Warning Signs: Preventing Gun Violence in Crisis Situations


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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What Will Obama’s Legacy Be?

President Obama wins re-election on Tuesday. Photographer: Jewel Samad/AFP via Getty Images

Now that the long, bitter presidential campaign is finally over, President Obama can turn his full attention to the job of governing. Although his second term will no doubt be filled with continuing challenges — the looming fiscal cliff and struggling economy among them — it will also provide an opportunity for him to focus on issues that he personally cares about, unshackled by the prospects of yet another political campaign.

We believe that gun violence is — and should be — one of those issues. Although both recent presidential candidates barely mentioned guns and the more than 100,000 shootings that occur each year in America, in 2008, candidate Obama openly promised to fight for stronger gun laws, including a ban on assault weapons. In an op-ed he wrote for the Arizona Daily Star after the Tucson massacre in 2011, President Obama also expressed support for laws requiring background checks on all gun buyers. And in an address to the National Urban League following the Aurora movie theater slaughter, the President reiterated his support for both types of laws, acknowledging the tragic daily impact gun violence has on communities across America and lamenting that:

Every day — in fact, every day and a half — the number of young people we lose to violence is about the same as the number of people we lost in that movie theater. For every Columbine or Virginia Tech, there are dozens gunned down on the streets of Chicago and Atlanta, and here in New Orleans. For every Tucson or Aurora, there is daily heartbreak over young Americans shot in Milwaukee or Cleveland. Violence plagues the biggest cities, but it also plagues the smallest towns. It claims the lives of Americans of different ages and different races, and it’s tied together by the fact that these young people had dreams and had futures that were cut tragically short.

While President Obama’s public statements about firearm violence — the few that there have been so far — reflect his concern about the issue and his support for laws that keep our communities safe, those words have not yet translated into any meaningful action. Gun sales soared leading up to and during Obama’s first term after the NRA and other pro-gun groups claimed that the President had a “secret plan” to ban all guns. Of course, that never happened, and never could happen, either legally or politically. Ironically, the only legislative action President Obama has undertaken on guns during his presidency is to sign a bill allowing guns in national parks, despite the fact that the American public — including most gun owners — support a wide range of laws that can and do save lives.

President Obama must now consider how he wants to be remembered by history. Is he willing to be remembered as yet another politician who witnessed mass shooting after mass shooting, yet failed to act on the basis of political expediency? Or will he stand up for what he and the country believe in – -the right of all Americans to live in communities free from gun violence — and finally show true leadership on this issue?

Mass Shooting in Oak Creek: “You’re talking about Aurora one minute, and the next minute it’s you and your family.”

Photo : Reuters

As Americans, we pride ourselves on our freedom to participate in the activities that make our communities rich and vibrant—to worship where we want, to see the movies that we want, to attend political rallies in supermarket parking lots if we so choose. But the fact is that we are not truly free to do any of these things, not when the very real specter of gun violence remains ever-present, threatening to take everything as we go about our lives.

With the nation still reeling from the mass shooting that left 70 people injured or killed in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, Americans were completely unprepared for another devastating tragedy just two weeks later. Six innocent people died and three were critically injured by Wade Michael Page at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin on Sunday, in another terrible reminder that gun violence can, and does, happen anywhere and at any time.

“You’re talking about Aurora one minute, and the next minute it’s you and your family,” [Kanwardeep Singh Kaleka, nephew of Sikh temple president Satwant Kaleka, who was killed in the shooting] said.

“I just never thought it would be at a temple, at a place of worship. I don’t want people to have to carry a gun at a place of worship,” said Kaleka, who added that he could have been at the temple during the attack, but for the fact he had stopped at a bank “randomly to make a deposit.”1

Gun violence shatters families nationwide every day. Every single day, roughly 32 people are murdered by guns across the U.S., almost three times the number of people killed in Aurora and over five times the number killed in Oak Creek. We hear almost nothing about most of the shootings that occur in America. If the media covered all of them, stories of gun violence would regularly eclipse all other news.

The media coverage of Oak Creek, like Aurora, will pass, but the gun deaths will continue, every day, in different places all over the country. That won’t change unless we seriously address the causes of this crisis. Right now, dangerous people have easy access to military-style weapons. Until our national leaders confront this challenge head-on – with courage, not condolences – too many in our communities will continue to suffer.

Solutions to our national gun violence epidemic do exist. Smart laws – like those requiring background checks for every gun purchase and restricting access to assault weapons and large capacity ammunition magazines – can prevent future gun violence tragedies. When it comes to holding our legislators accountable, we shouldn’t demand anything less.

  1. CNN Wire Staff, Police identify Army veteran as Wisconsin temple shooting gunman, Aug. 6, 2012. ⤴︎

America’s Ammunition Crisis: Few Laws Exist to Prevent Purchases by Dangerous People Online and in Stores

Since the mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado on July 20, 2012, where James Holmes killed 12 people and injured 58 more, many have expressed shock at the ease with which the gunman acquired his arsenal: a military-style assault rifle, a shotgun, two handguns, a 100-round ammunition magazine, and 6,000 rounds of ammunition.

While the shooter purchased his firearms legally at local gun stores, he ordered his ammunition cache – 3,000 rounds each of handgun and rifle ammunition and 350 shotgun shells, as well as the 100-round magazine – from online retailers over the course of several months prior to the shooting. This ammunition, which was also purchased legally, cost him around $3,000.1

In the aftermath of the Aurora shooting, important questions are being asked about the availability of ammunition, both over the counter and online. While America’s federal gun laws are weak, laws regulating the sale of ammunition are virtually nonexistent. As the facts below reveal, it is far too easy for dangerous people – including convicted criminals – to acquire as much ammunition as they desire. Serious reforms are desperately needed.

statistics on ammunition sales

Federal Laws Regulating Ammunition Sales Are Weak

Federal law prohibits convicted felons and other dangerous people from acquiring both guns and ammunition, but the laws otherwise treat guns and ammunition very differently. Under federal law, a prospective gun purchaser must pass a background check; no background check is required to buy ammunition. A firearms dealer must keep a record of the sale of a firearm that includes the purchaser’s information; no records are kept for the sale of ammunition.

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  1. Jack Healy, Suspect Bought Large Stockpile of Rounds Online, N.Y. Times, July 26, 2012. ⤴︎

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. ⤴︎

New Data After Aurora Shooting:
Assault Weapon Ban Worked 1994 – 2004

Data on the Effectiveness of the Federal Assault Weapons Ban

Did the federal ban on military-style assault weapons and large capacity ammunition magazines work? Data shows overwhelming support for the 1994 ban.123

Last Friday’s horrific shooting in Colorado was a shocking reminder of the tremendous damage that can be done when military-style guns get into the wrong hands. The accessibility of assault weapons, in conjunction with large capacity ammunition magazines, enables lethality on a scale that is simply devastating. Today, only a small number of states regulate assault weapons and large capacity magazines. Because our porous borders allow guns to easily travel between states, even states that take steps to protect their communities from these weapons are vulnerable to them without a comprehensive federal law.

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  1. Christopher S. Koper, An Updated Assessment of the Federal Assault Weapons Ban: Impacts on GunMarkets and Gun Violence, 1994-2003, Report to the National Institute of Justice, U.S. Department of Justice (June 2004) 49. ⤴︎
  2. About the Project: The Hidden Life of Guns, Wash. Post, Jan. 22, 2011; David S. Fallis & James V. Grimaldi, Virginia data show drop in criminal firepower during assault gun ban, Wash. Post, Jan. 23, 2011. ⤴︎
  3. Id. ⤴︎

We Need Action: Aurora, Colorado Theater Shooting Sheds Light on Our Nation’s Gun Laws

Survivors of Aurora Colorado Shooting

Barry Gutierrez / AP

We are deeply saddened and outraged by the mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado earlier today, and our thoughts are with all of those affected by this horrible tragedy.

Already, politicians around the country have begun to offer their condolences to the survivors of this terrible event, as they do every time a mass shooting happens in America. Inevitably, these statements are long on good intentions but short on action.

The American people deserve better. All of us should be free to live our lives without being affected by gun violence. Instead, across the country, too many Americans are murdered by guns every single day.

It’s time to demand that our leaders go beyond offering condolences, and instead address these problems head-on. It is simply far too easy for dangerous people to access military-style weapons. Something has to change.

There are solutions to this epidemic. We know that smart gun laws save lives and we remain committed to fighting for safer communities. We are available to answer your questions about gun laws in Colorado and across the country as well as strategies to reduce gun violence nationwide. Contact us here.

For more details, see our analysis of Colorado’s gun laws or more information on assault weapons. For breaking information, follow us on Facebook and Twitter.