Gun violence, panelists noted, has reached epidemic proportions in America. According to the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, more than 30,000 people are killed in homicides, suicides and unintentional shootings each year. There are 82 shooting deaths per day, with more than 70,000 people injured each year.
- Strict gun laws do not prevent gun violence says president and chairman of the Calguns Foundation
- Attorneys can help end gun violence through litigation
- Mental illness unfairly attributed as cause for most gun violence incidents
- Strict gun laws are needed to protect citizens from gun violence
The problem is the focus of the ABA Standing Committee on Gun Violence. It is a priority issue for incoming ABA President James R. Silkenat, who noted in introductory remarks that the association has developed policies and advocated on the topic since the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
Lawyers, especially in California, are keenly aware of the problem. A handout from the San Francisco-basedLaw Center to Prevent Gun Violence recounted when, in the summer of 1993, a man entered the law firm of Pettit & Martin in downtown San Francisco armed with military-style assault weapons. He walked through the office on a shooting rampage, killing eight and wounding six before taking his own life.
Panelists included Elizabeth Burke, managing attorney for Lawyers for a Safer America, an affiliate of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. Burke spoke to the “money” aspect of the issue by noting that lawyers who volunteer for her organization bring civil lawsuits against “bad apple” gun dealers who sell guns illegally or irresponsibly. The message to such dealers, she said, is that “profit over people equals civil liability.”
San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr spoke about gun buy-back programs and other initiatives to curb gun violence. He advocated for gun registration, which he said would help law enforcement track guns in order to solve crimes and develop data to curb further violence.
Disagreeing with Suhr was Gene Hoffman, president of San Carlos, Calif.-based Calguns Foundation, which advocates for gun-owner rights. He argued that while licensing of gun owners is generally acceptable in the gun-rights community, tracking the ownership of all guns would be a violation of civil rights.
Deputy San Francisco Public Defender Jennifer Johnson spoke about the role of mental illness in gun violence. Although she noted that people with mental illness do not have higher rates of gun violence than the general population, she suggested that well-funded mental health systems can help keep people with problems away from guns and other opportunities to do harm.
Attesting to the wide-ranging interest in the topic in the legal community was the list of program co-sponsors: the Tort Trial and Insurance Practice Section, the Government and Public Sector Lawyers Division, the Commission on Domestic and Sexual Violence, and the Family Law Section.