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.

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. 

Choose Common Sense over Campus Carry

 

The debate over allowing guns on campus is raging across America. So far in 2015, 16 states have introduced dangerous bills that would allow hidden, loaded guns on public and private college campuses. But, enacting legislation allowing more guns to be carried on and around schools only increases the opportunity for gun violence.Trendwatch-Map-Schools-4.10

We already know that permissive concealed carry laws are linked to an increase in violent crime, and workplaces that allow guns are significantly more dangerous to workers—more guns on campus place a burden and pose a risk for people who work at schools too. Additionally, the university experience introduces new stressors and social pressures to students, factors contributing to an increase in risky behaviorlike drinking and drug use—that make college campuses a hazardous climate for relaxed access to firearms.

The gun lobby is also pushing an agenda that labels campus carry as a safety measure that would protect 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 concealed weapons, too. Sexual violence on campuses is also often committed by a person the victim knows, and often linked to situations where people are drinking—a potentially deadly scenario if concealed weapons are present.

 

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No Permit, Big Problem

 

One of the gun lobby’s priorities in 2015 is pushing dangerous legislation to allow people to carry hidden, loaded handguns in public without a permit. Currently, only four states lack a permit requirement for concealed carry, but in the first three months of 2015, 20 states have introduced bills to remove this lifesaving public safety measure.

This is a potentially deadly trend. “No permit” concealed carry will:

  • Embolden felons and other prohibited people to carry concealed weapons in public.
  • Reduce law enforcement’s ability to identify those prohibited people.
  • Increase the risk of intentional and accidental shootings in public places.
  • Increase gun trafficking.

Without a permit requirement, it becomes more difficult for law enforcement to confirm that people carrying loaded, hidden weapons in public are law abiding. Felons, domestic abusers, and the dangerously mentally ill are forbidden from possessing firearms under federal law, but with “no permit” the police lose an avenue to check that people are carrying guns legally, which in turn emboldens dangerous people to carry guns in public with little risk of being caught, jeopardizing the safety of police officers and the public.

The application process for a concealed carry permit—which includes mandatory firearm safety training in several states—naturally limits the number of people applying to carry guns in public. Without these permits, more people will carry concealed weapons, increasing the risk that everyday disagreements will escalate into shootouts, especially in places where disputes frequently occur—in bars, at sporting events, and in traffic. Experts have agreed, again and again, that more guns in public leads to more gun injuries and deaths—not fewer.

Weak concealed carry laws are also correlated to an increase in gun trafficking. Mayors Against Illegal Guns (now Everytown for Gun Safety) found that states with weak permitting laws are the source of crime guns recovered in other states at more than twice the rate of states with strong permitting laws.

Last week, West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin courageously vetoed a no permit bill after bipartisan polling found that 83 percent of voters and 81 percent of gun owners in that state support requiring a permit to carry a concealed weapon. And West Virginians echo national sentiment—88 percent of likely 2016 voters oppose laws allowing people to carry hidden, loaded weapons without a permit.

These polling figures show that both the gun lobby and the politicians who play to them are out of touch with what Americans want—and concealed carry permits are part of that package. The good news is that in spite of the gun lobby’s efforts, we’ve seen an unprecedented momentum for smart gun laws. Since Newtown, 99 new smart gun laws have been passed and the gun lobby has lost court case after court case, including just this month in Fyock v. Sunnyvale and Pena v Lindley. The tide is turning.

Supreme Court Leaves in Place New Jersey Law Limiting Guns in Public Places

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The U.S. Supreme Court today refused to hear a case that challenged an important gun safety law in New Jersey which requires applicants for a concealed weapon permit show a “justifiable need” before they may carry a firearm in public. By not hearing Drake v. Jerejian, the Supreme Court leaves in place a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit finding New Jersey’s concealed weapons permitting system to be constitutional and an important part of protecting citizens from dangerous firearms in public spaces.

The question of whether the Second Amendment applies outside of the home is a major issue across the nation right now.  Several states, including New Jersey, New York, and California, give law enforcement the discretion to decide whether a person has a legitimate need to carry a concealed weapon in public places. Strong concealed weapons permitting systems serve to improve public safety by helping to keep guns out of public places.

Of the five U.S. Courts of Appeals that have heard Second Amendment challenges to these kinds of laws, four have found them to be constitutional.  Only recently did a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit unexpectedly break with the other courts in finding San Diego’s permitting system to violate the Second Amendment – a radical decision that has the potential to be overturned if the Ninth Circuit decides to rehear the case with a full panel of judges.

The Supreme Court’s decision today is part of a larger trend in which the Court has repeatedly refused to hear Second Amendment challenges to common sense gun laws.  Since the landmark Supreme Court decisions in Heller and McDonald, the Court has denied review in over 60 Second Amendment challenges to our nation’s gun laws.  As a result, the Court has refused to disturb the large number of federal and state court decisions upholding strong gun regulations.

In rejecting the gun lobby’s request to hear the Drake case today, the Supreme Court has left this issue in the hands of the lower courts, the vast majority of which have approved laws, like those in New Jersey, which serve to protect citizens from a flood of dangerous firearms in public places.

For more, read our information on other cases that have addressed the Second Amendment since the pivotal 2008 Heller case or read our summary of concealed weapon permitting laws nationwide.

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

A New Law in Idaho Creates the Potential for Openly Carried Weapons on Campus and in Dorms

(Photo: AP/Houston Chronicle, Johnny Hanson)

(Photo: AP/Houston Chronicle, Johnny Hanson)

A bill that prohibits state colleges and universities from regulating firearms on their campuses was signed by the governor of Idaho yesterday. The governor approved the law despite strong opposition from the Idaho Board of Education, Chief of Police, and the presidents of every Idaho public university, college, and community college. No public colleges or universities in Idaho currently allow guns on their campuses.

Although the law still allows public colleges and universities to regulate guns on campus in some respects, Idaho Senate Bill 1254 prohibits them from banning the carrying of firearms by individuals with an enhanced concealed carry permit.  An individual need only obtain an additional eight hours of firearms safety training and fire 98 live rounds to qualify for this enhanced permit. However, because of a incredibly dangerous loophole,  these permit holders will be able to carry their firearms openly on campus, which makes Idaho the first state in the country to allow people to openly carry weapons on campus. 

People with enhanced permits will still be restricted from carrying a concealed firearm within a student dormitory, residence hall, or public entertainment facility, but this is the only restriction the law places on enhanced permit holders. The law does not prevent enhanced permit holders from carrying their firearms openly in the same places, or anywhere else on campus.

Whether Carried Openly or Concealed, Guns on Campus Increase the Risk of Violence. Allowing guns on campuses has been shown to create a greater risk for both homicide and suicide. The American Association of State Colleges and Universities reports that college-age students experience some of the highest rates of serious mental illness. A Journal of American College Health study demonstrated that between 9% and 11% of college students seriously considered suicide in the previous school year and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that about 1,100 college students commit suicide each year. Access to guns makes suicide attempts more likely to be fatal– 85% of gun suicide attempts result in death—as illustrated by data from the U.S. Department of Education.

In addition to the risks of suicide, a 2002 study from the Journal of American College Health found that students who owned guns were more likely than non-gun-owning students to binge drink and then engage in risky activities “such as driving when under the influence of alcohol, vandalizing property, and having unprotected intercourse.”

Evidence suggests that permissive concealed gun carrying generally will increase crime. This fact belies any need for students, faculty, and visitors to carry guns on campus for self-defense or any other reason. Continue reading

Law Center and Attorney General Harris Defend California Law in Pivotal Ninth Circuit Concealed Weapon Case

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A radical Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision earlier this month put one of California’s key laws in jeopardy. In that case, two conservative judges issued a decision that could potentially undermine a decades old law allowing law enforcement to have discretion over who is allowed to carry a hidden, loaded gun in public. Today, California Attorney General Kamala Harris filed a request that the Ninth Circuit reconsider the case in front of an en banc panel of judges.

The law at issue here allows law enforcement to issue a permit to carry a hidden, loaded gun in public if the applicant can demonstrate “good cause” for receiving a permit. This type of system is commonly called a “may issue” permitting system and is not uncommon in other states across the country. In Peruta v. County of San Diegotwo judges on a three judge panel of the Ninth Circuit decided that California’s good cause requirement must be interpreted to allow anyone who claims a general desire for personal self-defense in public to be issued a permit, contrary to three other circuits’ decisions on this issue.

Given that this decision guts a critical piece of California law regarding guns in public, it is no surprise that the Attorney General has decided to get involved in the case and request an en banc rehearing. Today, the Law Center—which also filed an amicus brief in front of the original three judge panel—filed an amicus brief that supports the Attorney General’s request. Our brief argues that the Peruta decision is a dramatic departure from other courts’ analysis of this issue. In fact, cases challenging similar “may issue” systems in New York, Maryland, and New Jersey have been rejected by three different federal appellate courts.

The briefs filed by the Law Center, Attorney General Harris, and other organizations send a clear message to the Ninth Circuit to stop this radical decision by two judges which could overturn decades of California law that helps law enforcement prevent gun violence. This unprecedented ruling starkly departs from other courts’ interpretations of the Second Amendment by failing to consider the public safety benefits of granting law enforcement discretion in deciding who should be allowed to carry a concealed weapon and by failing to recognize the well-established history of regulating guns in public.  Courts that have taken those considerations into account have all upheld these critical laws.

Read the full text of our amicus brief here. Continue reading

Extreme Ninth Circuit Concealed Weapon Decision Out Of Sync With Other Courts

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California has some of the strongest gun laws in the nation and these strong laws have had a significant role in keeping Californians safe. Over the past twenty years, California’s gun laws have contributed to a significant—56%—drop in California’s gun death rate. However, a radical Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision has put one of the state’s key laws in jeopardy. Yesterday, two conservative judges issued a decision that could potentially undermine a decades old law allowing law enforcement to have discretion over who is allowed to carry a hidden, loaded gun in public.

This law, like laws in several other states across the country, only allows law enforcement to issue a permit to carry a concealed loaded gun in public if the applicant can demonstrate “good cause” for the issuance of a permit—commonly called a “may issue” permitting system.

In California, counties can define “good cause” differently, and many require applicants to show that they are at a special risk of being targeted by criminals that is greater than the general population in order to demonstrate “good cause.” In this case, Peruta v. County of San Diego, the plaintiffs claim that the Second Amendment requires counties to issue permits to anyone who applies who claims a general need for self-defense, regardless of whether they have a special risk.

Since the controversial 2008 Supreme Court decision District of Columbia v. Heller, the gun lobby has flooded the courts with similar claims, which have nearly all been rejected. In fact, cases challenging similar “may issue” systems in New York, Maryland, and New Jersey have been rejected by three different federal appellate courts. In yesterday’s decision, however, two judges on a three judge panel of the Ninth Circuit decided that California’s good cause requirement must be interpreted to allow anyone who claims a general desire for personal self-defense in public to be issued a permit, contrary to other circuits’ decisions on this issue.

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Honoring Trayvon Martin

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On Saturday, we were deeply disappointed by the news that George Zimmerman was found not guilty in the death of Trayvon Martin. Justice is not served when a man carrying a loaded, concealed handgun in public is allowed to stalk and kill an unarmed teenager without consequence.

Sadly, Florida’s extremely weak gun laws set the stage for Trayvon Martin’s senseless death. Under the state’s concealed weapons laws, George Zimmerman was issued a permit to carry a hidden gun, despite the fact that he had previously been arrested for assaulting a police officer and had a history of domestic violence. If Zimmerman had not been carrying a gun that night, Trayvon Martin would still be alive today.

Florida’s “shoot first” law only exacerbated the danger by removing Zimmerman’s duty to retreat before using deadly force in self-defense in public. These laws promote gun violence by shielding shooters from criminal liability for death or great bodily injury, even when such death or injury could have been avoided.

As a nation, we must learn from Trayvon Martin’s death that more guns in public do not make us safer, and use this tragedy as an opportunity to closely evaluate our nation’s gun laws.

As President Obama observed, the way to honor Trayvon Martin is to “ask ourselves if we’re doing all we can to stem the tide of gun violence that claims too many lives across this country on a daily basis” and to focus on how we can prevent similar tragedies from happening in the future.

Preventing unnecessary gun deaths starts with education.

Learn more about your state’s concealed weapons policies or read our summary of “shoot first” laws for more information.