At Giffords Law Center we envision a safer America, where our children grow up without fear of gun violence. This isn’t a utopian dream—it’s something we can build in this generation. In fact, in states all around the country, we’ve helped write, pass, and enact legislation that is reducing gun violence and saving lives.
In 2016, the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence formally partnered with Americans for Responsible Solutions, led by former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, retired NASA astronaut and Navy combat veteran Captain Mark Kelly, to form a new force for gun safety that stretches from coast to coast.
Now, we’ve united our organizations to form Giffords, to represent Americans from all walks of life in the fight against gun violence. Standing up to the gun lobby takes courage, and our advocates and legal experts are committed to seeing an end to this public health crisis that tears communities apart.
Less than 18 months after the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, the United States raised the bar yet again when it comes to naming “the worst mass shooting in modern American history.” This week, at the Route 91 Harvest music festival in Las Vegas, Nevada, a gunman opened fire from a hotel room overlooking the event, killing 58 and injuring more than 500 people.
It is no coincidence that the death toll from mass shootings continues to increase.
In Las Vegas, the shooter used an accessory known as a bump stock—a device that attaches to a semi-automatic rifle, increasing its rate of fire to nearly that of a machine gun—which allowed him to inflict maximum carnage on the 22,000 concertgoers. The catastrophic loss of life in the Las Vegas shooting was due in large part to the use of a bump stock, but this device is just one of many types of firearm components and accessories being marketed by the gun industry that convert firearms into military-style weapons.
While a bump stock allowed the Las Vegas shooter to dramatically increase his rate of fire, another accessory also contributed to the horrific number of casualties—large capacity ammunition magazines. These magazines, which started gaining traction in the 1980s, hold many rounds of ammunition (in some cases up to 100 bullets), enabling a shooter to fire for a sustained period of time without having to reload. While such capability may be useful on the battlefield, it is particularly dangerous in civilian life. The Las Vegas shooter had multiple large capacity ammunition magazines in his hotel room, and, based on the number of rounds he fired without pause, used several.
Large capacity ammunition magazines allow mass shooters to do unspeakable damage in a matter of seconds. These accessories are the common thread among the deadliest mass shootings in the United States in the last 20 years. During the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012, the shooter fired 154 rounds in just five minutes, killing 26 people, including 20 schoolchildren. Even though the shooter was armed with 30-round magazines, when he paused to reload, 11 children were able to escape.
The smaller the number of rounds a magazine can hold, the more times a mass shooter is forced to reload, allowing law enforcement to intervene and survivors to run to safety. In Tucson, Arizona, the gunman who shot former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords and killed six people, including a nine-year old girl, was tackled while he attempted to reload his weapon with another large capacity ammunition magazine.
While no federal law restricting magazine capacity exists, seven states and the District of Columbia prohibit the purchase or possession of magazines capable of holding more than ten rounds (Colorado limits magazine capacity to 15 rounds).
While marketing bump stocks and large capacity ammunition magazines to gun owners might increase gun industry profits, the toll on the American public is unfathomable. In addition to increasing the number of casualties in a mass shooting, these weapons also pose great risks to law enforcement officers who may encounter criminals armed with these weapons. And, contrary to claims by the gun lobby, militarized weapons are completely unnecessary for self-defense or hunting. The Los Angeles Police Chief put the matter succinctly, stating that these magazines “transform a gun into a weapon of mass death rather than a home-protection-type device.”
If Congress is interested in taking urgent action to address bump stocks as an initial response to the Las Vegas shooting, here is the framework we propose:
- Congress should ban the future manufacturing of bump stocks.
- Congress should ban the transfer of bump stocks in current circulation from one person to another.
- Existing bump stocks already in circulation should be registered to their current owner under the National Firearms Act.
- Congress must dedicate additional resources to ATF to enforce our nation’s gun laws and deal with a surge in NFA weapons applications.
- Congress must require gun stores to report multiple sales of all firearms, not just handguns, to ATF.
The Law Center commends the courageous lawmakers who have resisted pressure by the gun lobby and enacted laws prohibiting the possession and use of militarized weapons and accessories, such as large capacity ammunition magazines. We are encouraged by the recent discussion of bipartisan efforts to regulate bump stocks, and hope recent events put the use of these deadly accessories in perspective for lawmakers, advocates, and the public.
Today, yet another American city is left reeling in the aftermath of a devastating and record-breaking mass shooting. From the 32nd floor of his hotel room, a 64-year-old gunman with at least 23 firearms in his possession fired indiscriminately into a crowd of concertgoers in Las Vegas. While the human toll of this tragedy has risen throughout the day, at present—with 59 lives lost and more than 520 injured—this tragic event has already surpassed last year’s nightclub shooting at Pulse in Orlando as the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history.
Too many of these shameful records have been broken in the last decade. In fact, all but three of the most deadly mass shootings in the country’s history have taken place in the last 10 years. Still, it is important to remember that this constant state of crisis is neither normal nor inevitable.
According to our research, Nevada’s gun laws are some of the weakest in the nation. Despite passing a 2016 ballot initiative requiring background checks on private sales and transfers of firearms, as of this month, the law has yet to be implemented. The state also fails to limit the number of firearms an individual can purchase at one time, enabling people to amass arsenals like the one found in the shooter’s hotel room. Among other dangerous gaps in the state’s gun laws, Nevada does not prohibit the transfer or possession of machine guns, assault weapons, 50 caliber rifles, or regulate large capacity ammunition magazines—policies that might have mitigated the amount of carnage the gunman was able to inflict.
Instead of using every tool available to prevent further tragedies, some legislators are trying to chip away at lifesaving regulations. In his remarks this morning, the president rightfully praised the speed and efficiency of first responders who were able to quickly locate the shooter and prevent even more death. However, legislation introduced earlier this year, and supported by the corporate gun lobby, would deregulate silencers, making them available to far more people than ever before and making the job of first responders all the more difficult. Amidst the chaos of a loud concert, with tens of thousands of people in attendance, it’s difficult to imagine the carnage that may have ensued without the sound of gunshots and a visible muzzle flash.
As these mass shootings with ever-increasing body counts continue, one thing is clear: this is not the time roll back the smart gun laws that are proven to protect public safety. As always, our hearts are with the victims and their families during this painful moment. Their courage and resilience is our inspiration as we continue fighting for the gun laws that can make this country safer.
Today, the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence is proud to release Confronting the Inevitability Myth: How Data-Driven Gun Policies Save Lives from Suicide. The culmination of a yearlong project to research and analyze the suicide crisis, our report provides an in-depth examination of the deadly role guns play in suicide in America and outlines the policies and intervention programs that have been proven to help prevent these tragedies.
Though we are living in a time of rising suicide rates, many Americans, including our lawmakers, buy into the pervasive myth that suicides are inevitable. Confronting the Inevitability Myth thoroughly debunks this misconception by arming readers with data and research from across the field showing how gun access drives suicide risk in this country and, consequently, how effective gun policy and intervention programs can save more lives. A data supplement within the report takes an even deeper dive to show just how significantly guns contribute to state suicide rates: compared to all other variables, including race, gender, rurality, substance abuse, and severe mental illness, gun access correlates the most with suicide death.
As Confronting the Inevitability Myth shows, suicide’s impact is enormous. Since 2000, more than half a million Americans have died by suicide, and the majority used a gun.But these deaths aren’t spread equally across the nation—states with immediate, unrestricted access to guns suffer a hugely disproportionate number of our nation’s suicides. Because gunshots are so uniquely lethal, they account for 5% of suicide attempts, but are responsible for 50% of suicide deaths. A variety of risk factors—including mental health conditions and trauma, addiction and isolation, bullying and abuse—drive some people to attempt suicide. But easy access to guns is often the determining factor in whether a person at risk survives.
The good news is that there are many steps we can take today to address this public health crisis because the simple, hopeful truth is that these deaths are preventable. By addressing the primary factors that drive suicide risk, including access to guns, we can make a lifesaving difference for many Americans. Confronting the Inevitability Myth outlines six essential policy solutions that work to prevent suicide by reducing people’s access to guns during a suicidal crisis:
- Universal background checks help to keep severely suicidal people from acquiring guns after they have been involuntarily committed for their own safety.
- Extreme Risk Protection Order laws empower family members to proactively protect their loved ones by petitioning a court to temporarily remove guns during a severe mental health crisis.
- Voluntary gun relinquishment laws could help empower suicidal people to act to promote their own health and safety by limiting their access to guns during mental crises.
- Firearm waiting periods provide a brief but crucial cooling off period to guard against impulsive, suicidal gun purchases.
- Smart guns, safety training, and safe storage laws help keep children and teens from gaining unsupervised access to guns can meaningfully reduce youth suicide.
- Healthcare-based suicide prevention programs have shown that medical professionals make a remarkable difference in reducing their patients’ risk of suicide if they have the training, freedom, and support to effectively counsel their patients about gun safety.
These best practices chart a clear path to progress on this issue, and there’s no better time to act on them than now. The changes we recommend in this report are modest and—to be clear—they are entirely consistent with the Second Amendment. But by understanding and addressing the factors that drive suicide risk, we can save more lives.
Each year, the Law Center’s Anniversary Dinner 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, business professionals, lawmakers, and advocates from all over the country, is a truly unique opportunity to recognize the movement’s champions, celebrate the Law Center’s remarkable achievements, and support the fight for smart gun laws that save lives.
This year, we were so proud to honor former US Attorney General Eric Holder, activists Pam and Tom Bosley, as well as the law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, for their outstanding contributions to the gun violence prevention movement. Don’t miss this video of highlights from the 24th Anniversary Dinner—we hope it inspires you to continue standing with us in the fight for smart gun laws.
To see photos of the 24th Anniversary Dinner, view our Flickr slideshow:
With the first half of 2017 behind us, Americans have already experienced too many devastating losses to gun violence. The week of the one-year anniversary of the Pulse nightclub massacre, the deadliest shooting in our nation’s history, we endured two more media-grabbing mass shootings in a single day in Virginia and San Francisco—the 153rd and 154th mass shootings of the year. Urban gun violence continues to claim increasingly more lives—Chicago saw seven deaths and 50 more wounded in a single weekend this month. And, despite a mountain of evidence that deregulating silencers and forcing states with strong gun laws to recognize concealed carry permits issued in states with weak laws would make the public less safe, the gun lobby aggressively pursues bills in Congress to do just that.
But the gun violence prevention movement continues to make historic progress that began after the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary, notching critical victories in a time where the president has vowed to advance the gun lobby’s agenda to bring guns into every aspect of public life. This legislative cycle, states passed smart gun laws to improve background checks and suicide prevention. Several states also enacted laws strengthening efforts to prevent domestic abusers from accessing guns, and California restored funding to programs aimed at reducing urban gun violence.
So far in 2017, our attorneys have tracked, analyzed, and summarized more than 1,617 firearms bills, and will review many more during the remainder of the year in states that have yet to complete their legislative cycles. We’ve also worked with our partners at Americans for Responsible Solutions and other advocates in the gun violence prevention movement on gun safety legislation in 26 states.
In our special edition of Gun Law Trendwatch—2017 Mid-Year Review, we review the gun violence prevention movement’s progress so far this year. Some of the standout trends from 2017 include:
- Domestic violence: Every year, a number of states pass laws that make it harder for domestic abusers to access guns, and 2017 was no exception.
- Defensive victories: Legislators in 20 states rejected measures to allow guns in public without a permit, and guns on campus bills were defeated by 12 states—major setbacks to the gun lobby’s dangerous agenda.
- Extreme risk protection orders: Bills that would allow family members and law enforcement to petition courts to temporarily disarm individuals who pose a significant risk to themselves or others were introduced in 18 states, and are still pending in 10.
The year isn’t over yet, and we anticipate even more victories during the remainder of 2017. We’re waiting for Governor Jerry Brown’s signature on the state’s budget, which restores funding to CalVIP, a state-level grant program that provides funding for cities to implement violence prevention and intervention strategies. In California, the Law Center sponsored AB 785, a bill that would prohibit individuals convicted of hate crimes from possessing firearms. The bill is swiftly advancing through the legislature with bipartisan support. In Massachusetts, an extreme risk protection order bill is scheduled to be heard in committee on July 18. The Law Center will continue to update the movement on the outcome of these innovative efforts to prevent gun violence, and others, in future issues of Trendwatch.
Last month, a gun lobby group filed last-minute litigation to try to delay implementation of new limits on large-capacity magazines included in California’s Proposition 63, a package of lifesaving gun laws voters approved by a two-to-one margin this past November. The state’s NRA chapter, the California Rifle & Pistol Association, filed its lawsuit in Duncan v. Becerra at the 11th hour, mere weeks before Proposition 63’s LCM limitations were slated to go into effect on July 1. Unfortunately, yesterday a federal judge in San Diego temporarily sided with the gun lobby by issuing an injunction that delays implementation of Proposition 63’s commonsense restrictions on the possession of dangerous military-style magazines.
California’s magazine restrictions are one component of Proposition 63’s package of bold gun safety reforms, which the Law Center drafted in partnership with Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom. The measure closed several loopholes in California’s gun laws, and included a groundbreaking requirement for background checks on ammunition purchases and laws to ensure felons relinquish their firearms upon conviction. Yesterday’s opinion issuing an injunction only affects the ban on large-capacity magazines holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition.
The more than 60-page opinion, written by US District Judge Roger Benitez of the Southern District of California, held that a temporary injunction was necessary to allow for further study of whether California’s magazine limitations violate the Second Amendment or are an unlawful government “taking” without compensation. His ruling was an extreme departure from settled law in this area. Every other court to have considered magazine regulations, including four federal appeals courts, have rejected similar constitutional arguments and upheld sensible restrictions on these deadly accessories, which have been used in major mass shootings like the massacres at Sandy Hook Elementary, San Bernardino, and the Pulse nightclub.
In fact, earlier in the day, a similar challenge to Proposition 63’s magazine law, Wiese v. Becerra, was heard by Senior District Judge William Shubb, a George H.W. Bush appointee, in California’s Eastern District. Judge Shubb ruled that the law does not violate the Second Amendment and is not a government “taking.” With a split in the courts, the gun lobby’s large-capacity magazine challenges will likely now head to the Ninth Circuit. That court previously affirmed a decision upholding the constitutionality of a local law prohibiting possession of large-capacity magazines—a decision a lot like Judge Shubb’s ruling in favor of Proposition 63.
For that reason, we are confident that yesterday’s flawed decision to block California’s new limits on large capacity magazines will be quickly overturned. As other courts have determined, restrictions on such magazines are lawful because these exceedingly dangerous accessories, so often selected by mass shooters for their lethal efficiency, are better suited for military applications than civilian self-defense. The gun lobby’s position that these magazines enjoy absolute Second Amendment protections contradicts the words of late Justice Scalia, who wrote in Heller that the Second Amendment is “not unlimited” and is “not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatsoever purpose.”
It’s not surprising that when the gun lobby lost at the ballot box, their next move was to turn to the courts. Fortunately, the clock can’t be turned back on progress forever. Proposition 63 is just one reason why California leads our nation in the enactment of lifesaving gun policy reforms. The state has had remarkable success – in the past two decades, California has comprehensively strengthened its gun laws and cut the state’s gun death rate by nearly 60%, transforming California from one of the most violent states in the nation to one of the safest. We expect these remarkable gains will continue when Proposition 63 is fully implemented.
There’s good news today in a critical Second Amendment case out of California. The Supreme Court denied review in Peruta v. California, leaving in place a decision upholding the state law that requires concealed carry permit applicants to show good cause to local law enforcement before carrying a hidden, loaded weapon in public. Today’s news demonstrates that the courts remain unmoved by the gun lobby’s dangerous agenda to lower safety standards and force guns into more public spaces. And it shows that the Second Amendment permits reasonable firearm safety legislation, like California’s smart gun laws.
California is one of several states that has “good cause” policies on the books, while other states impose basic minimum qualifications on concealed carry applicants through other types of “may issue” permitting laws. These policies protect public safety by ensuring that local law enforcement officers are empowered to determine the qualifications for issuing permits to carry loaded, concealed guns on public streets and sidewalks. By leaving the Ninth Circuit’s decision undisturbed, the Supreme Court ensured that California and other states may continue to regulate the public carry of firearms based on the safety needs of local communities.
The Law Center has been involved in the Peruta case for more than five years, since the beginning of the litigation process, and filed two amicus briefs urging the Ninth Circuit to uphold California’s concealed carry permitting system—the position later adopted in the Ninth Circuit’s en banc opinion. The Law Center’s briefs were joined by leading national law enforcement officials, including the Major Cities Chiefs Association and the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys.
Fighting for commonsense gun laws in the courts is an essential part of our mission, and we’re winning—more than 94% of Second Amendment challenges to smart gun laws have been rejected since the landmark Heller decision in 2008. And the Supreme Court has denied review in more than 70 cases involving a Second Amendment challenge, leaving in place lower court decisions—like Peruta—that uphold lifesaving gun safety measures. Additionally, lawmakers in 45 states and DC have passed 198 new smart gun laws since the tragic gun massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Today, we are left reeling by the news of two more disturbing mass shootings, both with echoes of our organizations’ founding. Incidents like this are a stark reminder of the relentless drumbeat of tragedy our nation is forced to endure because our leaders refuse to pass sensible gun legislation that keeps the public safe.
This morning, in Alexandria, Virginia, a shooter launched a heinous, deliberate attack on members of Congress and their staffers. Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana and at least four others were wounded while practicing for the annual Congressional baseball game. Scalise, who is now recovering from a gunshot to the hip, is the first member of Congress to be the victim of such an attack since our leader, former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot along with 18 others—six fatally—while meeting with constituents in January 2011.
The shooter in Alexandria was a 66-year-old man from Illinois with a violent history and radical views. During the chaos of this assault, two courageous Capitol Police officers were shot in an effort to neutralize the gunman, who was armed with a handgun and a military-style assault weapon. The perpetrator was later killed after a shootout with police.
Mere hours later, reports came in of an active shooter at a UPS facility across the country. In San Francisco, a gunman shot and killed three UPS employees and wounded two others. According to the city’s assistant police chief, the gunman was armed with an assault pistol which he then turned on himself when confronted by police.
The mass shooting at UPS took place a short distance from 101 California Street, the site of the 1993 massacre that led to the Law Center’s founding. The tragic incident is a reminder of the all-too frequent occurrences of workplace violence that plague our nation. Businesses should be peaceful environments where people can feel safe, but they are frequent targets for deadly attacks. Following the murder of five warehouse workers in Orlando earlier this month, the tragedy in San Francisco underscores just how common shootings like this are—according to an FBI analysis, acts of violence in places of business like this one are the most common type of active shooter situations.
Today’s shooting in the Potrero neighborhood of San Francisco marks the 154th mass shooting of 2017, and while no lives were lost in Alexandria, both of these assaults are a painful reminder of 114,000 Americans shot every year. We are deeply saddened by both of these tragedies and send our sincere and heartfelt sympathies to the victims and to their families. But we can and must do more to put a stop to these incidents of gun violence that shatter countless lives each year.
The gun lobby continues hold Congress in a tight grip, pushing for the total dismantling of our gun laws, including this year’s attempt to deregulate silencers, legislation that was scheduled to be debated in Congress today. It is terrifying to imagine how much more difficult it would be for law enforcement to respond to a mass shooting when a gunman has a silencer.
The parallels between the mass shootings that occurred today and those which launched the Law Center and our partner organization Americans for Responsible Solutions are striking, and remind us of how critical this fight truly is for the sake of our nation’s safety.
Today marks a year since a gunman entered Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, and carried out the deadliest mass shooting in US history, taking the lives of 49 people and injuring another 53 in a deeply disturbing act of terrorism and hate. Armed with military-style assault weapons, the shooter was able to fire hundreds of rounds into the crowd of clubgoers without pausing to reload, maximizing the carnage.
Last week, Orlando again was the site of another senseless shooting—a disgruntled former employee entered the warehouse where he used to work, singling out and killing five victims before turning the gun on himself. Yet again, the city was forced to mourn the tragic loss of life that happens far too often in our nation—the incident was the 144th mass shooting of 2017. According to The Trace’s analysis of data from the Gun Violence Archive, since the Pulse nightclub shooting, more than 250 people have been shot, 81 fatally, in Orlando, a small city of about 260,000.
Florida has incredibly weak gun laws, and as a result, it’s far too easy for guns to fall into the hands of dangerous people who want to carry out acts of violence. Weak concealed carry standards, onerous preemption laws, and a deadly stand your ground statute all contribute to Florida’s abysmally high gun death rate—about four times higher per capita than Massachusetts, a state with some of the nation’s strongest gun laws. Unfortunately, Florida isn’t alone when it comes to lax gun laws. It’s one of a shocking 25 states that earns an F on our annual Gun Law State Scorecard.
Last summer, in the aftermath of the Pulse shooting, dozens of senators and representatives bravely led filibusters and sit-ins to demand votes on universal background checks and other lifesaving policies. Yet congressional leadership has refused to act, even though more than 90% of Americans support expanding background checks to close the private sale loophole. In fact, the primary gun bills on Congress’s agenda in the current session are to deregulate silencers and to make it easier for untrained individuals to carry guns in public, both pieces of legislation backed by the gun lobby and designed to bring new profits to the gun industry at the expense of public safety.
As we honor the memory of those innocent Americans gunned down in the dark a year ago tonight, it’s essential that we also demand our leaders stand up to the gun lobby and pass the smart gun laws that save lives.
Visit the Gun Law State Scorecard to see how your state stacks up, and learn more about what lawmakers can do to safeguard communities from gun violence.