age of 21. Each year in America, over 16,000 people are treated in hospital emergency rooms for unintentional gunshot wounds.
Despite these sobering numbers, far too many states, like Arizona, do not have any laws in place to keep guns out of the hands of small children. When it comes to the strength of its laws to reduce gun violence, the Law Center gives Arizona an “F.” Unfortunately, 24 other states currently receive the same failing grade. To learn more about weak gun laws in Arizona, visit our Arizona State Law Summary. To learn more about your state’s gun laws, visit Gun Laws by State.
Yesterday jury selection began in the murder trial of Michael Dunn who shot and killed 17-year-old Jordan Davis. Witnesses say Dunn became enraged at Davis for playing music too loudly and provoked a confrontation that resulted in Dunn shooting and killing the unarmed teenager.
Dunn will likely base his defense on Florida’s stand your ground law—better described as a “shoot first” law—that allows someone to use deadly force outside the home if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm. Florida’s law, as well as similar laws in several other states, does not require that the person using force retreat to a place of safety, if possible, before using force.
Eight months before Jordan Davis was killed, George Zimmerman followed Trayvon Martin, an unarmed teenager walking to his father’s girlfriend’s house. By now, most of us know the story. Although Florida’s shoot first law was not incorporated into George Zimmerman’s defense, the court had instructed the jury on Florida’s controversial law and one of the jurors subsequently stated that the jury had found the law applicable to Zimmerman.
Again, a few weeks ago, yet another person behaving lawfully in public was shot and killed. Chad Oulson, who was texting his 3-year-old daughter’s caretaker during movie previews, angered Curtis Reeves, an armed, retired police officer. Reeves began to argue with Oulson. A confrontation ensued and Reeves shot and killed Oulson. Reeves is expected to also claim self-defense using Florida’s shoot first law.
A 17-year-old playing music in a car. A 16-year-old walking to see his father. A father texting the babysitter during movie previews. These are only a fraction of the victims. These tragic events also demonstrate how shoot first laws continue to threaten public safety by encouraging people to take the law into their own hands and act as armed vigilantes, often with deadly consequences. The strongest of these laws also have a profound impact on the criminal and civil justice systems, tying the hands of law enforcement and depriving victims of remedies by providing blanket immunity from criminal prosecution and civil lawsuits to individuals who claim they were acting in self-defense.
Many states have had enough of this bloodshed and lawmakers have introduced legislation to repeal or limit the use of shoot first laws. Most notably, Alabama has introduced the “Trayvon Martin exception” as an amendment to its current shoot first law. The new legislation aims to protect innocent victims like Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, and Chad Oulson. The bill would prohibit use of the self-defense claim if a shooter pursued the victim who was behaving lawfully in a public place and the pursuit resulted in a deadly confrontation. Continue reading →
Today marks another dark anniversary in our country’s history. Two years ago, our nation mourned a horrific act in Tucson, Arizona – where a beloved congresswoman, Gabrielle Giffords, was shot in the head by a dangerously mentally ill man and barely survived. Six Americans in the crowd were killed and thirteen were gravely wounded alongside her. Since then, we, as a nation, have witnessed shooting after shooting – in our theatres, shopping malls, and houses of worship – yet have done next to nothing to stop them.
We cannot let this violence continue.
Gabby Giffords is not willing to stand by and do nothing. The horrific event that changed her life two years ago today has made her more resilient and determined than ever. Earlier today, she announced that she and her husband Mark Kelly will fight to find responsible solutions to the massive loss of life that we experience on a daily basis.
“We have experienced too much death and hurt to remain idle. Our response to the Newtown massacre must consist of more than regret, sorrow and condolence. The children of Sandy Hook Elementary School and all victims of gun violence deserve fellow citizens and leaders who have the will to prevent gun violence in the future.”
That means all of us. Help us thank Gabby Giffords and Mark Kelly for their bravery and tenacity by joining them. Your voice is needed to tell your legislators that you support them and will continue to support them in the fight to end these tragedies.
Vice President Biden’s task force is in meetings this week to discuss the next steps. Please call your legislators and tell them that you want them to support the following smart and effective solutions to the end the bloodshed:
1) A background check with all gun sales
2) A ban on military-style assault weapons
3) A ban on large capacity ammunition magazines – some of which can hold 100 rounds of ammunition
Tell them that they must take action today – because the safety of our loved ones depends on it.
Gabrielle Giffords has announced that she is resigning her seat to focus on recovering from the severe injuries she sustained in the tragic shooting in Arizona last January. She has displayed such grace, strength, and perseverance in her fight to recuperate from her gunshot wound to the head, and yet the President and Congress have still done nothing to support basic improvements to our national background checks system – changes that would prevent countless acts of violence across the country. Furthermore, we agree:
..it would be a disservice to her life and that of the others directly affected by this, and tragedies like it, to ignore the factors that precipitated the violence: the easy access to guns; the availability of accessories such as extended clips that make deadly weapons all the more lethal; and a porous and shoddy regulatory system that too often fails to keep these weapons out of the hands of dangerous or dangerously unstable individuals.
We stand united with our allies in the fight to have this issue recognized as an epidemic in our country. Our partners, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, said it best in their letter to President Obama (read the full letter below):
Last year, 12,000 Americans were murdered with guns. To put the death toll in perspective, imagine the entire population of a town being murdered over the course of a year. Or a university losing its entire student body, each day bringing 34 new murders. Surely, these events would shock Washington into action. But the grim fact that guns are used to murder 34 people a day is barely discussed in Washington – even though the tragic reality is that many of those lives could have been saved if the federal government had fixed its broken background check system.
We will continue to work tirelessly – with the law on our side – to promote smart guns laws that can, and do, save lives.
On January 8, 2012, the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence joined Americans nationwide to remember victims and survivors of gun violence on the one-year anniversary of the shooting in Tucson, Arizona. At a candlelight vigil in Yerba Buena Gardens, survivors, legislators, and activists from across the Bay Area gathered to reflect on the terrible toll of gun violence and the need for renewed efforts to keep our communities safe.
Our Legal Director Juliet Leftwich spoke to the need for action in an op-ed in the Contra Costa Times, urging Congress to enact sensible gun laws to prevent future tragedies:
Remember Republicans and Democrats alike sitting together to express their unified support for their fallen colleague?Sadly, rather than using that moment to actually do something tangible to prevent similar tragedies from happening in the future, our leaders let the opportunity pass and simply returned to business as usual.
It’s not too late. If members of Congress truly want to honor the victims and survivors of the Tucson shooting, they should stop pandering to the gun lobby and start protecting public safety.
We thank everyone who attended Sunday’s vigil. You can watch a KTVU news report on the event below and see more photos from the vigil here.
The San Francisco vigil, organized by the Law Center, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence Bay Area Chapters, 1000 Mothers to Prevent Violence, and Youth ALIVE!, was one of numerous vigils held on January 8 to remember victims of gun violence nationwide. Reports from events across the country are being collected at TooManyVictims.org.
Gun violence prevention groups have also released a number of important materials recently. Mayors Against Illegal Guns released a video of survivors from the Tucson shooting sharing their stories. The Violence Policy Center also published a new report entitled More Guns, More Shootings, which found that, in 2008, 110,215 people were shot in the United States, a nine-year high.
The Law Center commends the Obama Administration for recently adopting a rule to require firearms dealers in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas to report any individual who purchases multiple semiautomatic rifles within a five-day period.
While this is an important step, President Obama should urge Congress to fix more fundamental gaps in federal gun laws—which allow individuals to buy assault weapons and other firearms from unlicensed sellers without undergoing background checks—in order to combat gun violence in the U.S. and Mexico.
On Sunday, March 13, two months after the Tucson massacre, President Obama announced a proposal to improve the federal background check system in an Arizona Daily Star op-ed. “[O]ur focus right now should be on sound and effective steps that will actually keep those irresponsible, law-breaking few from getting their hands on a gun in the first place,” the president wrote. “Porous background checks are bad for police officers, for law-abiding citizens and for [firearms] sellers themselves.”
The Law Center commends the president for this first step to address America’s gun violence epidemic. President Obama proposed improving background check recordkeeping, but unfortunately federal law does not even require every gun purchaser to pass a background check. As the president noted in his op-ed, “If we’re serious about keeping guns away from someone who’s made up his mind to kill, then we can’t allow a situation where a responsible seller denies him a weapon at one store, but he effortlessly buys the same gun someplace else.” The Law Center urges the president to support S. 436, Senator Schumer’s bill to require universal background checks.
President Obama called on Americans to begin “a new discussion on how we can keep America safe for all our people.” The American public, however, has already voiced broad support for requiring a background check before every firearm sale. A recent bipartisan poll showed that 86% of Americans and 81% of gun owners nationwide support universal background checks. Additional polls in Arizona, Colorado, Indiana, Ohio and Virginia indicate that at least 83% of respondents — and over 75% of gun owners — in each of those states support this policy.
The Law Center has long advocated for universal background checks and for the improvement of background check recordkeeping. Despite Congress’ unwillingness to confront gun violence in recent years, and its consistent capitulation to the gun lobby, we are encouraged by the prospect that the president’s recent statement will mark a new beginning in federal firearms legislation.
Following the tragic shootings of Representative Gabrielle Giffords and 18 others in Tucson, Arizona, on January 8, 2011, federal legislators have introduced several bills to reduce gun violence. Representative Carolyn McCarthy has authored legislation to prohibit the transfer or possession of large capacity ammunition magazines, like those used by the Tucson shooter. We encourage you to sign our petition urging Congress to pass H.R. 308 the bill to ban large capacity ammunition magazines, and contact your congressperson to voice your support for this common sense legislation.
Other significant federal legislation introduced after the Tucson shooting includes a bill by Senator Barbara Boxer to establish minimum standards for states that allow the carrying of concealed firearms, and a bill introduced by Representative Peter King to prohibit the carrying of a firearm near a senior federal official holding a public event, carrying out official duties, or campaigning for federal elective office.
Mayors Against Illegal Guns Champions Reform of Federal Gun Laws
Mayors Against Illegal Guns (MAIG), a diverse national coalition of more than 500 mayors led by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, promotes federal legislation to reduce illegal firearms trafficking and repair gaping loopholes in our nation’s background check system. MAIG’s latest campaign, Fix Gun Checks, encourages Congress to adopt federal laws to ensure mental health and drug abuse information is entered into the databases used to check a prospective firearm transferee’s background, and to close the private sale loophole by requiring a background check prior to every gun transfer. Mayor Bloomberg led a recent undercover investigation of the Crossroads of the West Gun Show in Phoenix, Arizona, which showed unlicensed sellers willingly selling guns to people who say they probably “couldn’t pass” a background check. The Law Center is pleased to support MAIG’s efforts for critical gun violence prevention legislation nationwide.