By now, you have probably heard the news. Last week, a 9-year-old girl accidentally shot and killed her shooting instructor while firing an Uzi at the Last Stop shooting range in White Hills, Arizona. In the public outcry that followed, the Law Center received many requests from the media about how a tragedy like this could even occur. Sadly, this was not an isolated incident. In 2008, a similar shooting occurred in Massachusetts when an 8-year-old boy lost his life while handling an Uzi at a gun show.
The unfortunate reality is very few states have laws on the books prohibiting child access to powerful automatic weapons. These horrific incidents highlight the need for stronger laws that restrict easy access to firearms by children and cut down on accidental shootings. The problem is real: between 1999 and 2010, more than 8,300 Americans were killed by accidental gun fire and roughly 25% of those deaths were young people under the age of 21. Each year in America, over 16,000 people are treated in hospital emergency rooms for unintentional gunshot wounds.
Despite these sobering numbers, far too many states, like Arizona, do not have any laws in place to keep guns out of the hands of small children. When it comes to the strength of its laws to reduce gun violence, the Law Center gives Arizona an “F.” Unfortunately, 24 other states currently receive the same failing grade. To learn more about weak gun laws in Arizona, visit our Arizona State Law Summary. To learn more about your state’s gun laws, visit Gun Laws by State.
News stories of children who accidentally kill or injure themselves when they find an unlocked gun in the home are far too prevalent. Studies consistently reveal that many children who commit suicide or accidentally injure themselves or others using a firearm obtain those firearms from their own homes. In order to prevent the deadly consequences of unlocked guns in the home, Massachusetts has adopted a law requiring a firearm owner to secure his or her firearm in a locked container, or use a trigger lock, when the firearm is not carried by the owner or within the owner’s control.
In two separate cases, defendants argued that the safe storage law violates the Second Amendment. Rejecting the defendants’ arguments, the Supreme Court of Massachusetts concluded that the law “is consistent with the right of self-defense in the home….” The court reasoned, “Any law regulating the storage of firearms will delay to some degree the ability of a firearm owner to retrieve and fire the firearm in self-defense. If such a brief delay were sufficient to render the law unconstitutional, the Supreme Court in Heller would not have declared that its analysis did not suggest the invalidity of firearm storage laws.” Because few courts have had occasion to address the constitutionality of a safe storage law, these decisions serve as very useful precedent and hopefully will encourage other jurisdictions to adopt similar safe storage laws.
Over the past four years, our nation’s courts have become a major battleground in the debate about gun violence in our communities. Right now, people who want to carry loaded firearms on public streets are forcing judges across the country to question the scope of the Second Amendment. But where should judges turn for guidance in evaluating these claims? The Supreme Court’s landmark Heller decision in 2008 effectively upended the legal understanding of the Second Amendment that had existed for almost eighty years. When it comes to gun litigation, courts are now having to evaluate how to keep our communities safe with little Second Amendment case law to guide them.
The Law Center is helping to fill that void through amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) briefs in significant Second Amendment cases across the country. Because we are the only organization in the country that tracks Second Amendment litigation, national, state, and local firearms laws, and pending firearms legislation nationwide, we have unique expertise that can help courts understand the critical importance of smart laws to prevent gun violence. Through amicus briefs, we can present that expertise to courts shaping the meaning of the Second Amendment.
Amicus briefs enable us to get involved in precedent-setting cases that have nationwide significance, since numerous challenges to similar gun laws are currently pending before courts across the country. We recently filed an amicus brief in the First Circuit Court of Appeals in Hightower v. Boston, in which we argued that a Massachusetts law requiring a license to carry a concealed weapon in public does not violate the Second Amendment. When the court issued its decision upholding the law on August 30th, it became the first federal appellate court in the nation to issue a decision on a Second Amendment challenge to a concealed carry law. Six other federal appellate courts are currently facing similar challenges. Continue reading →