ARS & Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence Release New Report on Closing Gaps in Federal Background Checks System

December 8, 2016  — Today, Americans for Responsible Solutions (ARS), the gun violence prevention organization founded by former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, combat veteran and retired NASA astronaut Captain Mark Kelly, and its partner organization the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, released a new report on the ways state lawmakers can strengthen one of our most valuable tools when it comes to saving lives from gun violence—the 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 prohibited purchasers are slipping through the cracks because of missing or incomplete records in the NICS databases. 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.

This new analysis from the nation’s leading gun law experts is essential to understanding how the background checks process works, and 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.

For the Record: NICS & Public Safety also reveals:

  • The background checks process does not act as 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.

“Improving state record reporting practices is one of the simplest, most impactful steps lawmakers can take to make vast improvements to the NICS databases, making it tougher for convicted felons, domestic abusers, and the dangerously mentally ill from purchasing deadly weapons,” said Robyn Thomas, executive director of the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. “A vast majority of Americans support background checks as a frontline defense against gun violence, and understanding and improving the NICS databases are a key component to that strategy.”

“With our federal gun laws weakened by the gun show and internet loopholes and Congress unwilling to close them, state legislators around the country are asking what they can do to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous individuals. This report is an invaluable resource to lawmakers who want to take responsible action to ensure dangerous people are in the background check system,” said Peter Ambler, Executive Director, Americans for Responsible Solutions. “In the coming months, we look forward to working with these lawmakers to strengthen the NICS databases, keep guns out of dangerous hands, and save lives.”

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.

For more information on background checks and the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, read For the Record: NICS & Public Safety.

7 Top Law Firms Launch the Firearms Accountability Counsel Taskforce (FACT), an Unprecedented Pro Bono Litigation Effort to Hold Gun Industry Accountable

December 7, 2016 —Today, Americans for Responsible Solutions (ARS), the gun violence prevention organization founded by former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, combat veteran and retired NASA astronaut Captain Mark Kelly, and its partner organization the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, announced a bold new effort with seven top law firms, as well as the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and the Brennan Center for Justice, to fight gun violence. This new effort, the Firearms Accountability Counsel Taskforce (FACT), will be devoted to pursuing legal strategies to address America’s dire gun violence crisis and hold the gun industry responsible for unfair business practices that endanger public safety.

The law firms have committed hundreds of lawyers, thousands of hours, and millions of dollars to this effort, which will operate in tight coordination with ARS and the Law Center’s team of gun law experts. To date, FACT is comprised of Arnold & Porter; Covington; Dentons; Hogan Lovells; Munger Tolles & Olson; O’Melveny; and Paul, Weiss.

FACT’s strategy represents a turning point for the gun violence prevention movement. With the gun lobby spending a record $30 million in the presidential election to support Donald Trump, more than any other special interest, and an additional $20 million in 2016 Congressional races, achieving progress at the federal level has grown all the more challenging. By expanding the fight beyond Congress, which has failed to take meaningful action to save the more than 33,000 lives lost every year to gun violence, and into the justice system, FACT will be able to push back against the special treatment the gun industry has enjoyed for decades.

FACT’s strategy builds off the success of pro bono efforts by the private bar to commit leadership, support, and resources to ensure a more just, fair, equal, and safe society.

 FACT’s areas of focus will include:

  • Congressional restrictions on firearms-related information access
  • Misleading gun industry public statements, advertising, and marketing
  • Special immunity enjoyed by gun manufacturers and dealers
  • Laws that prevent local officials from keeping communities safe from gun violence
  • Dangerous, gun lobby-backed laws that make ordinary conflicts potentially deadly

“As our nation’s gun violence crisis claims over 33,000 American lives every year, the gun lobby has intimidated Washington into inaction,” said Congresswoman Giffords and Captain Kelly. “As gun owners, we know we can protect our rights and make our families safer, and that’s why we’re so excited to join with the top litigators and law firms in our country to form the Firearms Accountability Counsel Taskforce. Together, we will stand up to the gun lobby and put the safety of our communities above corporate profits.”

“As our firm and the private bar have shown, the only effective means of remedying an intractable social injustice in the face of concerted resistance is through an innovative legal strategy and the investment of substantial resources,” said Brad Karp, chair of Paul, Weiss, a key law firm partner in the Firearms Accountability Counsel Taskforce. “Working with several of our country’s leading law firms and our partners at Americans for Responsible Solutions, the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, the Brady Campaign, and the Brennan Center, we intend to mount a strategic response to address the gun violence epidemic that will be as well-resourced, coordinated, and forceful as the opponents’ efforts to avoid accountability have been. Hundreds of thousands of Americans have died needlessly because of gaps in our gun laws, and it’s time for the legal community to stand up and take collective action to address the plague of gun violence tearing apart our families and our communities.”

“The gun violence prevention movement has experienced tremendous momentum since the horrific shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary four years ago,” said Robyn Thomas, executive director of the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. “We’ve passed more smart gun laws in more states than ever before, we’ve won more ballot initiatives than ever before, and we’ve enjoyed more public support than ever before. Now, with the Firearms Accountability Counsel Taskforce, the movement is taking another major leap forward. The unprecedented commitment our law firm partners are making to this effort—hundreds of lawyers, thousands of hours, and millions of dollars—will be a game-changer in the fight for smart gun laws.”

Gabby Giffords Applauds the New Jersey Assembly for Advancing Compromise Agreement to Help Keep Guns Out of Domestic Abusers’ Hands, Urges Governor Christie to Sign Bipartisan Bill

November 21, 2016 – Former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, the Co-Founder of the gun violence prevention organization Americans for Responsible Solutions (ARS), today applauded the New Jersey State Assembly’s passage of a compromise agreement that would help limit domestic abusers’ access to guns and protect domestic violence survivors, (A4126) and urged Governor Christie to sign the bipartisan bill. The bill, which passed the State Senate unanimously, now goes to Governor Christie’s desk.

“New Jersey’s domestic violence survivors, advocates, and public safety officials have long called on their leaders to do more to protect families from gun violence. Today, New Jersey’s leaders answered that call for responsible change and delivered a bipartisan victory that will make Garden State families safer,” said Congresswoman Giffords. “I am grateful to Assemblywoman Gabby Mosquera and Assembly Majority Leader Louis Greenwald for their leadership on this important issue and to all who stood up for this responsible legislation that will help protect New Jersey women and families from gun violence. I urge Governor Christie to follow in the footsteps of so many other Republican and Democratic governors across the country who have acted to address the deadly mix of domestic violence and easy access to guns. I call on Governor Christie to sign this bipartisan bill into law and add New Jersey’s name to the growing list of states across the country who have taken responsible steps that make it harder for domestic abusers to get their hands on a gun.”

In March 2015, Congresswoman Giffords joined New Jersey Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, Assemblywoman Gabriela Mosquera and leaders in New Jersey’s domestic violence prevention community at an event at the New Jersey State House to urge legislators to pass laws that help protect women and families from gun violence.

The agreement will strengthen New Jersey’s laws and help protect domestic violence survivors by:

  • Requiring abusers who are convicted of domestic violence to surrender their firearms and provide a receipt and affidavit to the court demonstrating that they have done so;

  • Updating the restraining order form to allow victims to list if the alleged abuser owns a firearm;

  • Empowering law enforcement to seize firearms from domestic abusers; and,

  • Enhancing penalties for certain very serious crimes of domestic violence.

BACKGROUND ON THE NEXUS OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE, DATING PARTNER ABUSE, STALKING, AND ACCESS TO FIREARMS

Women in the United States Are Eleven Times More Likely to be Murdered with a Gun Than Women in Other Developed Countries. More than half of all murders of America’s women are committed with a gun. [Centers for Disease Control, 2012] More than two-thirds of spouse and ex-spouse homicide victims between 1980 and 2008 were killed with firearms. [Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2011] In 2013, a gun was the most commonly used weapon in a murder of a woman by a man. [Violence Policy Center, 2015]

Guns and Domestic Abuse Are A Deadly Mix. Abused women in the United States are five times more likely to be killed by their abusers if that individual has access to a gun. [Centers for Disease Control, 2012]

Nearly Half of Murders by an Intimate Partner Are Committed by a Dating Partner – But the “Boyfriend Gap” in Federal Law Lets Abusive Dating Partners Access Guns. From 2009 to 2010, 48.6 percent of all intimate partner homicides were committed by a dating partner. [Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2011] Current federal law prohibits individuals convicted of domestic violence offenses from accessing firearms, including individuals who are a current or former spouse, parent, parent of a child in common, current or former cohabitant, or a personal similarly situated to a spouse, parent or guardian of the victim. But federal law does not include perpetrators who abused current or former dating partners from accessing guns. With more women choosing to marry later in life and live in non-cohabitating dating relationships, this gap leaves a significant number of abusers free to access firearms. [Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence]

Stalking Is A Strong Predictor of Future Violence – But the “Stalker Gap” in Federal Law Lets Some Convicted Stalkers Access Guns. Stalking is a strong precursor to escalating violence. One study of female murder victims in ten cities found that 76 percent of women murdered and 85 percent who survived a murder attempt by a current or former intimate partner experienced stalking in the year preceding the murder. [Homicide Studies, 1999] Under current federal law, individuals convicted of felony stalking offenses are prohibited from accessing guns. But individuals convicted of misdemeanor stalking offenses are not prohibited from accessing guns. Closing the “stalker gap” in federal law would help ensure that all individuals convicted of stalking offenses are prohibited from accessing firearms. [Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence]

In the Face of Inaction in Congress, Blue, Purple and Red States Are Enacting Laws to Close These Loopholes and Limit Abusers’ and Stalkers’ Access to Guns. While each state has taken a distinct approach to strengthening laws that address gun violence against women, state leaders are addressing major gaps in federal law to help protect vulnerable women and families. At least 12 states have updated their laws to prohibit people convicted of violent misdemeanors against dating partners from possessing firearms. And 25 states prohibit gun possession by at least some people subject to protective orders for dating partners. In the last two years, leaders from both parties have enacted legislation addressing the often lethal mix of domestic violence and access to firearms in a number of states, including AlabamaLouisianaNevadaOregonSouth CarolinaVermontWashingtonWisconsin, and Delaware.

Americans from Both Parties Support Legislation Limiting Abusers’ and Stalkers’ Access to Guns. According to research conducted in June 2015, 82 percent of Americans – including 82 percent of Republicans – say they would support legislation that helps keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers and stalkers. [Public Policy Polling]

Victories for Gun Safety in 2016: Gabby & Mark on the 2016 Elections

November 9, 2016 In the midst of perhaps the most unexpected election results in American political history are real victories by gun violence prevention advocates.

First, in New Hampshire, in a rejection of her votes against expanding background checks for gun sales, we defeated Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte. Ayotte’s loss is a cautionary tale for those who might think the voters aren’t paying attention and that candidates won’t be held accountable when they vote against gun safety. Details of our aggressive program to unseat Ayotte and elect Governor Maggie Hassan are below.

Second, gun safety polices won at the polls via ballot initiative in California, Washington State, and Nevada. California easily passed new laws instituting background checks on ammunition, among other policies. Prop 63 was endorsed by ARS and written by our charitable arm, the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. In Washington, ARS partner, the Alliance for Gun Responsibility, easily passed an innovative Extreme Risk Protection Order law, which will temporarily restrain access to guns by those in crisis. We donated heavily to the effort. In Nevada, voters approved Question 1, which institutes universal background checks, making it the seventh state to do so since Sandy Hook. Congresswoman Giffords stumped for the measure in the waning days of the hard fought campaign.

Third, voters continue to support stronger gun laws and reject the argument that doing more to prevent gun violence runs contrary to the Second Amendment. In a nationwide exit survey, more than half (53%) of voters want stronger gun laws, including nearly half of independent voters (47%) and exactly half (50%) of voters who do not have a college degree. Only ten percent of voters said they want weaker gun laws. And in New Hampshire, where preventing gun violence became a much debated issue in the campaign, 6 in 10 support stronger gun laws.

And contrary to popular rhetoric, those on the side of gun violence prevention did not suffer from the much hyped “enthusiasm gap.” Among those voters who believe a candidate’s position on gun laws is very important when deciding who they will vote for, 54 percent want stronger gun laws. Only 44 percent of those voters want gun laws kept as they are now or less strong.

STATEMENT FROM AMERICANS FOR RESPONSIBLE SOLUTIONS PAC CO-FOUNDERS GABRIELLE GIFFORDS AND MARK KELLY

Gabby often says, ‘We must never stop fighting.’ That’s never been more true than it is today. Since the tragedy at Sandy Hook, we have enacted laws and policies, stopped bad ones, and brought our message of responsible gun laws from coast to coast. But most importantly, we have built a powerful movement that did not exist only four years ago. Our collective job is to sustain and grow that movement.

We founded Americans for Responsible Solutions in the hopes that we could save lives, especially kids’, by bringing Americans together around responsible, commonsense gun safety policies – Democrats, Republicans, gun owners like us, everyone. Often, we’ve succeeded; sometimes we haven’t. That goal does not change with Donald Trump in the White House. We will work to bring Democrats and Republicans, in Congress and state legislatures, together to enact good policy and stop legislation that would threaten our safety.

We also commit to keeping an open mind and working with our next president, Donald J. Trump to make our country a safer place to live. President-elect Trump won, and he now has the opportunity to lead our nation. We want him, and our country, to succeed in making our communities safer. We want our country to begin to heal its divisions after this bitter election season, to restore the bonds that tie all of us Americans together, and to move forward. We are hopeful that President-elect Trump will offer a vision for his presidency that’s inclusive of all Americans and allows us to reconcile as a nation.

We also want to congratulate Governor Maggie Hassan on her victory in New Hampshire. Over three years ago, we committed to holding Senator Ayotte accountable for her vote against expanding background checks for gun sales. Today, she’s a cautionary tale for politicians who might choose to side with the gun lobby and against their constituents.

BACKGROUND ON AMERICANS FOR RESPONSIBLE SOLUTIONS PAC’S SUPPORT OF MAGGIE HASSAN’S CAMPAIGN AND WORK TO HOLD KELLY AYOTTE ACCOUNTABLE

Endorsement of Maggie Hassan: In May, ARS PAC endorsed Democratic challenger Gov. Maggie Hassan as a Champion for the Vocal Majority for her commitment to lifesaving policies like background checks for all gun sales. It was ARS PAC’s first endorsement of 2016.

Over $2.6 Million Paid Media Campaign to Hold Ayotte Accountable: ARS PAC’s aggressive seven-figure paid media campaign featured a total of three television advertisements (“Tick Tock”, “Safety,” and “Mislead,”), as well as digital ads, to hold Ayotte accountable for her record of voting to protect loopholes in federal law that let dangerous people like felons and domestic abusers buy guns without a criminal background check in unlicensed sales at gun shows and through the internet. Click hereto read a memo on Senator Ayotte’s record of voting against requiring criminal background checks for more gun sales.

Giffords, Kelly, and Their “Vocal Majority Tour” Come to New Hampshire: On October 13th, Co-Founder Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords visited New Hampshire as part ofthe 16-state, 42-day national bus tour, the Vocal Majority Tour. She and Captain Kelly returned to the state on November 7th as part of their ongoing tour to elect Champions for the Vocal Majority of Americans who want responsible change that reduce gun violence, and to encourage Americans to vote to stop gun violence this election.

“Granite State Majority” Grassroots Campaign: ARS PAC also partnered with Granite State Progress to launch a grassroots campaign, the “Granite State Majority,” which included a coalition of grassroots leaders from across New Hampshire who attended Sen. Ayotte’s public events to hold her accountable for standing with the Washington gun lobby.

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Gabby and Mark Applaud Maggie Hassan’s Victory in the New Hampshire Senate Race

November 9, 2016 – Former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and retired NASA astronaut Captain Mark Kelly, the Co-Founders of the gun violence prevention organization Americans for Responsible Solutions PAC (ARS PAC), issued the below statement on the election of ARS PAC-endorsed candidate Maggie Hassan to the United States:

”We congratulate Governor Maggie Hassan on her victory in New Hampshire. Over three years ago, we committed to holding Senator Ayotte accountable for her vote against expanding background checks on gun sales. Today, she’s a cautionary tale for politicians who might choose to side with the gun lobby and against their constituents.”

BACKGROUND ON CONGRESSWOMAN GIFFORDS’, CAPTAIN KELLY’S, AND AMERICANS FOR RESPONSIBLE SOLUTIONS PAC’S SUPPORT OF MAGGIE HASSAN’S CAMPAIGN AND WORK TO HOLD KELLY AYOTTE ACCOUNTABLE

Endorsement of Maggie Hassan: In May, ARS PAC endorsed Democratic challenger Gov. Maggie Hassan as a Champion for the Vocal Majority for her commitment to lifesaving policies like background checks for all gun sales. It was ARS PAC’s first endorsement of 2016.

Over $2.6 Million Paid Media Campaign to Hold Ayotte Accountable: ARS PAC’s aggressive seven-figure paid media campaign featured a total of three television advertisements (“Tick Tock”, “Safety,” and “Mislead,”), as well as digital ads, to hold Ayotte accountable for her record of voting to protect loopholes in federal law that let dangerous people like felons and domestic abusers buy guns without a criminal background check in unlicensed sales at gun shows and through the internet. Click here to read a memo on Senator Ayotte’s record of voting against requiring criminal background checks for more gun sales.

Giffords, Kelly, and Their “Vocal Majority Tour” Come to New Hampshire: On October 13th, Co-Founder Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords visited New Hampshire as part of the 16-state, 42-day national bus tour, the Vocal Majority Tour. She and Captain Kelly returned to the state on November 7th as part of their ongoing tour to elect Champions for the Vocal Majority of Americans who want responsible change that reduce gun violence, and to encourage Americans to vote to stop gun violence this election.

“Granite State Majority” Grassroots Campaign: ARS PAC also partnered with Granite State Progress to launch a grassroots campaign, the “Granite State Majority,” which included a coalition of grassroots leaders from across New Hampshire who attended Sen. Ayotte’s public events to hold her accountable for standing with the Washington gun lobby.