Strong Gun Laws Work to Keep Guns Away From Criminals

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Our national gun violence crisis continues—2016 brought us the deadliest mass shooting in American history, when a gunman opened fire inside an Orlando nightclub, killing 49. Since then, gun rights and gun policy have played a leading role in our country’s debate about how to make our communities safer.

Now, a groundbreaking new report gives the lie to another favorite gun lobby talking point: that strengthening laws to keep guns out of dangerous hands is pointless because criminals don’t follow the law anyway. The report, Target on Trafficking: New York Crime Gun Analysis from New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office, debunks that tired canard once and for all—and shows how strong gun laws reduce crime and save lives.

Between 2010 and 2015, police recovered nearly 53,000 guns from crime scenes in New York State. Using data on these guns obtained from the ATF, Schneiderman analyzed how these weapons were obtained and used by criminals in New York.

The results are striking. About three-quarters of the guns used in New York crimes are handguns, and nearly nine in ten of these guns—fully 86%—came from out-of-state. Most of them came from just six states with weak gun laws where it’s easy for traffickers to obtain deadly weapons and funnel them into the black market. These states stretch south from New York along Interstate 95, a route that has become known as the “Iron Pipeline” because it supplies such a significant share of the illicit gun market.

The reason criminals turn to the pipeline is simple: New York’s strong laws prevent them from acquiring guns at home. The state is one of only six to earn a top grade in our annual Gun Law State Scorecard, largely because it requires permits to buy handguns and requires background checks for all gun sales, effective policies that stop criminals from purchasing weapons in New York.

Laws like these protect public safety. After Connecticut adopted a permit-to-purchase law like New York’s, gun-related homicides dropped 40 percent. When Missouri did the opposite in 2007, repealing a permit law on the books since the 1920s, the gun murder rate went up by nearly 20 percent. The number of criminals who got their guns in-state increased dramatically, too.

So it is no surprise that, besides making it more difficult for criminals to obtain firearms, smart gun laws in states like New York also reduce the level of gun violence as a whole. A comprehensive analysis from the Center for American Progress recently found there was an “undeniable correlation between certain strong gun laws and lower rates of gun violence.” And data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate that, controlling for population, the Empire State’s strong laws place it among the five states with the lowest overall rates of gun violence.

Perhaps it’s obvious that rates of gun violence would be lower in states with laws that make it harder for dangerous people to get their hands on guns. What doesn’t make sense is why lawmakers in states with porous gun laws—and soaring rates of overall gun violence—refuse to enact policies that make it harder for criminals to acquire deadly weapons when the research shows again and again these commonsense solutions lead to lower levels of gun violence.

Of course, the gun lobby’s ability to block proven, evidence-based solutions in some states is not the only aspect of our politics that defies reason. The vast majority of Americans—more than 92%—agree that smart gun laws like universal background checks are the best path to reducing the heavy toll gun violence has on our nation. After years of inaction, Congress is finally starting to fight back against the gun lobby’s spurious rhetoric—Sen. Chris Murphy’s 15-hour filibuster for universal background checks and Rep. John Lewis’s historic sit-in on the House floor following the Orlando shooting are powerful signs that the tide is turning and our leaders are ready to demand change.

This report provides critical evidence that smart gun laws like universal background checks work to keep guns out of dangerous hands—and that all states need to follow suit by enacting these commonsense measures that help safeguard our nation against gun violence.

For more information on how gun trafficking affects states with strong gun laws, read Target on Trafficking.

Amicus Brief in Support of New York’s Ban on Assault Weapons and Large Capacity Ammunition Magazines

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Case information: New York State Rifle and Pistol Ass’n, et al. v. Cuomo, et al., No. 13-291 (2d Cir. amicus brief filed August 5, 2014)

At Issue:  This lawsuit, filed by a gun lobby group and a few individuals, challenges the New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement (SAFE) Act, which was passed in direct response to the tragic elementary school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.  The shooter at Newtown used an assault weapon and multiple high capacity magazines to kill 26 people, including 20 children, in just five minutes.  The SAFE Act strengthened New York’s ban on these dangerous weapons and magazines by—among other things—broadening the definition of an assault weapon to include guns with characteristics that enable the firing of hundreds of bullets per minute, aid in the commission of mass murders and assaults, or facilitate the weapon’s concealment.  This lawsuit makes the radical claim that the Second Amendment protects a “right” to own assault weapons and high capacity ammunition magazines and that New York’s laws regulating these dangerous weapons are unconstitutional.  The vast majority of these provisions were upheld by the district court, and both parties have appealed the case to the Second Circuit.

The Law Center’s Brief: Our Second Circuit brief, joined by New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, argues that the Second Amendment, as interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court, does not protect a right to own weapons that are designed for a battlefield and have no connection to lawful self-defense in the home.  The brief emphasizes the fact that every court which has considered challenges to laws banning assault weapons or high capacity magazines since the Supreme Court’s landmark 2008 decision, District of Columbia v. Heller, has upheld those laws.  Finally, the brief argues that even if the Second Amendment does protect these dangerous weapons, their regulation is still constitutional under intermediate scrutiny—the level of review overwhelming applied to Second Amendment claims—because such regulation is reasonably related to New York’s important interest in protecting public safety and reducing crime.

Read the full text of our amicus brief here.

Victory in the Courts: New York’s New Gun Law Largely Upheld By Federal District Judge

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2013 began with New York passing a comprehensive upgrade of its already strong gun laws in response to the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.  And, a few days ago, 2013 ended with an incredible victory for smart gun laws, as a federal court largely upheld New York’s new law and rejected a lawsuit from the gun lobby.

The NY Secure Ammunition & Firearms Enforcement Act (known as the “NY SAFE Act”), strengthened many aspects of New York’s gun laws, including its bans on assault weapons and large capacity ammunition magazines.  The gun lobby predictably responded to their own failure to stop this law in the legislature with a lawsuit against the state of New York alleging–among other things–that the bans on assault weapons and large capacity ammunition magazines violate the Second Amendment.  The Law Center and our allies responded by filing an amicus brief supporting the law and arguing that the law is consistent with the Second Amendment and the Supreme Court’s decision in District of Columbia v. Heller.

In a decision released just last week, the court agreed, and upheld the ban on assault weapons and large capacity ammunition magazines.  After citing conflicting evidence, the court declined to decide whether assault weapons or large capacity ammunition magazines are in “common use,” a gun-lobby argument that claims that because assault weapons and large capacity magazines are allegedly prevalent that they are therefore protected by the Second Amendment under the Heller decision.  Instead, the court found that, whether or not these weapons are in common use, bans on assault weapons and large capacity ammunition magazines don’t prohibit gun owners from exercising their Second Amendment rights.  The court went on to hold that the bans on assault weapons and large capacity ammunition magazines were reasonably related to the state’s interest in protecting public safety given the widespread use of these weapons and magazines in mass shootings. Thus, the court upheld these restrictions.

Although the court did strike down a part of New York’s new gun safety law which prohibited a gun owner from loading more than seven rounds into a magazine at one time, the court’s rejection of the gun lobby’s main claims and their radical theories about the Second Amendment’s scope is a great victory for advocates of smart gun laws, that will surely have reverberations in similar cases pending in Connecticut, Maryland, Colorado, and California.1

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

 

Notes
  1. The court also rejected most of the plaintiffs’ other challenges to the law, including claims that several provisions of the law were overly vague. However, it did strike down a provision banning semi-automatic rifles with “muzzle breaks” as overly vague since the legislation inadvertently failed to use the correct term, “muzzle brake.” A muzzle brake helps to prevent recoil and upward movement of the barrel of a gun during rapid fire. The court also struck down a provision prohibiting semi-automatic handguns that are “semi-automatic versions” of fully automatic firearms because it did not give sufficient notice of what specific kinds of guns were prohibited. ⤴︎

Amicus Brief in Challenge to Connecticut’s Assault Weapons Ban

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Case information: Shew, et al. v. Malloy, et al., No. 13-00739 (D. Conn., complaint filed May 22, 2013)

At Issue: Challenging the constitutionality of Connecticut’s Post-Newtown Assault Weapon and Large Capacity Magazine Ban This lawsuit, filed by a gun lobby group and a few individuals, challenges the Gun Violence Prevention and Children’s Safety Act (“the Act”), which was passed in direct response to the tragic elementary school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.  The shooter at Newtown used an assault weapon and multiple large capacity magazines to kill 26 people, including 20 children, in just five minutes.  The Act strengthened Connecticut’s ban on these dangerous weapons by–among other things–broadening the definition of an assault weapon to include guns with characteristics that enable the firing of hundreds of bullets per minute, aid in the commission of mass murders and assaults, or facilitate the weapon’s concealment.  The Act also banned the possession of large capacity ammunition magazines, which allow mass shooters to file dozens and dozens of bullets without pausing to reload.  This lawsuit makes the radical claim that the Second Amendment protects a “right” to own assault weapons and high capacity ammunition magazines and that Connecticut’s laws regulating these dangerous weapons (including the Act) are unconstitutional.

The Law Center’s Brief: Our brief, joined by Connecticut Against Gun ViolenceMoms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, and Cleveland School Remembers, 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 have no connection to lawful self-defense in the home.  Indeed, every court to have considered challenges to laws banning assault weapons or high capacity magazines since the Supreme Court’s decisions in Heller and McDonald has upheld those laws, including the conservative D.C. Circuit.  The Law Center recently filed a similar brief in a case challenging New York’s assault weapon and large capacity ammunition magazine ban.

Download a copy of the brief here.

Amicus Brief in Challenge to New York’s Assault Weapons Ban

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Case information: New York State Rifle and Pistol Ass’n, et al. v. Cuomo, et al., No. 13-cv-00291-WMS (W.D.N.Y., complaint filed March 21, 2013)

At Issue:  Challenging the constitutionality of New York’s Post-Newtown Assault Weapon and High Capacity Magazine Ban.   This lawsuit, filed by a gun lobby group and a few individuals, challenges the New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement (SAFE) Act, which was passed in direct response to the tragic elementary school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.  The shooter at Newtown used an assault weapon and multiple high capacity magazines to kill 26 people, including 20 children, in just five minutes.  The SAFE Act strengthened New York’s ban on these dangerous weapons and magazines by–among other things–broadening the definition of an assault weapon to include guns with characteristics that enable the firing of hundreds of bullets per minute, aid in the commission of mass murders and assaults, or facilitate the weapon’s concealment.  This lawsuit makes the radical claim that the Second Amendment protects a “right” to own assault weapons and high capacity magazines and that New York’s laws regulating these dangerous weapons (including the SAFE Act) are unconstitutional.

The Law Center’s Brief:  Our brief, joined by New Yorkers Against Gun Violence and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, 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 have no connection to lawful self-defense in the home.  Indeed, every court to have considered challenges to laws banning assault weapons or high capacity magazines since the Supreme Court’s decisions in Heller and McDonald has upheld those laws, including the conservative D.C. Circuit.

Download a copy of the brief here.

Federal Appeals Court Upholds New York’s Concealed Handgun Licensing Law

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Around the country, courts are confronting a critical question: whether the Second Amendment requires states to issue concealed handgun licenses to virtually anyone who wants one.

This week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit addressed that question, holding that New York’s requirement that concealed carry applicants show “a special need for self-protection” does not violate the Second Amendment.  In Kachalsky v. Cacace, the court explained that the requirement of a showing of need is substantially related to the government’s important interests in preventing crime and guaranteeing public safety.  The court found that the requirement is consistent with gun regulation that has existed since the nation’s founding, noting, “[t]here is a longstanding tradition of states regulating firearm possession and use in public because of the dangers posed to public safety.”  New York has required a showing of need for carrying a concealed weapon for 100 years.

While many states issue a concealed handgun license to virtually anyone who applies, states like California and New York require an applicant to show a legitimate need to carry a gun in public, usually by presenting documentation of a real threat to the applicant’s safety.  Those requirements are now under attack in a number of Second Amendment lawsuits nationwide brought by individuals who have no legitimate need to carry guns in public places.

Thankfully, the courts are standing up for the safety of their citizens and protecting the laws that work to reduce the violence that plagues their communities. For more this trend, read our publication, The Second Amendment Battleground: Victories in the Courts and Why They Matter.

To find out more about this case, read the decision in Kachalsky v. Cacace.

Want more? Check out the other recent success stories.

NYSBA Journal Includes Our Guide to Strengthening Gun Laws in New York

The New York State Bar Association devoted the summer 2012 issue of its Government, Law and Policy Journal to an in-depth discussion of gun laws, public health, and public safety, and invited the Law Center, as well as other gun violence prevention organizations, public health experts, elected officials, and scholars, to contribute to the conversation. We are pleased to share our contribution, which analyzes the current laws on the books in New York.

Our article, entitled “Regulating Guns in New York: Existing State Laws and How They Could Be Strengthened,” focuses on six key legislative approaches to preventing gun violence that New York should adopt. For each approach, the article details New York’s existing law, or lack thereof, recommends how the law should be changed, and presents examples of relevant existing laws in other states and New York City.

Recent polling confirms that a strong majority of New Yorkers support limiting the number of handguns an individual can buy to one a month and strengthening the state’s laws regulating firearm sales, two of the critical issues that we discuss in our article.

This article is reprinted with permission from Government, Law and Policy Journal, Summer 2012, Vol. 14, No. 1, published by the New York State Bar Association, One Elk Street, Albany, NY 12207.