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.”
Experts Available for Comment
To arrange an interview with a gun law or law enforcement expert, please email [email protected].
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.
On February 14, 2018, survivors of the horrific school shooting in Parkland, Florida, emerged from bullet-ridden classrooms and thrust gun violence into the national spotlight. The heightened focus on the school shooting epidemic raised important questions about the damage these shootings inflict on our nation’s youth and how they can best be prevented.
As the student activists called for accountability and action, the gun lobby spread dangerous myths that downplay the role of guns in school shootings. Our report, The Truth about School Shootings, seeks to dispel these myths and offers concrete recommendations for evidence-based policies that will ensure all of our students make it safely home from school.
The Truth about School Shootings dispels five prominent gun lobby myths:
- Myth 1: School shootings are just a fact of life.
- Myth 2: Nothing can be done to prevent school shootings.
- Myth 3: Schools need armed teachers to respond to school shootings.
- Myth 4: School shootings are largely caused by mental health issues.
- Myth 5: Children are most likely to experience gun violence at school.
Our report also outlines policy reforms which are likely to increase the safety of children both in and outside of school. These include extreme risk protection orders, which allow police and family members to petition a court for an order to temporarily disarm individuals at elevated risk of harming themselves or others, and child access prevention laws, which encourage safe storage of firearms by holding adults responsible when children gain access to their guns.
We do not—and should not—have to accept school shootings as the new normal. We shouldn’t have to live in a country where preschoolers are taught to crouch under desks during active shooter drills, where parents suffer through the fear and heartbreak of receiving goodbye texts from their teenagers. We can build a safer America by arming legislators with the facts instead of gun lobby talking points and urging them to pass the gun safety laws that will keep our children safe.
Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence released the latest edition of its Annual Gun Law Scorecard, which grades and ranks each state on the strength of its gun laws. This comprehensive, 50-state analysis clearly shows fewer people die from gun violence in states with strong gun laws. In response to rising rates of gun violence in America, public demands for action intensified last year and as a result, many states passed gun safety measures, which improved their scores—some for the first time since Giffords Law Center began conducting this analysis in 2010.
“America’s devastating gun violence epidemic is growing and impacting every part of our country because too many lawmakers would rather wish it away than acknowledge their role in advancing solutions to make our communities safer,” said Robyn Thomas, executive director of Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. “This public safety threat needs to be addressed with facts, evidence, and action. We’ve proven that lawmakers can save lives, reduce violence, and make their states safer by following a simple blueprint: pass gun violence prevention laws. Every year, our scorecard is a reminder to states that progress is possible, but also a reminder of the work we have left to accomplish. The Gun Law Scorecard should be both a resource and roadmap for elected leaders, activists, and concerned citizens to take action.”
The Annual Gun Law Scorecard clearly demonstrates that there is a significant opportunity to address the nation’s gun violence epidemic if more states act. In 2017 the number of people who died from gun violence rose for the third year in a row, reaching 39,773 deaths. In fact, 2017 is the first year in American history that gun deaths outpaced car crashes by more than 1,000 deaths.
Of the 10 states with the lowest gun death rates, seven have some of the strongest gun laws in the country, receiving a B+ or better on this year’s Gun Law Scorecard. All seven states have passed private-sale background checks on some or all gun sales.
- Hawaii (A-)
- Massachusetts (A-)
- New York (A-)
- Rhode Island (B+)
- Connecticut (A-)
- New Jersey (A)
- California (A)
Of the 10 states with the highest gun death rates, all received F grades on this year’s Scorecard. Despite powerful data demonstrating the correlation between gun law strength and gun death rates, several states have ignored public cries for action and done little or nothing to strengthen their gun laws in recent years.
- Alaska (F)
- Alabama (F)
- Montana (F)
- Louisiana (F)
- Mississippi (F)
- Missouri (F)
- Arkansas (F)
- Wyoming (F)
- West Virginia (F)
- New Mexico (F)
After the massacre at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February 2018, Florida enacted a package of bills to create an extreme risk protection law, a higher minimum age for buying firearms, and stronger waiting periods. These changes resulted in a dramatic grade increase, raising Florida’s grade from an F to a C-—the biggest improvement in any state on this year’s Gun Law Scorecard.
Vermont was the second-most improved state in 2018 and passed gun safety laws for the first time in its history, raising its grade from an F to a D+. Vermont’s comprehensive package of new gun safety laws includes universal background checks, extreme risk protection orders, a higher minimum age to purchase firearms, a ban on large-capacity ammunition magazines, and a new policy to allow law enforcement to remove firearms in certain domestic violence incidents. Previously, the state had virtually no gun safety laws but this legislation had support on both sides of the aisle and was signed into law by a Republican governor.
While last year we saw 67 gun safety bills signed into law in 26 states and DC, the changes in eight states were significant enough to raise these states’ grades:
- NJ (Increased from A- to A): New Jersey continued to pass strong gun laws in 2018 by closing a long gun loophole in its background check law, strengthening its ban on large-capacity ammunition magazines, prohibiting bump stocks and undetectable and untraceable firearms, and enacting an extreme risk protection order law. New Jersey also allocated $2 million to gun violence prevention research.
- WA (Increased from B to B+): Washington State strengthened its gun laws and raised its grade from a B to a B+ in 2018 with laws that restrict domestic abusers’ access to firearms and ban bump stocks. The state enacted several other provision via ballot initiative, including waiting periods, child access prevention and minimum age restrictions.
- PA (Increased from C to C+): Pennsylvania strengthened its gun laws in 2018 by prohibiting firearm possession by individuals who have been convicted of domestic abuse or are subject to domestic violence protective orders, and requiring those individuals to relinquish their firearms.
- OR (Increased from C to C+): Oregon strengthened its gun laws in 2018 by prohibiting stalkers from owning firearms, expanding domestic violence protections to apply to dating partners, and improving law enforcement’s ability to investigate attempted firearm purchases by people prohibited from owning guns.
- FL (Increased from F to C-): After the mass shooting in Parkland in February, Florida’s state legislature passed a package of gun safety bills that included an extreme risk protection law, a higher minimum age for buying firearms, and stronger waiting periods to purchase a firearm.
- NE (Increased from D to C-): Nebraska raised its grade from a D to a C- after funding urban gun violence reduction programs and broadening the category of people prohibited from purchasing firearms.
- VT (Increased from F to D+): In 2018, Vermont comprehensively strengthened its previously weak gun laws by passing universal background checks and extreme risk protection order legislation, raising the minimum age to purchase firearms, banning sales of large-capacity ammunition magazines, and authorizing law enforcement to remove firearms in certain domestic violence incidents.
- UT (Increased from F to D-): Utah strengthened its gun laws and raised its grade from a D- to an F in 2018 by expanding protections for domestic violence survivors and funding violence prevention programs.
Background checks critical to improving more scores
Since the Annual Gun Law Scorecard was created one of the key findings has been that to raise their grade and save lives, all states should enact universal background checks, closing the dangerous loophole in federal gun laws that allows individuals to obtain firearms at gun shows and on the internet without a background check. Twenty states and Washington DC have so far extended the background check requirement beyond federal law. Instituting universal background checks at the federal level would help keep guns out of the wrong hands by improving the patchwork of state laws that currently leaves state with universal background checks vulnerable to ineffective implementation and trafficking. If they enacted universal background checks, 28 states would see their grades jump at least one full letter grade, though some would increase two.
Activists are leading the charge to beat back dangerous gun lobby bills
This year’s Gun Law Scorecard also highlights how successful efforts by gun violence prevention advocates to thwart gun lobby–backed bills allowed many states to keep their high grades. This year is the first time since 2012 that no state lost points for either of the two biggest gun lobby priorities—guns on campus and permitless carry. No states saw their score downgraded by an entire letter grade. This is further proof that the gun lobby is losing its influence over state houses across America as voters and advocates stand up to gun lobby-backed legislation intended to weaken gun laws. In 2018, advocates were successful in helping defeat dozens of dangerous gun lobby-backed bills in more than half of the states, including stopping permitless carry bills and halting the attempted enactment of measures to allow guns on college campuses, universities, and K–12 schools.
Experts Available for Comment
- Robyn Thomas, Executive Director, Giffords Law Center
- Laura Cutilletta, Managing Director, Giffords Law Center
- Allison Anderman, Managing Attorney, Giffords Law Center
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 gun safety laws to protect these vulnerable members of the population. Our report Healing Communities in Crisis: Lifesaving Solutions to the Urban Gun Violence Epidemic, produced in partnership with the PICO National Network, examines what works best when it comes to saving lives from gun violence in our nation’s urban centers.
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, a very small and easily identifiable population is responsible for the vast majority of gun violence. Our report highlights the following programs:
- Group Violence Intervention: In this approach to gun violence prevention, a partnership of law enforcement, community members, and service providers meets with small groups of the most at-risk individuals in order to send a message that the shooting must stop. This approach has now been replicated in a wide array of American cities, with consistently impressive results.
- Cure Violence: 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:Victims of violent injury are very likely to end up back in the hospital. This model takes advantage of a uniquely teachable moment by connecting violently injured youths with culturally competent case managers who are able to connect their clients with badly needed social services that enable change.
Our report also lays out the policy reforms most likely to reduce the supply of crime guns in impacted communities, including 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 now to bring safety and security to our nation’s cities. Healing Communities in Crisis provides a roadmap for moving forward together.
HR 8 introduced in the first days of 116th Congress
Washington DC—Former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, co-founder with her husband, Captain Mark Kelly, of the gun violence prevention organization Giffords, reacted to the introduction of HR 8—the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019 in the House of Representatives on the anniversary of the Tucson shooting. Giffords joined with Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Gun Violence Prevention Task Force Chairman Mike Thompson at the US Capitol Building today to announce the legislation. Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) also introduced a companion bill in the Senate today.
Former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords:
“Just a few weeks ago, we learned that in the past year nearly 40,000 people died from gun violence. Every day more than 100 Americans die from a gunshot. These deaths are a sad reminder that for too long too many politicians ignored this crisis, siding with special interests over the public’s safety.
“Gun violence has resulted in tragedy in countless communities—including my own. Eight years ago today a gunman opened fire in Tucson, killing six, injuring 12, and leaving me partially paralyzed. I can’t get back what I had, and the families of those killed experienced loss deeper still. But I can fight to protect others.
“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 change just over the horizon. They knew the power of the gun lobby could be broken by the power of the people.
“Last year millions of Americans spoke up, marched, and voted for new leaders who would make a safer future for all families a priority. Now, for the first time in decades, Democrats and Republicans in the House of Representatives are coming together to take action. Congress will be silent no more. Regardless of party, we must fight to stop this heartbreaking public safety threat from becoming a new normal, and we must do it together.
“The introduction of the bipartisan background checks bill in the House today marks a critical first step toward strengthening America’s gun laws and making our country a better place to live, work, study, worship, and play. When lives are at stake, we make progress by never giving up. I stand ready to do everything in my power to get bipartisan universal background checks across the finish line.”
Last November millions of Americans, angered by a Congress that refused to address our nation’s gun violence crisis, elected a new majority to the House of Representatives that pledged action. As the new Congress has begun to consider legislation, Giffords is pushing for immediate progress on two key gun safety priorities: passing universal background checks and funding Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) research into the country’s epidemic of gun violence. Other Giffords policy priorities that should become the subject of bills, hearings, and action can be found in a policy memo for the 116th Congress.
RELATED RESOURCES ABOUT UNIVERSAL BACKGROUND CHECKS
- Resource Page: Universal Background Checks—This Giffords Law Center webpage is a clearinghouse of data and policy analysis on universal background checks.
- Factsheet: Universal Background Checks—This one-page factsheet from Giffords Law Center details existing loopholes in federal background check laws.
- Factsheet: HR 8—This one-page factsheet from Giffords details how the universal background checks bill introduced today will close those existing loopholes.
RELATED RESOURCES ABOUT FUNDING CDC RESEARCH
- Coalition News: Giffords Partnership with Medical, Health Groups—Giffords joined with 14 leading medical and health groups in a new effort, expected to bring on more organizations in the coming year, to urge Congress to address America’s gun violence crisis.
- Factsheet: Researching Gun Violence—This factsheet explains how Congress forced the CDC to stop researching gun violence as a public health problem.
Experts are available for comment by contacting [email protected].
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. We must do more to protect the veterans who risked their lives to protect us.
In February 2018, a 33-year-old Iraq War veteran named Justin shot and killed himself in the parking lot of the Minneapolis VA Hospital. Days earlier, the former Marine had called the Veterans Crisis Line reporting suicidal ideation and said he had immediate access to guns. After being referred to the emergency room of the Minneapolis VA Hospital, Justin spent four days there before tragically taking his life with a gun the day after he was released.
A report released in September outlined a number of failures on the part of the Minneapolis VA Hospital, including a lack of proper documentation of Justin’s access to firearms. Three members of the VA staff reported that Justin had immediate access to guns, three reported that he didn’t, and three more were unsure.
The system failed Justin, and we continue to fail our veterans by neglecting to face our country’s gun suicide crisis. From 2007 to 2016, the veteran suicide rate increased by 32%. Increases were particularly dramatic among veterans ages 18 to 34.
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. If Justin hadn’t had access to guns during his moment of crisis, his death might have been prevented. 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 protection orders (ERPO), 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, 11 states have passed versions of ERPO laws. Minnesota is not among them, but had it been, those closest to Justin would have had a critical tool to help him in his time of need.
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 fight for these lifesaving laws.