I joined Brady as its Chief Legal Officer 100 days ago. My first day began about 30 hours after the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando.
Two weeks later, the Supreme Court issued an important victory for gun violence prevention when it agreed with us that men who admitted assaulting women but only pled guilty to “reckless” conduct had committed serious enough domestic violence offenses to be barred from owning guns. (One of the men was later investigated for shooting at bald eagles.)
Three days later, we won a ruling in a state court case in New York when a judge held that the defendant was indeed subject to jurisdiction in New York. So after 11 years, our case against those who sold hundreds of guns to a gun trafficker, one of which was used to shoot and permanently injure a teenage boy playing basketball outside, can go forward.
We also won a case in the First Circuit about “load indicators” showing whether a handgun has a bullet in the chamber and had oral argument in the Eleventh Circuit in a case challenging Florida’s law restricting how doctors may talk to their patients about guns.
That was all in my first month.
In the next two months, I was astonished to learn about the special protections that the gun lobby has successfully codified into law, special protections that immunize gun makers and sellers from liability in court and insulate them from public scrutiny. Here are a few examples:
- The federal Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act has been interpreted by courts to bar ordinary negligence claims against gun dealers. Some states have enacted similar laws.
- The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF), the federal agency tasked with overseeing gun commerce in America, is prohibited from doing spot inspections of gun dealers more than once a year. And its resources are so meager that it only inspected 6 percent of the 140,000 licensed gun sellers last year. That percentage has fallen every year since 2011.
- Congress regularly enacts funding restrictions that purport to limit ATF’s ability to computerize much of its data or to share data about where guns used in crimes come from with the public.
- The Consumer Safety Products Commission is barred by law from regulating the safety of guns.
- Approximately half of the states have so-called preemption laws that ban cities and towns outright from passing commonsense gun laws. And nine states also have laws that purport to nullify federal gun laws within their borders.
Brady’s legal team brings cases that hold the gun industry accountable in court, but the special protections for the gun industry sometimes make it harder for us to win cases. And those special protections also affect the public discussion about gun violence in our communities. But Brady has an impressive history of successfully navigating these special protections and finding ways to work around them, as our team did in creating new law in Missouri, via a case now set for trial in January.
I’ve been incredibly impressed with the talent and dedication of the litigators we have on staff, and frankly I’m awed by the commitment from the private bar to help us win these cases. But I’m equally appalled that approximately 9,000 Americans have died from gunshots since my first day here.
So what will the next hundred days – and beyond – bring?
- We will continue to hold the gun industry accountable in court, bringing cases on behalf of victims and their families when gun dealers act irresponsibly. One of Brady’s central campaigns is to shut down or reform the 5% of “Bad Apple” gun dealers from which 90% of crime guns originate.
- We will continue our legal effort to “Finish the Job” – requiring that all gun purchasers undergo a background check before buying a gun. Forty percent of guns are sold today with no background check whatsoever, usually on-line or at a gun show.
- We will continue to defend commonsense gun laws, like reasonable restrictions on permits to carry concealed weapons, when the gun lobby tries to invalidate them.
- We will develop new legal theories, new avenues for challenges, and new ways to use the law to reduce the gun violence epidemic in America.