Victory in California: Governor Brown Signs Two New Gun Safety Bills

Posted on Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014

SONY DSCOn Friday, California Governor Jerry Brown signed two important gun safety bills into law, one that will close a large loophole in California’s “Unsafe Handgun” law and another that will speed up court communication with law enforcement regarding mental health records.

AB 1964: Closing a Dangerous Loophole

California’s “Unsafe Handgun” law, on the books since 1999, requires handguns sold in the state to first pass standard safety testing and be equipped with basic safety features, such as loaded chamber indicators, which are designed to help prevent accidental shootings. A loophole in this law allowed single-shot handguns to completely bypass these safety requirements. After being sold, these single-shot handguns could be easily modified back into their fully-functional, semiautomatic form, creating a dangerous and frequently exploited situation. Last year alone, 18,000 single-shot handguns were sold in California.

AB 1964 closes this loophole and will ensure that the “Unsafe Handgun” law truly covers all handguns. This will keep dangerous junk guns off the streets and ensure that every handgun sold in the state complies with California’s rigorous safety standards.

AB 1591: Speeding Up Communication between Courts and the CA Department of Justice

Under current law, when a court takes an action that would prohibit a person from possessing a firearm because of mental health—such as a finding that the person is mentally incompetent to stand trial—that action must be reported to the California Department of Justice within two court days. The reported information is critical in helping to ensure that firearms are not acquired by individuals who might pose a danger to themselves or others. AB 1591 speeds up communication between courts and the CA Department of Justice by requiring that this important data is reported as quickly as possible, within one court day.

The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence is confident both of these laws will reduce gun violence in our state and we applaud the Governor and the Legislature for taking steps to keep Californians safe. For more information on pending gun safety legislation in California, including SB 53, the Law Center’s priority bill for 2014 which would regulate ammunition sales, see our update on California Legislation. For a full description of existing laws to reduce gun violence in California, visit our summary of California gun laws.

Warning Signs: Preventing Gun Violence in Crisis Situations

Posted on Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014

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The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence is proud to partner with Americans for Responsible Solutions to release Warning Signs: Preventing Gun Violence in Crisis Situations. This collaborative report provides analysis of laws that help to empower community members to prevent gun violence in crisis situations.

Together, the Law Center and Americans for Responsible Solutions will continue to develop solutions to keep guns out of dangerous hands through careful research and legislative drafting. The Law Center’s unparalleled legal expertise and the formidable grassroots network of Americans for Responsible Solutions will ensure that the best information available on smart gun policies reaches legislators nationwide.

Download a PDF copy of Warning Signs: Preventing Gun Violence in Crisis Situations

Preventing the Next Mass Shooting Before It’s News

Columbine, Virginia Tech, Tucson, Aurora, Newtown. Most Americans can easily list many of the high profile mass shootings that our nation has experienced. News reports after these events frequently mention that friends, family members, and acquaintances noted a change in the shooter’s behavior in the time leading up to the tragedy. While a variety of legislative proposals can help reduce mass shootings, one approach is to give community members ways to act, so that access to guns can be temporarily removed when a person is in crisis.

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The Law Center’s 21st Anniversary Dinner – June 25, 2014

Posted on Monday, July 14th, 2014

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Thank you to everyone who joined us for the Law Center’s 21st Anniversary Dinner. We were honored to have the opportunity to award Anne Marks from Youth ALIVE! and Gabrielle Giffords and Mark Kelly for their meaningful work. If you missed the event, watch the highlights and hear what Gabby and the other speakers wanted to share with the crowd:

Thirteen-year-old Sukari Wright, a poet with Youth Speaks, also shared her incredibly moving experience with the crowd:

The Law Center’s Anniversary Dinner is always a meaningful event that brings together our community to honor the exceptional efforts of a few key individuals for their outstanding leadership in the gun violence prevention movement. The dinner, with an audience of 500 – 700 attorneys, legal and business professionals, and advocates for smart gun laws from all over the country, is a truly remarkable event without parallel.

We were pleased to honor Gabrielle Giffords and Mark Kelly as well as Youth ALIVE! for their courageous work on this issue at this year’s event.

Thank you to all who joined us on June 25th as we marked 21 years of the Law Center’s work saving lives with smart gun laws, honored outstanding leadership in our community, and energized the efforts of the national movement.


The Law Center’s 21st Anniversary Dinner
June 25, 2014
The Westin St. Francis | San Francisco

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Dangerous Constitutional Amendment Allows Convicted Felons to Challenge Common Sense Gun Laws

Posted on Friday, July 11th, 2014
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Photo by Brett Duke, NOLA.com The Times-Picayune

This week the Louisiana Supreme Court unanimously upheld a state law prohibiting convicted felons from possessing firearms. Despite this positive outcome, the case actually illustrates the very real dangers of an alarming trend that has recently emerged in certain parts of the country.

Challenges to the law arose after a dangerous and imprudent amendment was made to Louisiana’s constitution in 2012, requiring that all challenged state gun laws be subject to “strict scrutiny” review— the highest level of judicial review that exists. The Louisiana Constitution, like many other state constitutions, recognizes a right to keep and bear arms. However, in 2012, voters approved an NRA-supported amendment—the first of its kind approved in the U.S.—defining the right as “fundamental” and requiring courts to apply “strict scrutiny” when reviewing firearm regulations.

Because of this new “strict scrutiny” requirement, three convicted felons were able to challenge their convictions under a Louisiana statute which generally bars felons from possessing a firearm for ten years after the completion of their sentence. The challengers to the law in this case had been convicted of a variety of crimes including second degree battery, narcotics trafficking, and unauthorized entry of an inhabited dwelling.

The question was whether Louisiana may prohibit convicted felons from possessing firearms after serving their sentences. The Louisiana Supreme Court found “beyond question” that this law serves to protect public safety by keeping firearms out of the hands of those who are more likely to misuse them. In the words of the court, the case demonstrated that “convicted felons are not only at risk to re-offend, but are at risk to re-offend using firearms.” In upholding the law, the court concluded that “common sense and the public safety allow no other result.”

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2014 California Firearms Legislation: Governor Signs Two Bills to Strengthen California’s Gun Laws

Posted on Tuesday, July 8th, 2014

CA State Capitol Building

The Law Center is tracking numerous gun violence prevention measures that are under consideration by the California Legislature.  Most recently, two bills, AB 1964 and AB 1591, were signed into law by Governor Brown.   Ten bills are still pending that would strengthen the state’s gun laws and improve public safety.  Four bills introduced to weaken the state’s gun laws were defeated earlier this year.

For more information on the status of bills in other states, visit our 2014 summary of gun bills nationwide. For the full description of existing laws to reduce gun violence in California, visit our summary of California gun laws. The complete text of each bill can be found here.

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AB 1964 (Dickenson): Closing the “Single-Shot Exemption” Loophole –  California law requires that all semiautomatic handgun models sold in the state be certified as not unsafe by the Department of Justice after meeting certain required safety standards.  Prior law included an exception for so-called “single shot” pistols that could be temporarily modified to not fire on a semiautomatic basis in order to circumvent California’s safety standards.  AB 1964 closes that loophole by clarifying that the unsafe handgun law applies to semiautomatic pistols that have been temporarily or permanently altered so that they will not fire in a semiautomatic mode.

Status: This bill was signed by the Governor on July 18, 2014.

AB 1591 (Archadjian):  Court Notifications – Under current law, courts are required to notify the Department of Justice of certain actions that they may take which would result in a person becoming prohibited from possessing a firearm.  Under prior law, those notifications must have been made within two court days of when the relevant action occurs.  AB 1591 will speed up this process by requiring such notifications to be made within one court day.

Status: This bill was signed by the Governor on July 18, 2014.

Bills Signed Into Law

SB 53 (De Leon): Ammunition Purchase Permitting – SB 53—the Law Center’s priority bill for 2014—would require ammunition sellers to be licensed by the California Department of Justice (“DOJ”). The bill would also require that every ammunition purchaser hold an ammunition purchase authorization issued by DOJ after it conducted a background check on the purchaser. In completing an ammunition sale, a vendor would be required to confirm that every purchaser has a valid ammunition authorization, record identifying information about the purchaser, and submit that information to DOJ. The bill would also require ammunition sales to be completed in face-to-face transactions. This provision would allow online purchases of ammunition so long as the ammunition purchased was shipped to a licensed ammunition seller to complete the transaction.

Status: This bill passed the Assembly Public Safety Committee on June 10, and is currently on the Assembly floor. 

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From Virginia Tech to Isla Vista: New Approaches to Keeping Guns from Dangerous People

Posted on Tuesday, July 1st, 2014

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Join us:

Thursday, July 10th | 3:30 – 5:00 PM
San Francisco Public Library
Koret Auditorium, 100 Larkin St.

Panelists:

Josh Horwitz, JD – Executive Director of the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence
Jeffrey Swanson, PhD – Professor of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences at Duke University School of Medicine
Shannon Frattaroli, PhD, MPH – Associate Professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
Renee Binder, MD – Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at University of California San Francisco
Garen Wintemute, MD, MPH - Professor of Emergency Medicine at the University of California, Davis
Julie Leftwich, JD – Legal Director of the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence

Please send your RSVP to [email protected].

Court Upholds Colorado Laws Banning Large Capacity Magazines and Requiring Background Checks for Private Gun Sales

Posted on Tuesday, July 1st, 2014

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The U.S. District Court of Colorado ruled on Thursday, June 26th that two Colorado laws recently enacted to help reduce gun violence do not violate the Constitution.  Plaintiffs in the case, Colorado Outfitters v. Hickenlooper, challenged Colorado’s newly enacted ban on the possession of ammunition magazines that hold over 15 rounds and a requirement that background checks must be conducted on all private firearm sales.

Chief Judge Krieger, who ruled in the case, noted that the burden placed on the Second Amendment by limiting large capacity ammunition magazines is “not severe” as the law “does not ban any firearm nor does it render any firearm useless.”  The court rejected the plaintiffs’ assertions that large capacity magazines are necessary for self-defense purposes, pointing to an almost complete lack of instances where more than 15 rounds were necessary in a self-defense situation.  The court also highlighted persuasive evidence presented by the state showing that large capacity ammunition magazines are used in a high percentage of gun crimes, including attacks on police officers and mass shootings.  As a result, the court easily found that Colorado’s limit to 15 rounds of ammunition is reasonably related to the important government interest of protecting public safety.

The court also found Colorado’s new requirement to require background checks on all gun sales to be constitutional.  Casting aside plaintiffs’ argument that this requirement was too difficult to comply with, the court noted that “there are more than 600 firearms dealers in Colorado that are actively performing private checks, and…it takes an average of less than fifteen minutes for a check to be processed.”  The court held that the background check requirement was reasonably related to both the reduction of crime and the protection of public safety given that “almost 40% of gun purchases are made through private sales, in person or over the internet; 62% of private sellers on the internet agree to sell to buyers who are known not to be able to pass a background check; and 80% of criminals who use guns in crime acquired one through a private sale.”

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 the over 900 cases currently being tracked by the Law Center, approximately 96% of Second Amendment challenges were rejected.  This provides further proof that sensible firearm regulations are totally compatible with the Second Amendment.

For more, visit our overview of Colorado’s gun laws or read about limits on ammunition magazines nationwide and background check requirements in states across the country.

Isla Vista Mass Shooting: Preventing Gun Access During a Mental Health Crisis

Posted on Tuesday, May 27th, 2014

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Once again, our hearts are broken after hearing of the shooting rampage Friday night in the college town of Isla Vista. A 22-year-old college student drove around town, shooting from his car, unloading 10-round magazines, and killing three people before shooting himself.  Ultimately, the attack left seven dead and 13 wounded.

The story is one that the nation has seen before — a young man in the midst of a mental health crisis and few legal mechanisms to keep him from accessing dangerous and deadly weapons. The shooter was receiving psychiatric treatment in the months prior to the shooting, and his family had reportedly informed local officials of their concerns about his mental state weeks before the shooting. Rather than focus on his access to guns, however, police officers interviewed him in his home for an evaluation of his mental state.  The officers found him to be “polite and kind” and did not perform a search for weapons.

People who witness another person’s suicidal or violent threats sometimes contact law enforcement, but these warnings rarely result in a gun restrictions under current law.  Even in California, which has some of the strongest gun laws in the country, there is still no legal mechanism for these warnings from family members or other community members to limit the person’s access to guns.

It doesn’t have to be this way. A basic framework already exists for screening gun purchasers:  federal law requires licensed gun dealers to conduct background checks on purchasers. The background check system is currently in the process of transforming from a system that categorically excludes certain people to a system that can be used to impose “temporary holds” on potentially dangerous individuals pending proper evaluation.

We can enact laws that allow for additional evaluation before a potentially dangerous or suicidal person has access to a gun. Some of these proposals involve empowering community members – teachers, school administrators, family members, and law enforcement officers – to speak out about dangerous people so that the person cannot access guns until law enforcement and mental health professionals have completed a thorough assessment.  Other versions of this proposal – called a gun violence restraining order – would allow family members to seek a court order that temporarily restricts a person’s access to guns.  These proposals enjoy broad support from the mental health community and have great potential to reduce both gun homicides and gun suicides as well.  Suicides account for about 60% of gun deaths nationwide.

We at the Law Center are exploring policy options to enable these temporary holds.  They will provide an avenue for family and other community members to bring the issue of guns in the hands of dangerous people to the attention of the authorities, so that temporary gun restrictions can be imposed pending further evaluation of the person’s intent.

For more, visit our analysis of mental health and our nation’s gun laws or read about the latest in gun legislation moving through the California legislature.

Big Second Amendment Victory: District Court Upholds D.C. Firearms Registration Law

Posted on Thursday, May 15th, 2014

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In a lengthy and well-reasoned decision released earlier today, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia upheld every aspect of D.C.’s comprehensive firearms registration program. The court found that the challenged laws, which require residents to register all firearms with local authorities, were sufficiently related to the District’s goals of ensuring public safety and protecting District police. The court noted that the testimony of four expert witnesses for the District provided enough evidence showing the registration system to be an important law enforcement tool that would save lives by preventing criminals from obtaining firearms.

The court brushed aside the gun lobby’s argument that the registration system was invalid because it would be circumvented by criminals. Stating that the argument made “little sense” and would “invalidate any and all gun laws,”  the court emphasized that “[a]lthough the various registration requirements at issue will not prevent all criminals from obtaining firearms, it surely will prevent some from doing so. That is enough.”

The case, known as Heller II, was brought in the aftermath of the landmark Heller decision in which the Supreme Court struck down D.C.’s handgun ban. After Heller, the D.C. Council enacted the Firearms Registration Amendment Act (FRA), which amended what remained of the District’s gun laws in order to create a new and constitutionally compliant scheme for regulating firearms. The plaintiffs, funded and represented by the gun lobby, immediately challenged this new system as violating the Second Amendment. After extensive and costly litigation, the D.C. Circuit Court upheld most aspects of the FRA in 2011, including the District’s ban on assault weapons, large capacity ammunition magazines, and the registration requirement as it applied specifically to handguns. The rest of the case was brought back to the District Court in order to gather more facts.

Today’s decision broadly upholds D.C.’s common sense registration provisions, including mandatory firearms safety training for registered gun owners, a limit of one pistol registration per month, and the various administrative aspects of the system, including in-person registration. The court’s decision reaffirms the notion that, after the Heller decision, legislatures still have great leeway in enacting thoughtful, rational gun laws in order to protect the public and law enforcement officers. This adds to the gun lobby’s ever-growing losing streak of expensive and wasteful Second Amendment challenges to common sense gun laws. Second Amendment challenges have been rejected in 96% of the more than 900 civil and criminal cases tracked by the Law Center across the country since the Heller decision in 2008.

For more, read our information on other cases that have addressed the Second Amendment since the pivotal 2008 Heller case or read our summary of laws that require the registration of firearms.

Mental Health-Related Prohibited Categories in California

Posted on Sunday, May 11th, 2014

California prohibits the following people from purchasing or possessing firearms because of mental health-related issues:

1. Inpatient Treatment: A person who has been admitted to a facility and is receiving inpatient treatment for a mental illness and the attending mental health professional opines that the patient is a danger to self or others. This prohibition applies even if the person has consented to the treatment, although the prohibition ends as soon as the patient is discharged from the facility.1 This prohibition is broader than federal law in that it includes persons voluntarily admitted to a mental facility.

2. Threats of Physical Violence: A person who communicates to a licensed psychotherapist a serious threat of physical violence against a reasonably identifiable victim or victims.2 In 2013, this prohibition was extended from a period of six months to five years after the licensed psychotherapist reports the identity of the person making the threat to local law enforcement. The subject of this prohibition may petition to have it removed.3

3. Adjudication: A person who has been adjudicated to be a danger to others as a result of a mental disorder or mental illness or has been adjudicated to be a mentally disordered sex offender. This prohibition does not apply if the court of adjudication issues, upon the individual’s release from treatment or at a later date, a certificate stating that the person may possess a firearm without endangering others.4

4. Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity: A person who has been found not guilty by reason of insanity of enumerated violent felonies.5

5. Incompetent to Stand Trial: A person who has been found mentally incompetent to stand trial. This prohibition is permanent unless there is a subsequent finding that the person has become competent.6

6. Conservatorship: A person who is currently under a court-ordered conservatorship because he or she is gravely disabled as a result of a mental disorder (or impaired by chronic alcoholism).7 The prohibition ends when the conservatorship ends.8

7. 72-Hour Detention: A person who has been taken into custody, and placed in a county mental health facility where a professional in charge of the facility has assessed that the person cannot be properly served without being detained and evaluated for at least 72 hours, and that the person is a danger to himself or herself or others as a result of a mental disorder.9 This prohibition lasts for five years.10 However, a person barred from firearm possession by this provision may petition the superior court for an order permitting him or her to possess firearms. At the hearing, the state must show by a preponderance of the evidence that the person “would not be likely to use firearms in a safe and lawful manner.”11

8. 14-Day Detention: A person who has been involuntarily committed for intensive mental health treatment for 14 or more days. This prohibition lasts for five years.12 As above, a person barred from firearm possession by this provision may petition the superior court for an order permitting him or her to possess firearms.13 This provision is weaker than federal law because it lasts for five years while the federal prohibition is permanent.

Court-Ordered Evaluations and Counseling: California law provides a process by which any individual may request a designated county agency to petition a court to order an evaluation to determine whether a person is, as a result of mental disorder, a danger to others, or to him or herself, or is gravely disabled (unable to meet his or her own physical needs). If the court grants the petition, an evaluation is performed. If, after the evaluation, the subject is deemed to be a danger to self or others or gravely disabled, he or she will be prohibited from purchasing or possessing firearms and referred for voluntary treatment, ordered detained for 14 days for intensive inpatient treatment, or recommended for conservatorship.14

For further information on:

• The categories of persons prohibited from purchasing or possessing firearms, see the Prohibited Purchasers Generally in California section.

• The background check process in California, see the Background Checks in California section.

• The reporting of mental health information for firearm purchaser background checks, see the Mental Health Reporting in California section.

  1. Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code § 8100(a). []
  2. Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code § 8100(b); see also Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code § 8105(c). Licensed psychotherapists are required to immediately report such threats to local law enforcement which, in turn, is required to immediately report the information to the California Department of Justice. Id. []
  3. Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code § 8100(b). []
  4. Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code § 8103(a). []
  5. Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code § 8103(b). []
  6. Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code § 8103(d). []
  7. Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code § 8103(e)(1). []
  8. Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code § 8103(e)(1), (2). This provision appears to be weaker than federal law, which permanently prohibits a person who lacks the appropriate mental capacity to contract or manage his or her own affairs. It appears that where the period of firearm prohibition has ended under California but not federal law, the subject remains prohibited because the federal prohibition is still in effect. In practice, much depends on whether the record of the mental health prohibition remains in the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System. []
  9. Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code § 8103(f)(1). []
  10. Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code § 8103(f)(3). []
  11. Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code § 8103(f)(5), (6). []
  12. Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code § 8103(g)(1). []
  13. Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code § 8103(g)(4). []
  14. Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code §§ 5200-5213. []