New York County Lawyers’ Association Issues Recommendations On Proposed Federal Gun Control Legislation

Wednesday, March 20, 2013 - 14:35

 

The New York County Lawyers’ Association released a report that analyzes proposed federal gun control legislation to provide some clarity on how the government can best move forward with proposed legislation based on lessons learned from recent shootings.

From Columbine to the present, there have been 47 documented mass shootings, resulting in 642 victims, over half of which were fatalities. At least 87 percent of these mass shootings involved semiautomatic weapons or assault weapons and at least 51 percent involved extended or high-capacity magazines. In at least 70 percent of the mass shootings the weapons had been purchased legally, approximately half of those purchases from licensed dealers presumably requiring background checks. Of the remaining shooters, most would have been prevented from buying firearms had they been subjected to effective background checks. Such data is noted in a report released in March by the New York County Lawyers’ Association that analyzes proposed federal gun control legislation to provide some clarity on how the government can best move forward with proposed legislation based on lessons learned from recent shootings.

The report reviews these proposals, first in terms of whether, had they been in effect, they would have addressed the various factual scenarios presented by past mass shootings starting with the 1999 Columbine shootings in Colorado and continuing through the recent shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

It subsequently summarizes data collected, reviews current federal law regulating firearms, and makes recommendations regarding the following proposed legislation:

  • Assault Weapons Ban of 2013 –NYCLA is in support of Congress passing this bill. Both the Newtown, CT and Aurora, CO shootings, which alone caused 100 fatalities and injuries, involved the use of semiautomatic assault weapons and high-capacity magazines that would be banned under this bill.
  • Ammunition Background Check of 2012 – The current lack of a background check requirement for ammunition enables released felons to load up on ammunition for illegally obtained firearms despite their criminal records. NYCLA feels this is a sensible proposal.
  • Stop Online Ammunition Sales Act of 2013 – NYCLA supports this proposal that would add restrictions on mail/Internet sales of ammunition by federally licensed dealers so that these sales would be regulated in the same way as mail/Internet sales of guns.
  • Gun Show Background Check Act of 2013 – According to a recent announcement made by Governor Cuomo, the majority of gun show operators in New York State have agreed to firearm tracking and sales rules. In a June 2000 study, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms found that sales at gun shows constituted the second most significant source of illegal gun trafficking. For example, two of the most deadly weapons used in the Columbine shooting were purchased from an unlicensed seller at a Colorado gun show. This Act would require that all firearm sales at gun shows take place through a licensed importer, manufacturer or dealer who would be required to conduct a background check. NYCLA additionally believes the federal government should do more to strengthen the quality of background checks by assisting states with handling issues in their providing complete data regarding mental health and felony status. If the State of Virginia had submitted records using the federal regulatory definition of “mentally defective,” Seung Hui Cho, the Virginia Tech shooter, could have been prevented from purchasing the two semiautomatic handguns he used to gun down 33 faculty and students, including himself, due a state judge’s earlier finding that Mr. Cho “presented an imminent danger to himself as a result of mental illness.”
  • Stop Illegal Trafficking in Firearms Act of 2013, Gun Trafficking Prevention Act of 2013 – These bills are primarily aimed at keeping guns out of the hands of those who cannot otherwise legally purchase them under current federal law and as such, they are supported by NYCLA. As a significant number of the mass shootings NYCLA reviewed, including Columbine, involved the shooter obtaining firearms from others rather than purchasing them directly from a dealer, NYCLA feels that these measures in combination with a universal background check requirement can contribute to a more responsible gun culture.
  • Equal Access to Justice for Victims of Gun Violence Act – This proposed legislation would allow negligence and products liability suits against gun manufacturers to go forward. NYCLA feels that Congress should pursue this bill to end the firearms industry’s immunity against civil lawsuits because there can be no legitimate justification for providing firearms manufacturers with blanket immunity against valid, non-frivolous civil lawsuits in light of the widespread danger and harm their products cause.

There are a number of other sensible measures that could contribute to reducing gun violence and mass shootings that have not yet been proposed or pursued at the federal level. Many of these proposals have been put in place at the state level and would not require comprehensive legislation from Congress. Incentivizing states to meet minimum standards for gun ownership could result in a series of “best practices” that reduce gun violence. Alternatively, these and other common sense measures could be pursued through stricter regulation of the firearms industry by the executive branch. NYCLA supports Congressional incentives to the states to:

·        License gun owners and register weapons, similar to the regulatory framework for motor vehicles;

·        Limit purchases of firearms to one gun per month;

·        Require gun owners to report lost or stolen firearms;

·        Enact waiting period requirements;

·        Require gun owners to obtain insurance against damage caused by the gun in order to obtain a license/permit; and

·        Establish mental health measures such as mental health alerts where mental health professionals would be required to report to local mental health officials when there is reason to believe a patient is likely to engage in conduct that will cause serious harm to themselves or others.

NYCLA also supports the executive branch supporting gun safety technology initiatives and Congress considering expanding the classes of prohibited firearms purchasers to those persons with certain violent misdemeanor convictions.

“Mass shootings continue to be a problem in our country,” says Stewart D. Aaron, president of the New York County Lawyers’ Association. “Fortunately the government is rightfully stepping in to come up with laws that will hopefully alter the frequency of such massacres. With so many proposals being made, the New York County Lawyers’ Association, on behalf of its 9,000- plus members in the New York tri-state area, seeks to bring clarity to the proposed legislation and to explain how the proposed laws match up against each other, while providing recommendations about what makes sense for the safety of Americans.”

To compile the report, NYCLA collected data from the FBI’s Supplementary Homicide Report, the Violence Policy Center, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, newspaper reports describing the shootings, gun manufacturer websites describing the guns used, and magazine reports, including a detailed chart published in Mother Jones, purportedly cataloguing mass shootings.

Following this analysis, where it was determined that particular proposed legislation may have prevented the shooting(s), the proposed legislation was reviewed in terms of whether it would, under the current state of the law, likely pass muster if challenged on Second Amendment (right to bear arms), Due Process (Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments), and/or Commerce Clause (Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution) grounds.

To read the full report, access it at http://www.nycla.org/siteFiles/Publications/Publications1600_0.pdf .