California, Vote YES on Proposition 63 on Election Day

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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.
  • 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.

Learn more about the Prop 63 initiative.

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.

Rocky Mountain Gun Owners v. Hickenlooper: Amicus Brief Defending Colorado Law Prohibiting Large Capacity Ammunition Magazines

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Case Information: Rocky Mountain Gun Owners v. Hickenlooper, No. 2014-CA-002178, (Colo. Ct. App. Brief Filed June 16, 2015)

At Issue: In this state court case, plaintiffs are challenging the constitutionality of Colorado laws, enacted in 2013, that, among other things, generally prohibit large capacity ammunition magazines (defined as magazines which can hold more than 15 rounds). Plaintiffs argue that these laws violate the Colorado State Constitution’s right to bear arms provision, which states that “[t]he right of no person to keep and bear arms in defense of his home, person and property . . . shall be called in question.” The district court upheld the laws, finding them to be a “reasonable” exercise of the state’s police power, specifically designed to protect public safety. The case is now on appeal with the Colorado State Court of Appeals.

The Law Center’s Brief: Our brief makes the argument that large capacity ammunition magazines are not “arms,” and therefore are not protected by the right to bear arms provision contained at Article II § 13 of the Colorado Constitution. The brief argues that large capacity ammunition magazines are non-essential accessories that are not required to operate the vast majority of firearms. Moreover, these magazines are disproportionately used in mass shootings and attacks on police officers and their use is associated with a large increase in the number of people injured and killed in a shooting.

Read the full text of our amicus brief here.

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.

 

Friedman v. City of Highland Park: Amicus Brief in Support of Local Ordinance Banning Assault Weapons and Large Capacity Magazines

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Case Information: Friedman, et al. v. City of Highland Park, et al., No. 14-3091 (7th Cir. Brief Filed Dec. 10, 2014)

At Issue: Gun lobby plaintiffs brought this challenge to an ordinance passed by the City of Highland Park, Illinois in the wake of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, which prohibits the possession, sale, or manufacture of assault weapons and large capacity magazines (defined as magazines able to hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition). The district court upheld the ordinance, finding it to have a “close fit” with the “stated objective of providing for the protection and safety of its inhabitants.” Plaintiffs appealed the decision to the Seventh Circuit.

The Law Center’s Brief: Our amicus brief, joined by the City of Chicago and the Cook County State’s Attorney, argues that the Second Amendment, as interpreted by the Supreme Court and other courts, does not protect a right to own weapons that are designed for a battlefield and are unsuited for lawful self-defense in the home. The brief notes that every court to have considered challenges to laws banning assault weapons or large capacity magazines since the Supreme Court’s decisions in Heller and McDonald has upheld those laws. The brief argues in the alternative that, even if the Second Amendment does protect these dangerous weapons, their regulation is still constitutional under intermediate review, which is the only appropriate level of judicial review in this context and simply requires that a law be “reasonably related” to an “important” government interest. There is no question that the challenged law passes this test.

Read the full text of our amicus brief here.

Victory in the Courts: Maryland’s Ban on Assault Weapons and Large Capacity Ammunition Magazines Upheld

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In a victory for gun safety, a U.S. District Court on Tuesday, August 12 upheld all aspects of Maryland’s Firearm Safety Act of 2013.  The law, enacted in the wake of the devastating shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, prohibits certain assault weapons and large capacity ammunition magazines (“LCAMs”).  Plaintiffs in the case, individual gun owners as well as a number of pro-gun organizations, argued unsuccessfully that the Act violates the Second Amendment.  With its decision, the District Court in Kolbe v. O’Malley joins an ever-growing number of courts that have unanimously upheld laws around the country prohibiting dangerous, military-style assault weapons and LCAMs.

In reviewing the law, the court first asked whether assault weapons and LCAMs (magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds) fall within the scope of the Second Amendment, which does not protect “dangerous and unusual weapons,” but only those “typically possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes.”  The court noted that assault weapons “represent no more than 3% of the current civilian gun stock, and ownership of those weapons is highly concentrated in less than 1% of the U.S. population.”  Moreover, assault weapons “are used disproportionately” in both mass shootings and attacks on law enforcement officers and “cause more injuries and more fatalities when they are used.”  Given this evidence, the court expressed its “serious[] doubts that the banned assault long guns are commonly possessed for lawful purposes” and was “inclined to find” that such weapons fall outside the Second Amendment as dangerous and unusual.

A final ruling on that question was not issued, however, because the court found the entire Act to easily survive constitutional review.  In holding that the Act only minimally burdens the Second Amendment, the court pointed out that the law “does not seriously impact a person’s ability to defend himself in the home…[i]n fact, the plaintiffs can point to no instance where assault weapons or LCAMs were used or useful in an instance of self-defense in Maryland.”  The court also noted persuasive evidence showing that “assault weapons have several military-style features which make them especially dangerous to law enforcement and civilians,” and that LCAMs are used disproportionately in mass shootings and in the killing of law enforcement officers.  Given these facts, the court concluded that the Act “substantially serves the government’s interest in protecting public safety, and it does so without significantly burdening” the Second Amendment right of “law-abiding, responsible citizens to use arms in defense of hearth and home.”

This case is part of an overall trend in courts across the nation, where the vast majority of challenges to common sense gun regulations are rejected.  In over 900 decisions tracked by the Law Center, approximately 96% of Second Amendment challenges were rejected—further proof that sensible firearm regulations are totally compatible with the Second Amendment.

For more, visit our overview of Maryland’s gun laws or read about limits on assault weapons and large capacity ammunition magazines in states across the country.

Amicus Brief in Support of Sunnyvale, California’s Ban on Large Capacity Ammunition Magazines

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Case information: Fyock, et al. v. City of Sunnyvale, et al., No. 13-05807 (9th Cir. amicus brief filed June 24, 2014)

At Issue:  This case challenges the constitutionality of the City of Sunnyvale’s ordinance which bans the possession of large capacity ammunition magazines (defined as magazines which can accept more than 10 rounds of ammunition).  The sale and manufacture of such magazines has been prohibited in California for many years, but their actual possession is not prohibited at the state level.  Plaintiffs, individual residents of Sunnyvale who wish to possess the prohibited magazines, argue that the ordinance violates the Second Amendment as a complete ban on an entire category of firearms.  The district court rejected this argument, noting that the ordinance prohibited only a subset of available magazines and that large capacity magazines are disproportionately used in mass shootings and attacks on law enforcement officers and are “hardly crucial” for self-defense within the home.   Plaintiffs appealed this decision to the Ninth Circuit. 

The Law Center’s Brief:  The Law Center’s Ninth Circuit brief, joined by Cleveland School Remembers, highlights three important threshold arguments for why the City of Sunnyvale’s ordinance does not implicate the Second Amendment.  First, the brief argues that large capacity ammunition magazines fall outside of the protection of the Second Amendment because they are not “arms.”  Next, the Second Amendment only protects those arms “in common use at the time” and the brief argues that large capacity magazines are not “in common use” in California, especially since their sale and manufacture has been banned for nearly two decades.  Third, based on their disproportionate use in criminal activity and lack of suitability for self-defense purposes, large capacity magazines are “dangerous and unusual” weapons which fall outside of the Second Amendment.  Finally, the brief argues that, even if the ordinance does implicate the Second Amendment, the law easily satisfies intermediate scrutiny—the level of judicial review overwhelmingly applied to Second Amendment claims—because it is reasonably related to the City of Sunnyvale’s important interest in protecting public safety and reducing crime.

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

Victory in the Courts: Connecticut Post-Newtown Gun Law Upheld By Federal District Court

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The people of Connecticut know first-hand how gun violence can devastate a community. They watched in horror when a shooter at Sandy Hook Elementary School used assault weapons and large capacity ammunition magazines to kill 26 people — including 20 small children. Within months, the Connecticut legislature took immediate action to try to prevent such a tragedy from happening again by passing a law that strengthens the state’s prohibition on assault weapons and bans large capacity ammunition magazines.

In what has become a pattern when they fail to stop laws they don’t like in the political process, the gun lobby filed a lawsuit right after this law was passed, alleging that the law violates the Second Amendment.1 Yesterday, Connecticut’s new gun law was upheld by a federal district court in a victory for smart gun laws that could have reverberations nationwide.

The Law Center and several of our allies supported the defense in this case by filing an amicus brief that argued that the law does not violate the Second Amendment and that the regulation of these military-style weapons is a reasonable public safety measure.

In yesterday’s decision, the court upheld the law in its entirety and rejected the plaintiffs’ Second Amendment challenge. Although the court did find that the law imposed some burden on the plaintiffs’ Second Amendment rights, the court held that the law left open many other kinds of firearms and magazine the plaintiffs could use for self-defense.  Thus, the court found that since the law was reasonably related to the state’s interest in public safety and protecting law enforcement, it was constitutional.

The court’s rejection of the gun lobby’s extreme arguments in this case echos a similar decision in New York last month upholding that state’s ban on assault weapons and large capacity ammunition magazines.  These cases represent major victories because similar lawsuits are pending across the country, including in California, Colorado, Illinois, and Maryland, as part of a concerted effort by the gun lobby to bully state and local governments into not passing these critical public safety laws.

For more, read some of the recent gun violence prevention success stories.

Notes
  1. The plaintiffs also alleged the law violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and was unconstitutionally vague.  The court rejected both of those arguments. ⤴︎