New Report—For the Record: NICS & Public Safety

nics-and-public-safety-coverBackground checks have stopped 2.8 million prohibited purchasers from buying guns from licensed dealers—these two-minute investigations are one of our most valuable tools when it comes to saving lives from gun violence. Today, the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence and Americans for Responsible Solutions released a new report examining the complex set of databases that make up National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). For the Record: NICS & Public Safety examines the background checks process, the challenges the system faces, and the best practices lawmakers can adopt to improve the quality and number of records in the NICS databases.

In 2014 alone, the NICS database stopped 147,000 prohibited people from buying guns from federally licensed dealers. But too many other dangerous individuals are slipping through the cracks due to missing or incomplete records in the NICS databases. For example, in 2014, more than 700,000 domestic violence protective orders never made it to the system, despite domestic abuse being a leading cause of gun violence.

For the Record: NICS & Public Safety also details how:

  • The background check process does not provide a barrier to the legal sale or transfer of a gun—most checks are completed in less than two minutes.
  • At least 20 states have improved the way they report mental health records since 2013, making these pieces of legislation one of the most popular ways to combat gun violence.
  • In recent years, states like Arizona and Virginia have dramatically improved the way they send records to NICS, making it far more difficult for guns to fall into dangerous hands.

This new analysis from the nation’s leading gun law experts is essential to understanding how the background checks process works—the report sheds light on how making improvements to this complex system of databases can save lives. Our nation desperately needs tools like NICS to be as strong and effective as possible, and improving this system represents a leap forward in the effort to save lives from gunfire.

The daily presence of gun violence leaves our communities at grave risk—fortunately, this is not a problem without an effective, practical solution. Enacting universal background checks and strengthening the NICS databases are two of the most effective ways legislators can protect their constituents from gun violence while still respecting the rights of law-abiding citizens.

Read the full report: For the Record: NICS and Public Safety

Strong Gun Laws Work to Keep Guns Away From Criminals


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.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month

We already know that the deadly combination of guns and domestic violence has a devastating effect on too many American families—firearms are the most common, and by far the most lethal, weapons used by abusers who kill their partners. October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and we hope Americans gain a deeper understanding of the pernicious danger domestic abusers pose to the safety of our communities—especially when guns are involved.

  • Domestic violence episodes involving guns are 12 times more likely to result in death than other weapons or bodily force.
  • Domestic abuse situations are five times more likely to be fatal if the abuser has access to a gun.
  • Women in the United States are 11 times more likely to be murdered with a gun than in other high-income countries.

And yet, in spite of these horrifying statistics, federal law still contains deadly loopholes that allow domestic abusers to buy and possess firearms—especially if they already own them. We need to call upon our lawmakers to close these deadly gaps, enact background checks on every gun transfer, and report all records to the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

Despite Congressional inaction on this issue, 20 states have enacted new laws to protect victims of domestic violence from gunfire since 2013. These powerful pieces of legislation keep people convicted of domestic violence from accessing guns and make it easier for law enforcement to remove guns from abusers who own them. Laws like this are important because they directly address gaps in current policy regarding stalkers and dating partners, help disarm violent spouses, and help background check systems identify convicted abusers.

The momentum for better domestic violence laws shows no signs of slowing down—even states with strong gun cultures, like Tennessee and Louisiana, which both score an F on our Gun Law State Scorecard, have recently enacted laws barring domestic abusers from possessing firearms. These lifesaving smart gun laws help keep families—particularly women, who are disproportionately affected by this issue—safe from domestic violence involving guns.

For more information on the laws states can pass to help protect victims of domestic abuse, see our Commonsense Solutions Toolkit: State Laws to Address Gun Violence Against Women.

For more information about existing domestic violence gun laws, visit our policy page.


Gov. Jerry Brown Signs Six Smart Gun Laws in California

This year, the California Legislature introduced a record number of gun safety bills. We’re thrilled to report that Governor Brown has signed six of these lifesaving measures into law.

Today’s news represents a tremendous step in the right direction, as California has long led the nation when it comes to enacting smart gun laws–we rank the state first in our annual Gun Law State Scorecard for consistently adopting bold new solutions to save lives from the epidemic of gun violence.

The bills Governor Brown signed will promote public safety by strengthening the state’s assault weapon ban to prohibit the sale of “bullet-button” rifles like the ones used in last year’s deadly massacre in San Bernardino, requiring background checks on ammunition purchasers, and prohibiting the possession of large capacity ammunition magazines

We’re proud to have testified in support these bills as they made their way through the statehouse and are delighted that Governor Brown signed them into law. These new pieces of legislation add to the unprecedented momentum for commonsense gun safety policies we’ve seen at the state level in recent years, and we’re as committed as ever to the fight for public safety in our home state.

But there’s still more work to be done, and we’re confident that by continuing to work with our powerful legislative coalition partners and our supporters, we can bring California’s pioneering gun laws to all 50 states.


To read more about California’s smart gun laws, see our policy page.

To see how your state stacks up when it comes to commonsense gun safety laws, see our Gun Law State Scorecard.

The Deadliest Shooting in American History


Terror tore through an Orlando nightclub early Sunday morning. A gunman, motivated by hate and enabled by all-too easy access to deadly, military-style weapons killed at least 50 and wounded another 53 in the deadliest mass shooting in US history. This was not a record we wanted to break.

The attack specifically targeted the LGBTQ community in Orlando, and the shooter reportedly pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in a 911 call. As the story continues to develop, one fact becomes clearer and clearer: it’s far too easy for dangerous people—whether they’re terrorists, bigots, domestic abusers, or dangerously mentally ill—to get their hands on guns. And when that happens, innocent people die.

It’s been almost a year since Charleston. Three years since Newtown. Five since Tucson. Nine since Virginia Tech. Seventeen since Columbine. Twenty-three since 101 California, the mass shooting that inspired the Law Center’s founding.

It’s long past time for Congress to listen to its constituents and fix the broken policies—like the gun show loophole and the terror gap—that we know will help prevent shootings.

And if our federal leaders won’t listen, we need to enact better legislation at the state level, especially in Florida, which has some of the weakest gun laws in the country and receives an F on our Gun Law State Scorecard. Not only does Florida not require background checks on private gun sales or prohibit assault weapons like the one used in the Orlando shooting, it specifically has a law forbidding doctors from talking to their patients about gun safety. It’s time to bring some sanity to the Sunshine State and pass the smart gun laws that have been proven over and over again to save lives.

Our hearts go out to the victims of the Orlando shooting, the LGBTQ community, and the more than 117,000 Americans shot every year. This is a sad day in the United States. All of us here at the Law Center vow to turn this pain into action and redouble our efforts fighting for a rational, commonsense approach to American gun laws.

To see how states rank when it comes to smart gun laws, check out the 2015 Gun Law State Scorecard.

To learn more about Florida’s gun laws, see our policy page. 

In the Thick of It: 2016’s Busy Legislative Cycle


Across the country, new gun legislation is being proposed at a steady pace, and our attorneys are hard at work, writing model laws, educating lawmakers and the public on smart gun laws, and tracking these bills as they wind their way through the legislative system. Last year, we tracked more than 1,300 bills and expect this year to be another busy one for smart gun laws at the state level—not to mention the ballot initiatives that will enable voters to enact lifesaving smart gun laws this November. For a full analysis of this cycle’s firearms legislation, visit our biweekly publication Gun Law Trendwatch.

We’ve started the year with critical victories in key states:

  • In Georgia, Governor Nathan Deal vetoed a deadly bill that would have allowed anyone over 21 to carry a concealed, loaded weapon on college campuses, which would have increased the opportunity for violent shootings.
  • In Nebraska, lawmakers stopped progress on a preemption bill that would have prevented municipalities from enacting lifesaving local laws, like ones that keep guns away from domestic violence shelters and prevent juvenile gang members and the dangerously mentally ill from obtaining deadly weapons.
  • In New Mexico, lawmakers passed powerful, bipartisan legislation to strengthen that state’s background check system by requiring state courts to report mental health records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). Closing this gap in the background checks law will help keep guns from falling into the wrong hands.
  • In Florida, lawmakers stopped progress on an open carry bill, which would have allowed 1.5 million people with concealed weapons permits to openly carry handguns in the Sunshine State.

The most exciting advances for smart gun laws still lie ahead—this November, voters in Maine and Nevada will see initiatives for universal background checks on their ballots. And signatures were recently turned in for two more ballot initiatives: one for Washington State to adopt a gun violence protective order (GVPO) law and another in California to support the Safety for All Act, sponsored by Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom.

We’re also keeping an eye on some extreme examples of gun lobby–sponsored legislation that pose a significant risk to public safety, including an Arizona bill to permit guns in government buildings and a bill in Oklahoma to allow people to carry guns in public without a permit, a top priority in the gun lobby’s deadly agenda.

Our legal experts stand on the front lines of the fight for smart gun laws that save lives—our attorneys track and analyze gun laws in all 50 states, file amicus briefs in critical Second Amendment cases across the country, and work with lawmakers and advocates to craft and promote legislation that will reduce gun violence and save lives. 2016 is shaping up to be another remarkable year for gun safety.

To learn more about the gun laws moving through statehouses this year, check out Gun Law Trendwatch.

Healing Communities in Crisis: Lifesaving Solutions to the Urban Gun Violence Epidemic

The crisis of American gun violence is perhaps most visible in our nation’s urban centers. The United States already has a higher-than-average homicide rate, but in cities like Baltimore and Detroit, that rate can be up to 10 times higher. And poor, minority communities are often the hardest hit—young black men in particular face a homicide rate 20 times higher than the national average. We have a shared duty to address this dire crisis and save the lives of those most vulnerable.

Fortunately, some cities have implemented successful programs that work in concert with smart gun laws to reduce the death toll for this population. In our new report, Healing Communities in Crisis: Lifesaving Solutions to the Urban Gun Violence Epidemic, produced in partnership with the PICO National Network, we’ve examined what works best when it comes to saving lives from gunfire.

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Healing Communities in Crisis
outlines two categories of solutions: intervention programs and policy reforms. These approaches are grounded in the insight that, in most communities, an incredibly small and identifiable population is responsible for the vast majority of gun violence. Our report highlights the following programs:

  • Group Violence Intervention (GVI) – In this approach to gun violence prevention, a partnership of law enforcement, community members, and service providers is assembled to meet with small groups of the most at-risk individuals in order to send a message that the shooting must stop. The program has now been replicated in a wide array of American cities, with consistently impressive results.
  • Cure Violence (CV) – This promising strategy treats violence like a communicable disease. The spread of violence is interrupted by employing Outreach Workers and Violence Interrupters to work directly with individuals most likely to commit or become the victims of gun violence. A community campaign is also conducted to change norms surrounding the use of violence.
  • Hospital-Based Violence Intervention Programs (HVIP) – Victims of violent injury are very likely to end up back in the hospital. This model takes advantage of a unique teachable moment by connecting violently injured youths with culturally competent case managers who are able to shepherd their clients to badly-needed social services that enable change.

Our report also lays out the policy reforms most likely to decrease the supply of crime guns in impacted communities. These policies include: universal background checks, permit to purchase laws, gun trafficking regulations, and prohibitions on large capacity ammunition magazines.

This crisis cannot be ignored any longer. It’s time for change—we must act to rebuild a sense of safety and security in our nation’s cities. Healing Communities in Crisis provides a way to move forward together.

Read Healing Communities in Crisis: Lifesaving Solutions to the Urban Gun Violence Epidemic

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

Extremism Leaves a Nation on Edge

Yesterday, the United States suffered yet another mass shooting—our 355th of the year. Fourteen were killed and 21 injured after two shooters rampaged through the Inland Regional Center in San Bernadino, California. Reports are emerging that the suspects were radicalized and have links to known terrorists.

Just days before, a Colorado Springs shopping center and Planned Parenthood fell under siege as a man radically opposed to abortion engaged in an hours-long standoff with law enforcement, killing three and injuring nine others with a semiautomatic rifle.

Four men have been charged in the November 23 shooting at a Black Lives Matter demonstration in Minneapolis, wounding five—an incident which authorities believe was racially motivated.

We need reform at the state and federal levels. We’re tired of our lawmakers offering their thoughts and prayers—those won’t stop the next mass shooter, or any of the 88 gun deaths we average per day. We’re ready for swift and decisive action to stop the 117,000 shootings the United States sees each year. And we know you are too. Our executive director, Robyn Thomas, wrote this op-ed for the Daily Dot on just how ready the American public is for the smart gun laws that will save lives.

…Action is needed. We are collectively answerable to the victims of gun violence and to an ever-growing community of grieving family members for the policies our leaders enact, or fail to enact, to protect our communities. We need to do more than just tweet sympathy—we need to force our leaders to pass the smart gun laws that the research has proven again and again save lives.

Polls have repeatedly shown that the American public is in broad agreement about what must be done to prevent gun violence. Over 90 percent of Americans support closing the loophole that allows felons, domestic abusers and the dangerously mentally ill to buy guns without a background check. Yet, thanks to pressure from the gun lobby, Congress has failed to act…

Read more…

While these shooters were all motivated by different factors and separated by hundreds of miles, a common thread ties the incidents together: it’s all too easy for extremists, zealots, and bigots to get their hands on deadly weapons when the impulse to inflict harm became too powerful to resist.

Read the full text of Robyn’s op-ed

For more information on California’s gun laws, see our policy page.

For more information on how your state stacks up when it comes to smart gun laws, see our annual Gun Law State Scorecard.



Closing the Terror Gap in American Gun Laws

Paris vigil
Last week, the world watched in horror as Paris came under attack–129 killed in coordinated mass shootings and bombings across the city. Our hearts are with the victims, their families, and those who survived the attack, and we stand with the people of the world in calling for an end to the kind of senseless violence that terrorized Paris and the global community this weekend.

As gun law experts, we know universal background checks and more effective mental health screenings will help prevent many of the headline-grabbing shootings we’ve seen in the last several years—these are effective, powerful ways to curb gun violence in our communities. But, it’s also important that we consider our nation’s security in the aftermath of the Paris attacks by looking at gaps in our gun laws–specifically concerning acts of terrorism.

One such weakness, the “terror gap,” persists because a hole in federal legislation does not bar those on the terrorist watchlist from purchasing firearms. Unlike felons, the dangerously mentally ill, and certain drug abusers, federal law does not prohibit known or suspected terrorists from purchasing guns. Though 82% of NRA members and 86% of non-NRA gun owners support such legislation, only one state (New Jersey in 2013) has taken appropriate steps to address the terror gap. This failure to act has resulted in drastic consequences:

To be clear, Friday’s attacks were not the result of weak national gun laws; with some of the most progressive gun laws in the world, France’s annual death rate from firearms is drastically lower than that of the United States. But illegal trafficking from nearby countries increases the availability of deadly weapons and makes it easier for terrorists to carry out acts of violence.

Within our own borders, weak gun laws in most states make it easy for deadly firearms to fall into the wrong hands. And this fact is far from a secret—a senior al-Qaeda leader even lauded how simple it is to obtain firearms in America, releasing a video message to urge followers to buy guns in states without universal background checks.

Acts of terrorism like the ones we witnessed last week and many of the strategies for combatting them are different in kind from the gun violence we see in American communities on a daily basis, but both situations are amplified by overwhelmingly easy access to deadly weapons. Trafficking may be what enables deplorable acts of terrorism like what we saw in Paris, but with effective legislation to close the terror gap, we can take important steps to ensure a safer, more secure environment for everyone.