Standing with the President for Smart Gun Laws


Today, we stood with President Barack Obama as he issued a series of executive actions to curb the 117,000 shootings that take place every year in the United States. Our executive director, Robyn Thomas, joined gun violence prevention activists, survivors, and lawmakers at the White House for this remarkable announcement, and we’re thrilled to have been able to provide our unparalleled expertise on firearms laws and the Second Amendment to the administration to help enable this powerful action.

This announcement builds on the unprecedented momentum for smart gun laws in recent years, with 125 lifesaving laws passed in 41 states since the tragedy at Sandy Hook, and should serve as a rallying cry for more state and federal lawmakers to do everything they can to eliminate the uniquely American epidemic of gun violence.

The president said, “The United States of America is not the only country on Earth with violent or dangerous people. We are not inherently more prone to violence. But we are the only advanced country on Earth that sees this kind of mass violence erupt with this kind of frequency.”

This executive action will make Americans safer by directly addressing gun violence and improving procedures in four key areas:

  • Expanding and improving background checks—By clarifying what it means to be “engaged in the business” of selling guns, the administration will narrow the loophole that allows many private sales of firearms to occur without a background check. The President will also order improvements to the National Instant Criminal Background Checks System (NICS) to make the system more accurate, up-to-date, and efficient.
  • Making communities safer from gun violence—The White House announced that the administration will request additional resources for ATF, require reporting of lost and stolen firearms, and expand domestic violence outreach efforts.
  • Increase mental health treatment and record reporting—The President has outlined improvements to the mental health care system that will increase access to treatment and encourage better reporting of relevant records to NICS.
  • Gun safety technology—The President will instruct the Department of Justice, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Homeland Security to research smart gun technology that will potentially save lives by making it more difficult for unauthorized users, such as a child, intruder, or suicidal relative, from firing a gun they should not have access to.

We know that today’s executive action will go far to save lives in America, but we’re still looking to congressional leadership to work harder for the 90 percent of Americans who want smarter, stronger gun laws to protect them from gunfire. We agree with the president’s assessment that “until we have a Congress that’s in line with the majority of Americans, there are actions within my legal authority that we can take to help reduce gun violence and save more lives–actions that protect our rights and our kids.” We’re thrilled President Obama took action on gun violence prevention today, but there’s still so much work to do–and we won’t stop until Americans across the country are safe from gunfire.

To learn more about gun laws in all 50 states, including which currently require private sale background checks and which do not, visit the Law Center’s 2015 Gun Law State Scorecard at

White House Seeks Immediate Input on Mental Health Gun Prohibitions


Yesterday’s mass shooting at Fort Hood, Texas, the second at that location in five years, shocked and appalled us, and our heart goes out to all the people touched by the tragedy.  Like the shooter in so many of the recent mass shootings that we as a nation have witnessed, Ivan Lopez had previously been identified as having severe mental health problems, but he still had access to the gun he used in the shooting.  Once again, we are faced with the possibility that commonsense laws could have prevented this tragedy.  As a result, this shooting only increases our determination to address the legal loopholes that provide access to firearms by dangerous people.

The good news is there is something we can all do right now to help address this problem. In January, the Obama Administration proposed a new rule that will prevent certain dangerously mentally ill people from obtaining access to firearms. The new rule will help states identify the groups of people that are ineligible to purchase or possess guns under federal law, so that they can be reported to the background check system.  While this new rule may not have prevented this particular shooting, it will certainly decrease the risk of similar tragedies.

Federal law prohibits a person from purchasing or possessing guns if he or she has been “committed to a mental institution” or “adjudicated a mental defective.” Until now, many states have been confused about which groups of people are ineligible to purchase or possess guns based on these terms, since the federal law and ATF’s current regulations do not provide much guidance. As a result, many states have not reported the proper people to the database used for firearm purchaser background checks.

In April 2007, this confusion directly resulted in another mass shooting, when Virginia Tech student Seung-Hui Cho shot and killed 32 people and injured 17 others before committing suicide on the college campus in Blacksburg, Virginia. A Virginia special justice had declared Mr. Cho to be “an imminent danger” to himself as a result of mental illness on December 14, 2005, and ordered Mr. Cho to seek outpatient treatment. However, Cho was able to purchase firearms through two licensed dealers after two background checks. While Virginia law at that time required that some mental health records be submitted to the databases used for background checks, it did not require reporting of people committed as outpatients because of confusion about whether the federal law applied.

While many states altered their laws to require the reporting of people like Mr. Cho in the years since Virginia Tech, some states still do not report people committed as outpatients. In fact, as of May 2013, 15 states had each identified less than 100 people that should be prohibited from purchasing a gun on the basis of mental illness altogether. The proposed rule will help change this situation, by clarifying that people who have been ordered by a court to obtain mental health treatment as outpatients are ineligible to purchase or possess firearms under the federal law. People who have been determined to be “incompetent to stand trial” or “guilty but mentally ill” in a criminal case will also be ineligible under the proposed rule. These changes will help prevent people like Seung-Hui Cho from obtaining access to firearms, and will help prevent tragedies like Virginia Tech and Fort Hood.

Public comments on this proposed rule will only be accepted through Monday, April 7. The Law Center applauds the Administration’s efforts to reduce access to firearms by the dangerously mentally ill. Join the Law Center in supporting these efforts by expressing your approval for the proposed rule on the federal regulatory portal here:

President Obama Creates New Executive Action to Strengthen Gun Background Checks


In January, the Department of Health and Human Services released a draft of a new rule proposed by the Obama administration that could strengthen the system for background checks on gun sales. This rule would help ensure that the system can properly identify any person prohibited from possessing firearms because of severe mental illness. As a part of the process for executive orders to go into place, the Department of Health and Human Services must consider public comment — and that process is now underway. Public comments on this proposed rule to strengthen background checks on gun sales will be accepted through Monday, March 10th.

Under federal law, people become disqualified from purchasing a firearm when they are involuntarily committed to a mental institution or subject to similar procedures because of severe mental illness.  In order for the process to identify these people, however, states have to submit identifying information to the federal background check system.  Some states have been reluctant to submit this information, claiming that the federal privacy laws regarding personal medical information prevent this disclosure.  The proposed rule would make it clear that certain agencies can submit limited information to the background check system without violating federal privacy laws.

The proposed rule also includes strong protections for the privacy of the mentally ill.  More specifically, it clearly limits the disclosure that would be allowed in three ways:

  • Speaker:  Only entities with lawful authority to make decisions that cause individuals to become prohibited from possessing firearms, or that serve as repositories of this information for reporting purposes, would be permitted to disclose this information;
  • Message:  The disclosure would be restricted to identifying information (name, birthdate, etc.) and would not include medical records, or diagnostic or clinical information; and
  • Audience:  Entities would only be allowed to disclose this information to the federal database used for firearm purchaser background checks, or to a state agency for the purpose of reporting to that database.  The information would not be made public or disclosed to any other person.

The Obama administration, particularly the Department of Health and Human Services, should be commended for drafting the proposed rule, which strikes the proper balance between public safety and the privacy interests of the mentally ill. The Law Center supported the new rule to strengthen background checks by submitting a comment, stating that this proposed rule will remove ambiguity and help states submit the appropriate records into the background check system, which could prevent suicides and save countless lives from unnecessary gun violence.

However, the gun lobby has attacked this reasonable and responsible action, sending a large number of gun activists to object to this proposal. Show the administration that the public supports such important steps to keep guns out of the wrong hands by visiting the federal commenting portal today

President Obama: Thank You.

This is what we’ve been waiting for. President Obama outlined bold, courageous, and comprehensive steps to address the devastating gun violence that our communities face every single day – exactly what we asked of him.

Obama’s commitment today – to support federal legislation to fix our background check system and to ban military-style assault weapons and large capacity ammunition magazines – confirms that we are at a historic moment.

We commend President Obama’s swift and thorough executive actions and the outstanding leadership of Vice President Biden and his task force as essential first steps in addressing the epidemic of gun violence in America. We know that we have a long road ahead to achieve safer communities, and it’s going to take all of us to make real and lasting change. As the President said:

“This will not happen unless the American people demand it.”

That means all of us. President Obama has called on all of us to ask our members of Congress to support the president’s recommendations for real change. If they tell you that they don’t support these measures, ask them, “Why not?” Ask them, “What is more important than keeping our families safe?”

We are responsible for each other. The President and the White House have committed to do their part. It’s imperative that we each do ours.

Find your member of Congress now and make the call:

Letter to President Obama in the Wake of Newtown Massacre

The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence applauds President Obama’s strong words in yesterday morning’s press conference announcing that a gun violence task force headed by Vice President Biden will lead to “concrete proposals no later than January.”

On Tuesday, the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence and 25 other state and national gun violence prevention organizations wrote to President Obama to thank him for speaking out in the wake of last week’s devastating shooting in Newtown, and to urge him to provide the leadership needed for the passage of sensible laws to prevent future tragedies.

Appointing a task force is a critical first step to curbing the flow of guns in to the hands of dangerous people. There are many steps the President can take today – including supporting many bills that are being introduced. Our coalition of gun violence prevention organizations offers support to the administration and Congress.

“We have been greatly encouraged by President Obama’s words since the horrific tragedy in Newtown,” said Robyn Thomas, Executive Director of the Law Center, which was formed in the wake of an assault weapon massacre at a law firm in San Francisco in 1993. “We appreciate the President’s past expression of support for laws banning assault weapons and requiring background checks on all gun buyers, and are hopeful that his commitment to use the power of this office to reduce gun violence will provide the catalyst needed for the adoption of those laws.”

Read and share our letter to President Obama below.

Email President Obama right now and thank him for his action:

He needs to know that we support him today.

Vigils for the Massacre in Newtown Erupt Across the Country

Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR.

Following the killing of 26 innocent children and adults in Newtown, Connecticut on Friday, vigils for the fallen erupted across the country. Over 200 victims of gun violence and activists from the Law Center and other organizations across the country gathered at the White House on Friday to call on President Obama to take action to curb the epidemic of gun violence in our country.

Here is some coverage of the events:

More Determined Than Ever

Today in Washington D.C., we joined survivors of gun violence at a vigil at the White House. Together with our colleagues and many concerned citizens from across the country, we insisted that today IS the day that we as Americans stand up and say we’ve had enough.

Earlier today we asked you to stand with us by calling the White House to demand action from President Obama and our elected leaders. As the phone lines close for the weekend, please also express your outrage by signing this petition.

Sign it now and then pass it on. We need to show that the Americans are united in demanding a plan to end the bloodshed – now.

As we all wrestle with our feelings after this horrific event, we think Mayor Michael Bloomberg may have said it best, so we wanted to share this with you:

With all the carnage from gun violence in our country, it’s still almost impossible to believe that a mass shooting in a kindergarten class could happen. It has come to that. Not even kindergarteners learning their A,B,Cs are safe. We heard after Columbine that it was too soon to talk about gun laws. We heard it after Virginia Tech. After Tucson and Aurora and Oak Creek. And now we are hearing it again. For every day we wait, 34 more people are murdered with guns. Today, many of them were five year-olds.

President Obama rightly sent his heartfelt condolences to the families in Newtown. But the country needs him to send a bill to Congress to fix this problem. Calling for ‘meaningful action’ is not enough. We need immediate action. We have heard all the rhetoric before. What we have not seen is leadership – not from the White House and not from Congress. That must end today. This is a national tragedy and it demands a national response. My deepest sympathies are with the families of all those affected, and my determination to stop this madness is stronger than ever.

Our determination is also stronger than ever. We will continue to tirelessly promote laws that would prevent these kinds of tragedies. We need you, your family members, your friends, and neighbors to all join with us so we CAN enact smart gun laws that save lives.

Sign the petition. Pass it around. Join us in demanding that our leaders defend our safety.

Today Is the Day to Demand Change

We are devastated by news of the shooting today in Newtown, Connecticut and the unspeakable suffering that is occurring there. We cannot imagine what the families are going through now. We should all be appalled by this and should demand swift action.

The most fundamental duty of our government is to protect our communities, especially our innocent children. Despite mass shootings that have shattered families across the country this year, our leaders have repeatedly failed to do anything to prevent future bloodshed.

We cannot stand for this failure any longer. Our children’s lives depend on it.

Our leaders will keep ducking this issue until they hear from all of us. Call the White House now and demand that President Obama tell us what he plans to do about this epidemic.

Call now! 202-456-1414

President Obama needs to show leadership on this issue. While he spoke today about the need for meaningful action, he has yet to take any real steps toward making us safer. Given the 34 murders with guns that happen every day, the president’s failure to lead is unacceptable.

Call the White House now and demand a plan: 202-456-1414

Debate Night:
When It Comes to Guns, Candidates’ Silence Speaks Volumes

We can expect to hear President Obama and Mitt Romney discuss a variety of issues in their first head-to-head debate Wednesday night, but will they talk about guns? With the debate taking place at the University of Denver – located just a short drive from both Aurora and Columbine High School – and with 100,000 Americans killed or injured every year with firearms, you’d think it would be impossible to avoid the topic. Shockingly, though, neither candidate has offered much leadership about solutions to our gun violence epidemic, even as mass shooting tragedies like last Thursday’s workplace shooting in Minneapolis continue to occur with an alarming frequency.

Around the country, concerned Americans are calling on Denver debate moderator Jim Lehrer to ask the candidates about gun violence. But what exactly should Lehrer ask? It would be too easy for both candidates to offer facile condolences and platitudes without the right questions, so here are three questions that both candidates ought to answer about keeping our communities safe from gun violence.

1. Virtually everyone agrees that people should be required to pass criminal background checks before getting their hands on guns. How would you help close the loopholes that allow dangerous individuals to legally buy firearms without fulfilling this basic requirement?

Continue reading

President Obama Highlights Need for Improvements to Background Check System

On Wednesday, July 25, in a speech to the Urban League in New Orleans, President Obama broke his silence on America’s gun violence epidemic and the need for significant improvements to our nation’s firearms laws. In his remarks, the president highlighted the severe dangers posed by gaps in the federal background check system and easy access to assault rifles.

We agree with the president, that a person’s criminal record should checked before every gun purchase. Right now, however, that simply isn’t happening. As the graphic below indicates, the federal background check requirement does not apply to private sales of firearms, which account for about 40% of all gun sales in America every year. That means that it is far too easy for convicted criminals, the mentally ill, and other dangerous people to gain access to firearms.

Background Checks for Guns

40% of gun sales require no background check.1 Background checks prevented sales of firearms to 1.8 million prohibited people between 1994 and 2008.2

The president’s acknowledgment of the the need for stronger laws to reduce gun violence is a critical first step toward making serious changes. Still, more is desperately needed. We have real gaps in our gun laws and what we need is actionreal action, not just speeches – to make Americans safer from gun violence.

  1. Philip J. Cook & Jens Ludwig, Guns in America: National Survey on Private Ownership and Use of Firearms, U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice Research in Brief 6-7 (May 1997).
  2. Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of Justice, Background Checks for Firearm Transfers, 2008 – Statistical Tables.