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. 

Medical Gag Laws: A Deadly Mistake

facebook.whitepaper.C2P.Shareable.gunsafety.2015Across the country, state lawmakers are proposing bills that pit politics against patient care—and healthcare providers are caught in the middle. Medical “gag laws” dictate what doctors can and cannot say to patients about a host of important public health issues, including gun safety. At the Law Center, we’re committed to ensuring Americans know the urgent threat that gun violence poses to public health, which is why we’re excited to collaborate with other members of the Coalition to Protect the Patient-Provider Relationship on a new report detailing the hazardous impact of gag laws.

Politics in the Exam Room: A Growing Threat examines state laws that dictate what doctors can and cannot say to patients about treatment and safety when it comes to a host of health issues, like toxic chemical exposure from fracking, women’s reproductive health, and gun safety. The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence is proud to join the National Partnership for Women & Families, National Physicians Alliance (NPA), and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) in examining these measures.

We know gun violence is a public health epidemic—data from the Centers for Disease Control shows there were an astonishing 117,621 incidents of gun violence in 2013, which means 322 people are shot per day in the United States.

In light of this fact, we know medical professionals are poised to speak with authority when it comes to ensuring safety around guns. One study reports that 64% of people who received advice from their doctors on safely storing firearms improved their gun safety practices, such as using trigger locks and gun safes to prevent unintentional shootings, suicide, and gun theft.

Florida, home to some of the weakest gun laws in the country, enacted the most restrictive gun-related medical gag law in 2011. It subjects healthcare providers, including pediatricians, to severe disciplinary action for inquiring about whether a patient owns a gun and if it is secured and out of reach of children. A number of other states have tried (and failed, thanks to efforts by the Law Center and other gun safety advocates) to implement similar measures, and more states are expected to propose similar legislation in 2016.

The report strongly urges lawmakers to reject or repeal any legislation that interferes with the patient-provider relationship or forces healthcare providers to violate accepted, evidence-based medical practices for political reasons. Our attorneys are committed to defending the lifesaving conversations born from trusting patient-provider relationships, and we respect the Hippocratic Oath that doctors have sworn for centuries—“First, do no harm.”

To learn more about the risks medical gag laws impose on the patient-provider relationship, read the full report: Politics in the Exam Room: A Growing Threat.

To learn more specifics about a public health approach to solving gun violence: Gun Safety and Public Health.

 

 

Developing Trend in Gun Legislation: The Trayvon Martin Exception to Stand Your Ground Laws

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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

Montana and Florida Curtail Doctors’ Speech

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Thomas Barwick/Getty Images

Montana has become the second state to limit the freedom of medical professionals to discuss firearm ownership with patients.  In 2013, Montana enacted a law that requires medical providers to treat patients regardless of whether they are willing to discuss their ownership, possession or use of firearms. This is a weaker version of a 2011 Florida law that threatens health care practitioners with discipline for routine inquiries about guns ownership. That U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida struck down that law as a violation of the First Amendment in June 2012.

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A study on firearm storage counseling by family physicians found that 64 percent of participants who received verbal firearm storage safety counseling from their doctors improved their gun safety by the end of the study.  Eight other states beyond Montana and Florida have introduced, but not enacted, similar legislation.

Want to know more? Check out other recent examples of extreme gun laws and policies in America on our Extremism in Action page.

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.

Wollschlaeger v. Florida Amicus Brief

Photograph: Thomas Barwick/Getty Images

Case Information:  Wollschlaeger v. Florida, No. 12-14009-FF (11th Cir. Filed Nov. 5, 2012)

At Issue:  Challenging Florida’s “gag rule” on doctors that violates patients’ First Amendment right to receive lifesaving information on firearm safety.  This lawsuit challenges a Florida statute that denies doctors their right to discuss questions of firearm safety with their patients, and also denies patients their right to information and advice on firearm safety.  Plaintiffs argue the law violates the First Amendment.

Law Center’s Brief:  Our brief, filed in support of doctors and other medical professionals challenging the Florida statute, argues that the law should be struck down as a violation of medical patients’ First Amendment right to receive information from their doctors on firearm safety.

Read the full text of our amicus brief here.

Download a PDF of the Wollschlaeger_v._Florida_Amicus_Brief.

Taking a Stand on “Docs vs. Glocks” in Florida

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Florida is known for having some of the most extreme gun laws in the country. Remember, for example, its so-called “stand your ground” (or “shoot first”) law that received national attention in the aftermath of the tragic Trayvon Martin shooting? Florida also enacted one of America’s first “shall issue” laws, requiring law enforcement to issue concealed weapons permits to almost anyone who wants to carry a loaded, hidden handgun in public.

Florida outdid itself in 2011, however, when it became the first state in the nation to prohibit doctors from asking their patients about gun ownership. A group of Florida doctors and physician groups soon filed a lawsuit, arguing that the outrageous law interfered with their free speech rights under the First Amendment, as well as their ability to care for their patients by warning them about the dangers of firearm ownership. The district court agreed, finding that “[t]he law chills practitioners’ speech in a way that impairs the provision of medical care and may ultimately harm the patient.” The court’s order prohibited the state from enforcing the law.

The American Bar Association has also spoken out against “medical gag laws.” At its annual meeting last month, the ABA adopted a resolution expressing strong opposition to such laws. The accompanying report stated that:

For medical practitioners to meet their preventive care and safety counseling responsibilities, they must be able to discuss a broad range of topics with their patients related to known risk factors. This unfettered access allows doctors to adequately assess and address these factors with their patients. Risk factors that may be discussed vary depending on the age of the patient, but for adults often include alcohol consumption, illicit drug use, smoking, diet, and exercise; pediatricians often discuss wearing seat belts and bicycle helmets, the potential dangers of backyard swimming pools, and the need to securely store household cleaners and toxins. Firearms in the home are another known risk factor that doctors may choose to discuss with their patients or the parents of young patients.

We couldn’t agree more. We are proud to join with America’s preeminent legal organization, which has nearly 400,000 members, in taking a stand on this important topic. The Law Center will be filing an amicus (friend of the court) brief in the appellate court in support of the doctors fighting for their rights to care for their patients in Florida. Our brief will focus on the significant health risks presented by guns in the home and will be joined by public health groups, including the American Academy of Suicidology.

Trayvon Martin Tragedy Reverberates in Nevada

Trayvon Martin Tragedy Reverberates in Nevada
Paul Takahashi, Las Vegas Sun, April 11, 2012

In the aftermath of the Trayvon Martin shooting tragedy in Florida, many states rethink their own “shoot first” laws, and communities struggle with the racial and public safety implications of such laws and their consequences.  This article chronicles a forum held at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas that attempts to make sense of the shooting – and the state’s “shoot first” law.

Companies Pressured Over Ties to “Stand Your Ground” Group

Companies Pressured Over Ties to ‘Stand Your Ground’ Group
James O’Toole, CNN Money, April 10, 2012

Following the Trayvon Martin shooting, advocates against Florida’s broad – and controversial – “shoot first” law put pressure on companies to cut ties with the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative group that actively promoted Florida’s “shoot first” law to state legislatures across the country.

Trayvon Martin Case Has Some Looking at Nevada’s Self-defense Law

Trayvon Martin Case Has Some Looking at Nevada’s New Self-defense Law
Karoun Demirjian, Las Vegas Sun, April 1, 2012

This article looks at Nevada’s recently-adopted “shoot first” self-defense law, in light of the recent Trayvon Martin shooting in Florida.  Florida has one of the broadest – and most dangerous – “shoot first” law in the nation, and the Nevada statute is similar in scope.