From Virginia to California: Two Horrific Mass Shootings

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Today, we are left reeling by the news of two more disturbing mass shootings, both with echoes of our organizations’ founding. Incidents like this are a stark reminder of the relentless drumbeat of tragedy our nation is forced to endure because our leaders refuse to pass sensible gun legislation that keeps the public safe.

This morning, in Alexandria, Virginia, a shooter launched a heinous, deliberate attack on members of Congress and their staffers. Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana and at least four others were wounded while practicing for the annual Congressional baseball game. Scalise, who is now recovering from a gunshot to the hip, is the first member of Congress to be the victim of such an attack since our leader, former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot along with 18 others—six fatally—while meeting with constituents in January 2011.

The shooter in Alexandria was a 66-year-old man from Illinois with a violent history and radical views. During the chaos of this assault, two courageous Capitol Police officers were shot in an effort to neutralize the gunman, who was armed with a handgun and a military-style assault weapon. The perpetrator was later killed after a shootout with police.

Mere hours later, reports came in of an active shooter at a UPS facility across the country. In San Francisco, a gunman shot and killed three UPS employees and wounded two others. According to the city’s assistant police chief, the gunman was armed with an assault pistol which he then turned on himself when confronted by police.

The mass shooting at UPS took place a short distance from 101 California Street, the site of the 1993 massacre that led to the Law Center’s founding. The tragic incident is a reminder of the all-too frequent occurrences of workplace violence that plague our nation. Businesses should be peaceful environments where people can feel safe, but they are frequent targets for deadly attacks. Following the murder of five warehouse workers in Orlando earlier this month, the tragedy in San Francisco underscores just how common shootings like this are—according to an FBI analysis, acts of violence in places of business like this one are the most common type of active shooter situations.

Today’s shooting in the Potrero neighborhood of San Francisco marks the 154th mass shooting of 2017, and while no lives were lost in Alexandria, both of these assaults are a painful reminder of 114,000 Americans shot every year. We are deeply saddened by both of these tragedies and send our sincere and heartfelt sympathies to the victims and to their families. But we can and must do more to put a stop to these incidents of gun violence that shatter countless lives each year.

The gun lobby continues hold Congress in a tight grip, pushing for the total dismantling of our gun laws, including this year’s attempt to deregulate silencers, legislation that was scheduled to be debated in Congress today. It is terrifying to imagine how much more difficult it would be for law enforcement to respond to a mass shooting when a gunman has a silencer.

The parallels between the mass shootings that occurred today and those which launched the Law Center and our partner organization Americans for Responsible Solutions are striking, and remind us of how critical this fight truly is for the sake of our nation’s safety.

Remembering Pulse: The Deadliest Mass Shooting in US History

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Today marks a year since a gunman entered Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, and carried out the deadliest mass shooting in US history, taking the lives of 49 people and injuring another 53 in a deeply disturbing act of terrorism and hate. Armed with military-style assault weapons, the shooter was able to fire hundreds of rounds into the crowd of clubgoers without pausing to reload, maximizing the carnage.

Last week, Orlando again was the site of another senseless shooting—a disgruntled former employee entered the warehouse where he used to work, singling out and killing five victims before turning the gun on himself. Yet again, the city was forced to mourn the tragic loss of life that happens far too often in our nation—the incident was the 144th mass shooting of 2017. According to The Trace’s analysis of data from the Gun Violence Archive, since the Pulse nightclub shooting, more than 250 people have been shot, 81 fatally, in Orlando, a small city of about 260,000.

Florida has incredibly weak gun laws, and as a result, it’s far too easy for guns to fall into the hands of dangerous people who want to carry out acts of violence. Weak concealed carry standards, onerous preemption laws, and a deadly stand your ground statute all contribute to Florida’s abysmally high gun death rate—about four times higher per capita than Massachusetts, a state with some of the nation’s strongest gun laws. Unfortunately, Florida isn’t alone when it comes to lax gun laws. It’s one of a shocking 25 states that earns an F on our annual Gun Law State Scorecard.

Last summer, in the aftermath of the Pulse shooting, dozens of senators and representatives bravely led filibusters and sit-ins to demand votes on universal background checks and other lifesaving policies. Yet congressional leadership has refused to act, even though more than 90% of Americans support expanding background checks to close the private sale loophole. In fact, the primary gun bills on Congress’s agenda in the current session are to deregulate silencers and to make it easier for untrained individuals to carry guns in public, both pieces of legislation backed by the gun lobby and designed to bring new profits to the gun industry at the expense of public safety.

As we honor the memory of those innocent Americans gunned down in the dark a year ago tonight, it’s essential that we also demand our leaders stand up to the gun lobby and pass the smart gun laws that save lives.

Visit the Gun Law State Scorecard to see how your state stacks up, and learn more about what lawmakers can do to safeguard communities from gun violence.

Protecting Strong Gun Laws: The Supreme Court Leaves Lower Court Victories Untouched

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In the last eight years, the U.S. Supreme Court has rejected more than 70 cases seeking to expand the very limited right defined in the unprecedented Second Amendment case, District of Columbia v. Heller. By repeatedly declining to review lower court decisions upholding federal, state, and local gun laws, the Supreme Court has maintained important limitations on the Second Amendment and has reconfirmed that the Amendment is not an obstacle to smart gun laws that keep our communities safe from gun violence.

Since the Court’s decision in the Heller case 2008, lower courts across the country have been inundated with costly and time-consuming challenges to state and local gun laws.  However, lower courts have consistently upheld these laws, noting that many of these laws have been successful at protecting people from gun violence and keeping guns out of the hands of criminals while still allowing law-abiding citizens to keep guns in their homes for self defense.  Since 2008, there have been over 1,090 Second Amendment cases challenging gun laws nationwide, with an overwhelming majority—94%—of the lower court decisions upholding those laws.

Many of these Second Amendment challenges to gun laws make their way to the Supreme Court.  However, the Court has refused to hear these cases,1 leaving lower court decisions upholding the laws intact and keeping strong gun laws on the books.  For example, the Supreme Court has refused to hear cases that:

Notes
  1. In 2010, the Court decided McDonald v. City of Chicago, which held that the right recognized in Heller extends to state and local governments.  That case involved a Chicago law nearly identical to the one struck down in Heller and did not expand the substantive scope of the Second Amendment. ⤴︎

Gov. Jerry Brown Signs Six Smart Gun Laws in California

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This year, the California Legislature introduced a record number of gun safety bills. We’re thrilled to report that Governor Brown has signed six of these lifesaving measures into law.

Today’s news represents a tremendous step in the right direction, as California has long led the nation when it comes to enacting smart gun laws–we rank the state first in our annual Gun Law State Scorecard for consistently adopting bold new solutions to save lives from the epidemic of gun violence.

The bills Governor Brown signed will promote public safety by strengthening the state’s assault weapon ban to prohibit the sale of “bullet-button” rifles like the ones used in last year’s deadly massacre in San Bernardino, requiring background checks on ammunition purchasers, and prohibiting the possession of large capacity ammunition magazines

We’re proud to have testified in support these bills as they made their way through the statehouse and are delighted that Governor Brown signed them into law. These new pieces of legislation add to the unprecedented momentum for commonsense gun safety policies we’ve seen at the state level in recent years, and we’re as committed as ever to the fight for public safety in our home state.

But there’s still more work to be done, and we’re confident that by continuing to work with our powerful legislative coalition partners and our supporters, we can bring California’s pioneering gun laws to all 50 states.

 

To read more about California’s smart gun laws, see our policy page.

To see how your state stacks up when it comes to commonsense gun safety laws, see our Gun Law State Scorecard.

The Deadliest Shooting in American History

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Terror tore through an Orlando nightclub early Sunday morning. A gunman, motivated by hate and enabled by all-too easy access to deadly, military-style weapons killed at least 50 and wounded another 53 in the deadliest mass shooting in US history. This was not a record we wanted to break.

The attack specifically targeted the LGBTQ community in Orlando, and the shooter reportedly pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in a 911 call. As the story continues to develop, one fact becomes clearer and clearer: it’s far too easy for dangerous people—whether they’re terrorists, bigots, domestic abusers, or dangerously mentally ill—to get their hands on guns. And when that happens, innocent people die.

It’s been almost a year since Charleston. Three years since Newtown. Five since Tucson. Nine since Virginia Tech. Seventeen since Columbine. Twenty-three since 101 California, the mass shooting that inspired the Law Center’s founding.

It’s long past time for Congress to listen to its constituents and fix the broken policies—like the gun show loophole and the terror gap—that we know will help prevent shootings.

And if our federal leaders won’t listen, we need to enact better legislation at the state level, especially in Florida, which has some of the weakest gun laws in the country and receives an F on our Gun Law State Scorecard. Not only does Florida not require background checks on private gun sales or prohibit assault weapons like the one used in the Orlando shooting, it specifically has a law forbidding doctors from talking to their patients about gun safety. It’s time to bring some sanity to the Sunshine State and pass the smart gun laws that have been proven over and over again to save lives.

Our hearts go out to the victims of the Orlando shooting, the LGBTQ community, and the more than 117,000 Americans shot every year. This is a sad day in the United States. All of us here at the Law Center vow to turn this pain into action and redouble our efforts fighting for a rational, commonsense approach to American gun laws.

To see how states rank when it comes to smart gun laws, check out the 2015 Gun Law State Scorecard.

To learn more about Florida’s gun laws, see our policy page. 

Extremism Leaves a Nation on Edge


Yesterday, the United States suffered yet another mass shooting—our 355th of the year. Fourteen were killed and 21 injured after two shooters rampaged through the Inland Regional Center in San Bernadino, California. Reports are emerging that the suspects were radicalized and have links to known terrorists.

Just days before, a Colorado Springs shopping center and Planned Parenthood fell under siege as a man radically opposed to abortion engaged in an hours-long standoff with law enforcement, killing three and injuring nine others with a semiautomatic rifle.

Four men have been charged in the November 23 shooting at a Black Lives Matter demonstration in Minneapolis, wounding five—an incident which authorities believe was racially motivated.

We need reform at the state and federal levels. We’re tired of our lawmakers offering their thoughts and prayers—those won’t stop the next mass shooter, or any of the 88 gun deaths we average per day. We’re ready for swift and decisive action to stop the 117,000 shootings the United States sees each year. And we know you are too. Our executive director, Robyn Thomas, wrote this op-ed for the Daily Dot on just how ready the American public is for the smart gun laws that will save lives.

…Action is needed. We are collectively answerable to the victims of gun violence and to an ever-growing community of grieving family members for the policies our leaders enact, or fail to enact, to protect our communities. We need to do more than just tweet sympathy—we need to force our leaders to pass the smart gun laws that the research has proven again and again save lives.

Polls have repeatedly shown that the American public is in broad agreement about what must be done to prevent gun violence. Over 90 percent of Americans support closing the loophole that allows felons, domestic abusers and the dangerously mentally ill to buy guns without a background check. Yet, thanks to pressure from the gun lobby, Congress has failed to act…

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While these shooters were all motivated by different factors and separated by hundreds of miles, a common thread ties the incidents together: it’s all too easy for extremists, zealots, and bigots to get their hands on deadly weapons when the impulse to inflict harm became too powerful to resist.

Read the full text of Robyn’s op-ed

For more information on California’s gun laws, see our policy page.

For more information on how your state stacks up when it comes to smart gun laws, see our annual Gun Law State Scorecard.

 

 

Closing the Terror Gap in American Gun Laws

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Last week, the world watched in horror as Paris came under attack–129 killed in coordinated mass shootings and bombings across the city. Our hearts are with the victims, their families, and those who survived the attack, and we stand with the people of the world in calling for an end to the kind of senseless violence that terrorized Paris and the global community this weekend.

As gun law experts, we know universal background checks and more effective mental health screenings will help prevent many of the headline-grabbing shootings we’ve seen in the last several years—these are effective, powerful ways to curb gun violence in our communities. But, it’s also important that we consider our nation’s security in the aftermath of the Paris attacks by looking at gaps in our gun laws–specifically concerning acts of terrorism.

One such weakness, the “terror gap,” persists because a hole in federal legislation does not bar those on the terrorist watchlist from purchasing firearms. Unlike felons, the dangerously mentally ill, and certain drug abusers, federal law does not prohibit known or suspected terrorists from purchasing guns. Though 82% of NRA members and 86% of non-NRA gun owners support such legislation, only one state (New Jersey in 2013) has taken appropriate steps to address the terror gap. This failure to act has resulted in drastic consequences:

To be clear, Friday’s attacks were not the result of weak national gun laws; with some of the most progressive gun laws in the world, France’s annual death rate from firearms is drastically lower than that of the United States. But illegal trafficking from nearby countries increases the availability of deadly weapons and makes it easier for terrorists to carry out acts of violence.

Within our own borders, weak gun laws in most states make it easy for deadly firearms to fall into the wrong hands. And this fact is far from a secret—a senior al-Qaeda leader even lauded how simple it is to obtain firearms in America, releasing a video message to urge followers to buy guns in states without universal background checks.

Acts of terrorism like the ones we witnessed last week and many of the strategies for combatting them are different in kind from the gun violence we see in American communities on a daily basis, but both situations are amplified by overwhelmingly easy access to deadly weapons. Trafficking may be what enables deplorable acts of terrorism like what we saw in Paris, but with effective legislation to close the terror gap, we can take important steps to ensure a safer, more secure environment for everyone.

Victory: Chicago Suburb’s Ban on Deadly Weapons Upheld

In yet another major win for smart gun laws, the Seventh Circuit ruled this week that an ordinance adopted by Highland Park, Illinois, prohibiting assault weapons and large capacity ammunition magazines (LCAMs) does not violate the Second Amendment.

We were proud to file an amicus brief in the case, Friedman v. City of Highland Park, with the help of Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP, this year’s recipient of the Law Center’s Richard W. Odgers Pro Bono Partner Award. Highlighting the devastating role that assault weapons and large capacity magazines play in mass shootings and other gun crimes, the brief argued that the city’s prohibition on these military-style weapons is consistent with the Second Amendment.

The Law Center was founded in the wake of an assault weapon rampage, where the shooter also used large capacity magazines to kill nine and injure six at a law firm at 101 California Street in San Francisco in 1993. These weapons make it significantly easier for people to shoot more rounds more quickly, increasing the number of victims. Large capacity ammunition magazines are used disproportionately in mass shootings like those in Newtown, Aurora, Tucson, and Virginia Tech.

In a 2–1 decision authored by the prolific appellate judge, Frank Easterbrook, the Seventh Circuit agreed with the Law Center’s assessment of the case. “That laws similar to Highland Park’s reduce the share of gun crimes involving assault weapons is established by data,” Judge Easterbrook wrote. “A ban on assault weapons and large capacity magazines… may reduce the carnage if a mass shooting occurs.”

Also of great importance to the court was the ordinance’s minimal impact on self-defense. “Unlike the District of Columbia’s ban on handguns [at issue in the landmark Heller case], Highland Park’s ordinance leaves residents with many self-defense options.” As a result, the court concluded that the city’s prohibition on assault weapons and large capacity ammunition magazines does not violate the Second Amendment.

This victory yet again demonstrates the unprecedented momentum across the country for common-sense gun laws. The ruling is the second so far this year regarding prohibitions on military-style weapons, following the Ninth Circuit’s recent ruling upholding a Sunnyvale, CA, ban on possessing large capacity magazines. Several similar cases are currently pending in federal appellate courts across the country, including the Second, Fourth, and Tenth Circuits. The Law Center filed amicus briefs in each of these cases as part of our commitment to fight for smart gun laws that will save countless lives. We expect positive outcomes in these cases–stand with us in the fight for safer communities for everyone and become a member today.

Learn more about large capacity ammunition magazines and the dangers of assault weapons by visiting our policy page.

 

Wal-Mart v. Trinity Wall Street: Amicus Brief in Support of Shareholder Proposal Requiring Wal-Mart to Consider the Public Safety Implications of Selling Assault Rifles

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Case Information: Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Trinity Wall Street, No. 14-4764 (3d Cir. Filed Feb. 11, 2015)

At Issue: Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest retailer, sells AR-15s and other similar assault rifles, which come equipped with high capacity magazines. The Trinity shareholder proposal at issue in this case would obligate the Wal-Mart Board to oversee the creation and implementation of standards for when to sell products raising public safety and other specified concerns. The proposal was motivated in part by the tragic shooting at Newtown and Trinity’s resultant desire to see Wal-Mart exercise more oversight of products with special business risks, including assault rifles and high-capacity magazines. While the resolution would not ban the sale of any product, it would require Wal-Mart to at least consider the implications of selling assault rifles equipped with high-capacity magazines. The district court ruled that the proposal could not be excluded from proxy materials sent by Wal-Mart to its shareholders for their consideration. Wal-Mart appealed this decision to the Third Circuit.

The Law Center’s Brief: The amicus brief supports Trinity by arguing that the district court’s opinion is consistent with SEC rules and guidance regarding the submission of shareholder proposals, and the District Court properly concluded that the Trinity proposal involves a significant policy issue appropriate for shareholder consideration. The brief emphasizes that, among the hundreds of thousands of items Wal-Mart sells, assault rifles and high-capacity magazines stand apart because of their capacity to kill large numbers of people in a very short period of time. On average, shooters who use assault weapons or large capacity magazines in mass shootings shoot 151% more people and kill 63% more people than those who do not.

Read the full text of our amicus brief here.

 

Tracking State Gun Laws: 2014 Developments

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In April of this year, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal signed HB 60, a bill which expands the ability to carry firearms in public spaces such as bars and airports. The media was quick to report that this bill is evidence of a backlash against the many significant gun violence prevention laws enacted in the states last year, despite the media’s predominant narrative from last year that, after Newtown, more states weakened gun laws and the gun lobby “won”. The truth is that the recent media narratives are far from accurate.

Since Newtown, about the same number of laws (64) have strengthened state gun regulations as those that have weakened them (70), not including 38 newly-enacted gun laws that have a minimal impact on gun violence. However, a strict comparison of these numbers without deeper insight into the substance of the laws and where they were enacted is only half the story. Of the states that enacted laws to strengthen gun regulation, 8 states made very significant and, in some cases, sweeping changes to the way it regulates firearms. Alternatively, only 4 states enacted laws that have significantly weakened gun regulation.

Despite popular belief, in the last sixteen months since Newtown, the media has incorrectly portrayed the complicated and nuanced activity in fifty different state legislative bodies. The new laws have been tallied, and often, have been inappropriately equalized. Small bills which keep concealed weapons permit holders’ information private have been categorized as having equal weight to sweeping new laws that require background checks and ban assault weapons. The stories proclaiming the Georgia bill to be a pro-gun backlash make little of the fact that it was the NRA’s top priority in Georgia for two years and, after failing last year, barely scraped by this year and only in a watered-down version. The backlash stories also fail to mention the groundswell of activism that rose in opposition to the bill and succeeded in forcing the gun lobby to strip provision after provision from the measure.

The Law Center has tracked state firearms laws in all fifty states since 2009. Above is a map outlining the breadth of laws that have passed since the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary. Our analysis of legislative trends is based on watching and analyzing all gun legislation as it moves through state houses. The data shows us that the public’s mobilization after Newtown resulted in real and sustained change in legislative outcomes, as our team tracks new laws to strengthen gun policy come to unexpected states like South Carolina and Florida while an enormous number of bills to weaken state gun laws get watered down and end without progress.

In addition, a Mother Jones analysis comparing the population of states where gun laws were strengthened to states where they were weakened concluded that more than half of the country lives in states with stronger gun laws since Newtown.

More important than the numbers, or even the context surrounding the numbers, are the real people who have dedicated their lives to changing our nation’s gun laws since Newtown. New organizations such as Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, Americans for Responsible Solutions, Sandy Hook Promise, and Texas Gun Sense and many, many more have formed in just the last sixteen months. Real change happens when real people take action. The story after Newtown is that in every state people are making their voices heard, fighting to strengthen firearms laws, and opposing the gun lobby’s profit-driven efforts. This part of the story is only just beginning and real change will be measured in the lives that are saved.

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In the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy, there is no doubt that public support for sensible gun laws has soared. Many legislators are following the lead of the people and fighting for strong new policies to fill the gaps in gun regulation left by Congress. Continue reading