STATEMENT: Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and Captain Mark Kelly on the 10th Anniversary of Virginia Tech Massacre

April 14, 2017 – Ten years ago, on Sunday, April 16, a gunman opened fire on campus at Virginia Tech in an attack that claimed the lives of 32 students and professors and wounded 17. At the time, it was the deadliest mass shooting in American history. Today, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and Captain Mark Kelly, co-founders of Americans for Responsible Solutions, issued the following statement:

“As we pause to reflect on that horrific day at Virginia Tech ten years ago, our hearts are with those whose lives and families were forever changed. We know the heartbreak they face daily – and we stand with them in the fight to make America safer by finding solutions to prevent senseless gun violence.

“Like the shooting in Tucson, the Virginia Tech massacre was a reminder of the devastation that can occur when untreated mental health disorders and access to guns are combined. Virginia Tech is also a reminder that our nation’s leaders can respond to tragedy by taking action to make our communities safer. In the aftermath of the massacre, President George W. Bush signed the bipartisan NICS Improvement Amendments Act of 2007, which sought to ensure individuals who are ineligible to possess guns for mental health or other reasons could easily be identified through the background check system.

“Americans should be alarmed that ten years later, Congress is now taking steps to dismantle the lifesaving improvements passed in the wake of the Virginia Tech tragedy. Following an election season in which the gun lobby doubled down on promoting policies that make our communities less safe, one of the first acts of the new Congress was to roll back the Social Security Administration’s regulations, therefore allowing certain severely mentally disabled individuals to buy guns. The House of Representatives also recently passed a bill that would immediately allow over 174,000 veterans who are currently prohibited from obtaining guns — because they are struggling with conditions like long-term severe PTSD, schizophrenia, and dementia — to buy guns. This action puts those individuals at risk and threatens the safety of our communities.

“As our leaders stand with the Virginia Tech community to remember the horror that unfolded ten years ago, they must also remember that it’s their responsibility to seek solutions that can prevent future tragedies. There is more work to be done and we cannot afford to undo the policies that have helped save lives in the last ten years. America deserves better.”

Related Resource: Remembering Virginia Tech – NICS and Background Checks a Decade Later

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STATEMENT: Americans for Responsible Solutions Applauds the Illinois Senate Committee for Advancing Bill To Help Slow The Flow Of Illegal Guns

SB 1657 Would Give State Authorities and Law Enforcement the Tools to Encourage Better Business Practices Among Federally Licensed Gun Dealers and Hold Corrupt Dealers Accountable

Washington, DC –  Americans for Responsible Solutions, the national gun violence prevention organization founded by former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and retired NASA astronaut Captain Mark Kelly, and the Illinois Gun Violence Prevention Coalition today applauded the Illinois Senate Judiciary Committee for advancing a new proposal, the Gun Dealer Licensing Act (SB 1657), to help slow the flow of illegal guns in Illinois, and urged legislators to act to save lives. The bill would give state authorities and law enforcement the tools to encourage better business practices among federally licensed gun dealers and hold corrupt dealers accountable to slow the flow of illegal gun trafficking in Illinois and help keep guns out of the wrong hands.

Robin Lloyd, State Legislative Director of Government Affairs, Americans for Responsible Solutions, issued the following statement:

“This bill will help level the playing field for gun dealers throughout Illinois by promoting common sense business practices that will curb the in-state trafficking of illegal firearms. We applaud leaders in Illinois for advancing a commonsense proposal that will crack down on the illegal gun trade and help keep guns out of dangerous hands,” “We thank the bill’s sponsor, Senator Don Harmon, and members of the Illinois Senate Judiciary – Criminal Committee who supported this this bill that will hold negligent gun dealers accountable while protecting responsible dealers and the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding people. We urge the leaders in the Illinois Senate to follow suit and support these responsible changes to Illinois’ laws.”

Negligent gun dealers within Illinois fuel the illegal gun trade. From 2009 to 2013, 40 percent of the guns used in crimes in Chicago came from gun dealers within Illinois. But thanks to loopholes in federal law and a lack of federal resources for enforcement, Illinois doesn’t have the tools and authority it needs to combat illegal or negligent business practices that threaten Illinois families.

The Gun Dealer Licensing Act will help slow the the flow of illegal guns through a number of small changes to the state’s laws, including:

  • Requiring Criminal Background Checks for Gun Dealer Employees: Gun store employees often have access to huge inventories of guns and it is just common sense to make sure that the dealer and employees are just as responsible as the buyers.
  • Training and Education for Gun Dealers Employees So Our Background Check System Can Work Better:  The bill would require training to ensure that dealers and their employees know how to conduct background checks, identify and stop straw purchases, and properly store guns to prevent thefts.
  • Ensuring Gun Dealers Are Held Accountable:  IDFPR and law enforcement would have the ability to inspect the inventories of licensed gun dealers, so we can make sure gun dealers are held accountable for missing firearms.

Between 2002 – 2014, 14,273 people were killed with guns in Illinois, nearly three times the number of all U.S. combat troops killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined. A person is killed with a gun in Illinois every eight hours. In 2014, 1,179 people were killed by guns in Illinois. [Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence]

In 2016, Former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords helped launch the Illinois Gun Violence Prevention Coalition, which brought together gun violence prevention advocates, faith leaders, medical professionals and others to urge support for commonsense gun violence prevention policies, including the Gun Dealer Licensing Act. Captain Mark Kelly also met with leaders in Illinois last spring to advocate for the bill which will help reduce the illegal trafficking of firearms through straw purchasers, keeping guns out of the wrong hands.

STATEMENT: Gun Safety Groups Applaud the California State Assembly Public Safety Committee Taking Action to Keep Guns Out of the Hands of Convicted Hate Crime Offenders

Washington, DC –  Americans for Responsible Solutions, the national gun violence prevention organization founded by former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and retired NASA astronaut Captain Mark Kelly, and its partner organization, the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, today applauded the California State Assembly Public Safety Committee for advancing AB 785, a bill that will help keep guns out of dangerous hands, with unanimous bipartisan support. Current California state law prohibits persons who have been convicted of certain misdemeanors from purchasing or possessing firearms within 10 years of conviction. AB 785 will add convictions of hate crime misdemeanors to that list.

Ari Freilich, a staff attorney at Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, who testified at the California State House earlier today in support of AB 785,  issued the following statement:

“Making our communities safer begins by making sure dangerous people are not able to get their hands on a gun. Strengthening our laws to make sure hate crime offenders are not able to own or acquire firearms within 10 years of their conviction is a common sense solution. Keeping lethal weapons out of the hands of those who have demonstrated a clear criminal danger toward others based on toxic bigotry will make our state safer and freer for all who call it home. I urge the Assembly to follow suit and pass this important bill in a bipartisan fashion.”

Between 2010 and 2014, roughly 43,000 hate crimes were committed in the United States involving the use or threatened use of a gun. AB 785 will help protect California residents from hate-motivated gun violence by:

  • Keeping guns out of the hands of violent extremists and hate groups.

  • Ensuring that individuals who have already demonstrated a propensity to escalate their bigotry into criminal conduct are temporarily prevented from possessing or acquiring firearms.

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Gabby Giffords & New Mexico Leaders Applaud The State Legislature For Advancing Bill That Would Prevent Domestic Abusers From Possessing Firearms, Call On Governor Martinez To Sign The Lifesaving Legislation

March 16, 2017 — Today, the New Mexico State Legislature passed Senate Bill 259, which prohibits people subject to domestic violence protective orders from possessing firearms and establishes a process for domestic abusers to physically relinquish their firearms. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, the Co-Founder of the gun violence prevention organization Americans for Responsible Solutions (ARS), and members of the newly launched “New Mexico Coalition for Common Sense,” issued the following statements applauding this development and calling on Governor Martinez to sign the bill:

“Like so many others around our country, New Mexico families know that guns and domestic violence are a deadly, tragic mix. New Mexico’s domestic violence survivors, advocates and public safety officials have long called for commonsense solutions to protect victims of domestic violence. And today, leaders in the New Mexico Legislature came together to advance a responsible bill that will protect vulnerable families by closing the loopholes that let domestic abusers possess guns,” said Congresswoman Giffords. “I want to thank Senator Joseph Cervantes for his leadership in sponsoring this important legislation. Today’s vote puts New Mexico one step closer to joining the growing list of states across the country who have taken responsible steps that makes it harder for domestic abusers to access guns. I hope that Governor Martinez will follow in the footsteps of so many other Republican and Democratic governors across the country, sign this responsible, bipartisan bill into law, and make it harder for dangerous people to get their hands on guns.”

“Today, leaders in Santa Fe voted to protect our families and neighbors by advancing a proposal that will close the dangerous loophole in New Mexico law that gives domestic abusers easy access to firearms,” said Kelly Famiglietta, President, Domestic Violence Resource Center, Inc., advisory committee member for the New Mexico Coalition for Common Sense. “This positive step forward will help keep guns out of dangerous hands and will save lives. We urge Governor Martinez to sign this life-saving bill.”

“As a law enforcement professional, I’ve seen how tragedy occurs when guns fall into the hands of dangerous people, like domestic abusers,” said Marco Serna, District Attorney, Office of the First Judicial District Attorney, advisory committee member for the New Mexico Coalition for Common Sense. When law enforcement responds to a domestic violence call, they have no idea whether or not an abuser is armed with a firearm. This commonsense legislation would make it more difficult domestic abusers to possess guns, which will save lives and make it easier for law enforcement to do their job.”

OVERVIEW OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE & CURRENT NEW MEXICO LAW

In 2010, New Mexico had the seventh-highest rate of women being killed by men—the majority of which occur with a firearm. Children are killed by guns at a rate almost 60 percent higher than the national average. Of the 123 domestic violence homicides in New Mexico from 2003 to 2012, more than one-half of the victims—50.4 percent—were killed with guns. Firearms accounted for the murders of 143 women in New Mexico from 2002 to 2011.
New Mexico currently follows federal law and requires background checks for firearm purchases at federally licensed firearms dealers. However, New Mexico does NOT require background checks for purchases from unlicensed dealers, including at gun shows and online. In addition, out of state residents are permitted to buy firearms in New Mexico. Unlike federal law, existing New Mexico law does not prohibit individuals with a domestic violence protective order from possessing a firearm, nor does it outline a procedure for ensuring that firearms are physically surrendered.

Captain Mark Kelly & General Peter W. Chiarelli Call on Congress to Reject Dangerous Proposal to Weaken the Background Check System, Put the Safety of Veterans At Risk

March 8, 2017 — Today, the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs is taking up a bill that would severely undercut the current process the Veterans Administration uses to identify veterans who are prohibited from gun ownership because of mental health. Navy combat veteran and retired NASA astronaut Captain Mark Kelly, the Co-Founder of Americans for Responsible Solutions and General Peter W. Chiarelli, member of the Veterans Coalition for Common Sense, called on Congress to reject the dangerous proposal:

Captain Mark Kelly, Navy combat veteran, retired NASA astronaut and the Co-Founder of Americans for Responsible Solutions:

“As a proud Navy combat veteran, I served to uphold our Constitution and the right of law-abiding Americans to own guns. I also know that with the freedom to own a gun comes the responsibility to help keep them out of the wrong hands. Instead of giving our brave veterans the resources they need to face their mental health challenges, the Washington gun lobby wants to arm these individuals when they are most vulnerable. This irresponsible bill would take our country backwards and put our nation’s veterans at serious risk.”

General Peter W. Chiarelli, USA (Ret.), advisory committee member for the Veterans Coalition for Common Sense:

“As a nation, we must take action to end the veteran suicide epidemic. Each year, roughly 6,000 of my fellow veterans take their own life, and two-thirds of those veterans use a firearm to commit suicide. Congress should be working to save lives by guaranteeing veterans have access to world-class medical and counseling services, not enacting legislation that makes it easier for those who most need our support to get their hands on a gun.”

The bill, H.R. 1181, would require the Federal Bureau of Investigation to eliminate over 174,000 records from the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) that were reported by the Department of Veterans Affairs, allowing easy access to guns for many individuals suffering from serious mental illnesses like dementia, schizophrenia, and long-term severe PTSD.

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About H.R. 1181

Current Federal Law Prohibits “Incompetent Beneficiaries” From Accessing Firearms. A federal law signed by President Bush in 2008 requires federal agencies like the VA to report individuals’ names to NICS if they have been “adjudicated mentally incompetent” by that agency. Currently, the VA reports “incompetent beneficiaries” who are determined over the course of the benefits claims process to qualify for monetary benefits and to require a fiduciary to manage their benefits because they are mentally incapable of managing their own affairs. VA boards review these determinations, which under federal law prohibit “mentally incompetent” veterans from possessing guns.

Current Federal Law Guarantees Due Process Protections For Veterans To Ensure No Individual Incorrectly Fails A Background Check To Buy A Gun. To make an initial determination that a veteran is mentally incompetent, the VA requires clear and convincing evidence demonstrating the beneficiary’s incompetency. Veterans may present new evidence regarding their incompetency determination at any point. Signed into law in December 2016, the bipartisan 21st Century Cures Act also codified veterans’ due process protections during the adjudication process. Before a final determination, he or she must be provided notice and an opportunity to request a hearing. Should the veteran disagree with the final adjudication, he or she can appeal to a federal judge. 

H.R. 1181 Would Have A Negative Impact On NICS Records & Public Safety. If enacted, H.R. 1181 would allow veterans to pass a background check even if the VA has determined that he or she is mentally incompetent. It would force NICS to remove the VA’s findings about a veteran’s incompetency even when the VA is the only authority with jurisdiction. The only way a veteran would be prohibited from purchasing a gun is if he or she has gone through a court process that does not exist, and this bill does not create one.

This bill would also make these standards retroactive, meaning all records reported to NICS by the VA would become invalid and removed from NICS. As a result, over 174,000 records would be removed, allowing easy access to guns for many individuals suffering from serious mental illnesses like dementia, schizophrenia, and long-term severe PTSD. This would be a dangerous and irresponsible change in federal law, putting our veterans at risk. Non-deployed veterans are at a 61% greater risk of suicide compared to the American civilian population, and over half of all suicides are committed with guns.