Giffords Law Center’s new report The Case for Firearm Licensing is intended to move the conversation forward on a key policy for saving lives: gun licensing.
As the nation battles a coronavirus epidemic that has the majority of Americans sheltering in place, the devastating crisis of gun violence persists for too many families and communities across the country. The ability to stop at least one of these crises in its tracks is within our control: research tells us what laws and policies will work to end gun violence, and licensing is at the top of the list.
Research cuts through the noise and shows us the truth: firearm licensing is key to saving lives. Connecticut’s licensing law, enacted in 1995, was responsible for a 40% decrease in the state’s firearm homicide rate and a 15% decrease in its firearm suicide rate. When Missouri repealed its licensing law in 2007, its firearm homicide rate increased by an estimated 17 to 27% and its firearm suicide rate increased by 16%.
Gun safety will undoubtedly be a winning issue in the 2020 election, with more Americans than ever supporting stronger gun laws, including licensing. According to polling conducted by Global Strategy Group in November 2019, 86% of likely 2020 voters support licensing policies.
The research is clear: licensing is working in the states that have put it into practice. As documented in our Annual Gun Law Scorecard, of the 10 states with the lowest gun death rates in 2018, nine of the ten have implemented licensing or safety certificate requirements.
Giffords recommends that licensing systems include the following core components:
- Background Checks
- In-Person Interaction with Law Enforcement
- Law Enforcement Input
- Waiting Periods
- Bulk Purchase Prohibitions
- Firearms Safety Courses
- Relinquishment Procedures
- Limited Period of Validity
Bold, comprehensive progress on gun safety means establishing a federal standard for licensing laws. Giffords recommends that Congress pass a federal licensing requirement that uses grant funding to incentivize states to adopt licensing systems meeting a set of minimum standards. There’s no time to waste—the time for action is now.
In the past decade, the criminal justice reform movement has occasioned a national reckoning around the ways police departments operate in underserved communities across the country. Americans across the country are asking the question: Who receives protection—and at what cost?
In Pursuit of Peace: Building Police-Community Trust to Break the Cycle of Violence examines how community trust, policing, and gun violence intersect in 21st century America. As the report explores, extensive research indicates that when communities experience over-enforcement of minor infractions and under-protection from violence, trust in law enforcement plummets. Without a foundation of trust, community members become less likely to report crimes and participate as active witnesses with law enforcement.
This lack of trust and participation makes it much more difficult for law enforcement to hold people accountable for violence, and in the absence of a trusted or effective justice system, encourages a desperate few to resort to vigilante, retaliatory violence instead. Instances of police violence are often the most visible manifestations of this breakdown in trust, and make it much more difficult for communities and law enforcement to work together to ensure that all residents are healthy, safe, and free.
In recent years, a number of communities, including Camden, New Jersey, and Stockton, California, have taken important steps to build community trust, reform ineffective policing practices, and reduce violence. In Pursuit of Peace explores the trust-building efforts in progress in cities around the country and highlights the lifesaving potential of these critical reforms.
The gun violence prevention movement owes a debt of gratitude to the activists and organizations that have long been fighting to make policing and the criminal justice system at large fairer and more equitable for all (for an incomplete list of these organizations, see our Acknowledgements on p. 3 of the report).
It is our hope that In Pursuit of Peace both elevates difficult truths about the way our system frequently fails our most underserved communities, and serves as a collective call to action to build earned and durable trust between American communities and the law enforcement agencies that serve them.
Our country is in the middle of a gun suicide crisis, one that is particularly acute among our veterans. The veteran suicide rate is more than twice as high as the non-veteran adult suicide rate.
Today more than 6,000 American veterans die by suicide each year, and nearly 70% of these deaths involve firearms. From 2005 to 2017, the veteran suicide rate increased by nearly 41%. We must do more to protect the veterans who risked their lives to protect us.
Research suggests that having a gun in the home triples a person’s overall risk of suicide, and nearly half of all veterans own firearms. Because 85% of gun suicide attempts end in death, when individuals in crisis reach for a gun, they rarely survive.
Gun safety laws like extreme risk laws allow families, household members, or law enforcement officers to proactively save a loved one’s life by petitioning a court for an order temporarily restricting a person’s access to guns if they are deemed a danger to themselves or others. So far, 17 states plus Washington DC have passed extreme risk laws.
By limiting access to guns among those at a proven risk of suicide, we can save thousands of American lives every year. We owe it to our veterans to ensure every state has this law.
The U.S. Supreme Court today refused to hear a case that challenged an important gun safety law in New Jersey which requires applicants for a concealed weapon permit show a “justifiable need” before they may carry a firearm in public. By not hearing Drake v. Jerejian, the Supreme Court leaves in place a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit finding New Jersey’s concealed weapons permitting system to be constitutional and an important part of protecting citizens from dangerous firearms in public spaces.
The question of whether the Second Amendment applies outside of the home is a major issue across the nation right now. Several states, including New Jersey, New York, and California, give law enforcement the discretion to decide whether a person has a legitimate need to carry a concealed weapon in public places. Strong concealed weapons permitting systems serve to improve public safety by helping to keep guns out of public places.
Of the five U.S. Courts of Appeals that have heard Second Amendment challenges to these kinds of laws, four have found them to be constitutional. Only recently did a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit unexpectedly break with the other courts in finding San Diego’s permitting system to violate the Second Amendment – a radical decision that has the potential to be overturned if the Ninth Circuit decides to rehear the case with a full panel of judges.
The Supreme Court’s decision today is part of a larger trend in which the Court has repeatedly refused to hear Second Amendment challenges to common sense gun laws. Since the landmark Supreme Court decisions in Heller and McDonald, the Court has denied review in over 60 Second Amendment challenges to our nation’s gun laws. As a result, the Court has refused to disturb the large number of federal and state court decisions upholding strong gun regulations.
In rejecting the gun lobby’s request to hear the Drake case today, the Supreme Court has left this issue in the hands of the lower courts, the vast majority of which have approved laws, like those in New Jersey, which serve to protect citizens from a flood of dangerous firearms in public places.
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 concealed weapon permitting laws nationwide.
Every three hours, someone is killed with a gun in Texas in incidents that often don’t make the news. Texas’s weak gun laws make it far too easy for individuals intent on harming themselves or others to purchase firearms, including weapons of war.
This report, Gun Laws and Violence in the State of Texas, provides an overview of the rise of hate-fueled violence across the country, explores the devastating impact that gun violence has on the people of Texas, and outlines policy recommendations for curbing this epidemic.
These policy recommendations include the following:
- Passing universal background checks
- Enacting extreme risk protection orders
- Disarming violent domestic abusers, hate crime offenders, and others convicted of violent crimes
- Strengthening protections against military-style weapons
- Limiting young people’s unsupervised access to firearms
- Giving law enforcement tools to curb the flow of illegal guns on the black market
- Investing in lifesaving violence intervention programs to break the cycle of violence
- Allowing local governments to enact gun laws fitting the needs of their communities
The 3,000 lives lost to gun violence in Texas each year are not inevitable. Legislators in Texas should take immediate action to protect their constituents from this crisis.
Last Friday, hundreds of our supporters gathered in San Francisco for Giffords Law Center’s 26th Anniversary Dinner. We spent the evening remembering those we’ve lost to gun violence and celebrating the victories our movement has achieved in the past year. Thank you to those of you who were there and to those of you who were there in spirit.
The above video features highlights from what was truly an inspiring evening. Speaker Nancy Pelosi received our 2019 Courageous Leadership Award, and TOMS CEO Jim Alling spoke with Giffords Executive Director Peter Ambler about the role of the private sector in the fight to end gun violence.
We are truly grateful for the sponsors and supporters who made this evening possible, and whose generosity and commitment fuels our work every day.
2018 was a year of remarkable progress for the the gun safety movement, and that progress has continued into 2019. But now sheriffs in a handful of states, including Colorado and New Mexico, are jeopardizing this progress, and putting the safety of residents at risk. A number of sheriffs in states around the country have declared their counties “Second Amendment sanctuaries” and say they won’t enforce new gun safety laws on the grounds that they aren’t constitutional.
In April 2018, Colorado became the 15th state to enact an extreme risk law. Extreme risk laws, which allow courts to temporarily disarm individuals in crisis, are extremely effective at preventing gun suicides, which make up two-thirds of all firearm deaths in the United States. More than half of Colorado’s counties have declared opposition to the law, and numerous sheriffs have said they’ll flat out refuse to enforce the law. By obstructing critical tools proven to save lives, these sheriffs are threatening the very residents whose rights they claim to protect.
Our new report, How “Second Amendment Sanctuaries” Are Threatening Lifesaving Gun Laws, outlines how the strongest opposition to enforcing extreme risk laws is coming from counties that could benefit from it the most. In Colorado, 22 out of the 24 sanctuary counties for which suicide data is available—92%—had firearm suicide rates above the state average.
It’s no coincidence that opposition to strong gun laws is highest in counties with disproportionately high firearm suicide rates. Rates of gun ownership in those mostly rural counties are high, so sheriffs think choosing to protect guns over people is a political winner. They do so at great risk to vulnerable members of the population.
At a time when states across the country are looking for smart public policy that will reduce gun violence and save lives, gun policy must be based on evidence, not misguided rhetoric.
Gun homicides in the US, the vast majority of which occur in our densely populated city centers, claim thousands of lives every year. To address the problem, the criminal justice system has historically relied heavily on hard-line tactics like invasive stops and seizures or overly punitive sentencing. In many places where violence is most pervasive, these strategies have done more harm than good.
Communities across the country are demanding a better solution. The City of Oakland, California, believes it’s found an answer in Oakland Ceasefire.
Our new report, A Case Study in Hope: Lessons from Oakland’s Remarkable Reduction in Gun Violence, outlines the steps the city has taken since 2012 to cut its homicides and nonfatal shootings in half.
This report, produced in collaboration with Faith in Action and the Black and Brown Gun Violence Prevention Consortium, is the third in our series of reports on the gun violence crisis afflicting our nation’s cities. Oakland’s incredible transformation is the result of hard work on the part of city, law enforcement, and community members—and what these leaders have managed to achieve is nothing short of astounding.
A Case Study in Hope traces Oakland’s inspiring journey to reduce gun violence and explores the vital ingredients that can make or break a violence reduction strategy. The five core components of Oakland Ceasefire are as follows:
- A thorough analysis of violent incidents and trends
- Respectful, in person communications with high-risk residents
- Relationship-based social services
- Narrowly focused law enforcement actions
- An intentional management structure
Other cities can and should learn from Oakland’s remarkable success. The second part of our report focuses on takeaways for community members, city leaders, and law enforcement in other cities, in the hope that these key stakeholders will take decisive action to protect their most vulnerable residents. When it comes to saving lives from gun violence, we don’t have a moment to lose.
Washington DC—Today, former Representative Gabrielle Giffords released the following statement reacting to the historic action taken by the US House of Representatives today to pass H.R. 8, the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019, legislation that will require a background check on every gun sale.
FORMER CONGRESSWOMAN GABRIELLE GIFFORDS:
“Today’s historic gun safety victory in Congress is a testament to courage. When the days were darkest, when it looked like the gun lobby’s money and influence would forever silence any debate in Washington about stronger gun laws, courage shone through. Courage embodied by relentless advocates and resilient survivors who never lost sight of the fact that a safer future is possible. Courage exemplified by leaders who victoriously ran for office promising to fight for solutions to make our country safer from gun violence. Just eight weeks into the new Congress, courage is what inspired the U.S. House of Representatives to pass H.R. 8, the Bipartisan Background Checks Act.
“Americans finally have a majority in the House of Representatives that is listening to them. The leaders we elected to protect us are finally fighting to make our country a safer place to live, work, study, worship, and play.
“Tragically, the cost to our communities while we waited over a decade for this progress has been far too high. Hundreds of thousands of American lives have been lost. Far too many families and communities, including my own, have been forever changed by the horror of gun violence. Places that should always feel safe—our schools, our houses of worship—feel like they’re under attack. We will not let this devastating and tragic reality become the new normal.
“Today’s victory in the House is a critical first step toward stronger gun laws that will save lives. The responsibility to take the next step now shifts to the Senate. Over 90 percent of the American electorate is demanding that they move this legislation forward. Make no mistake: those voters are watching carefully. When tragedy strikes, voters will remember who took action to protect them, and who looked the other way. Never doubt the will of the American people. Their courage to fight for a safer America will not be ignored.”
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Background on Giffords Efforts to Pass H.R. 8
H.R. 8 was introduced on January 8th, which also marked the eighth anniversary of the Tucson shooting. Former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords joined Speaker Pelosi and Congressman Thompson for a press conference on Capitol Hill to unveil the legislation. In the weeks since, Giffords has been publicly advocating for swift passage of the bill. Giffords elevated the voices of Americans demanding action by teaming up with March for Our Lives, Town Hall Project, TOMS, and Levi’s to host a nationwide series of Gun Safety Town Halls rallying support for H.R. 8.
Giffords Law Center Executive Director Robyn Thomas testified before the House Judiciary Committee urging swift passage of H.R. 8. She also spoke at the last gun violence prevention hearing held in the House, over a decade ago.
The Giffords Law Enforcement Coalition sent a letter to congressional leadership urging them to pass the lifesaving legislation. Signed by 15 law enforcement leaders from across the country, the letter illustrated the urgent need to close loopholes in America’s background checks system that endanger communities, including the thousands of law enforcement officials who put their lives on the line every day for our public safety.
Members of the Giffords Veterans Coalition sent a letter to congressional leadership highlighting the fact that horrific mass shootings and the daily toll of gun violence have left Americans feeling less safe and called on Congress to close loopholes in the country’s background check system that leave communities in danger. These 13 top veteran military leaders point out why immediate action is needed as the gun death rate in America has reached its highest level in nearly 40 years.
Americans overwhelmingly agree that dangerous people shouldn’t be able to access deadly weapons—yet a dangerous gap in our laws makes it far too easy for armed felons and violent criminals to illegally keep their guns after they’re convicted.
Our report Keeping Illegal Guns Out of Dangerous Hands: America’s Deadly Relinquishment Gap provides an overview of relinquishment laws in all 50 states and identifies a series of best practices lawmakers can adopt to save lives from gun violence and close this deadly loophole.
Laws that prohibit convicted criminals from purchasing new weapons aren’t enough to keep Americans safe from gun violence. States should mandate that these newly prohibited individuals turn in, sell, or otherwise rid themselves of their weapons after conviction, and require proof that these people are no longer in possession of their guns.
In California, the state with the strongest gun laws in the nation, law enforcement reported that in 2014 alone, more than 3,200 people illegally kept their guns after a new criminal conviction. Many of these individuals went on to commit crimes with those guns. Relinquishment laws would help prevent this.
Our research on gun relinquishment also revealed:
- States often rely on the honor system to manage the relinquishment process, trusting violent criminals and other prohibited people to voluntarily turn in their weapons.
- Failure to implement relinquishment procedures often has deadly consequences: Multi-state surveys of prison inmates indicate that between 40% and 69% of those incarcerated for firearm-related crimes were legally prohibited from owning firearms when they committed their offense.
- It costs taxpayers millions of dollars each year when prohibited people like violent felons are picked up on weapons charges and subsequently incarcerated.
The firearm relinquishment gap puts Americans in all 50 states at grave risk. Keeping Illegal Guns Out of Dangerous Hands aims to address the challenge of relinquishment and to encourage lawmakers to establish best practices and mandatory procedures to keep illegal weapons out of our communities.
We hope this report will help provide a path to effective gun violence prevention for lawmakers, so fewer Americans fall victim to heartbreaking, preventable shootings.