In February 2014, Grassroots Change published an interview with Laura Cutilletta, Senior Staff Attorney at the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, about the Law Center’s work with grassroots gun violence prevention movements and countering preemption. We interviewed her again to get an update on the Law Center’s work, and the state of the gun violence prevention movement.
Grassroots Change: Last January you told us about California’s successful gun violence prevention movement, the subject of your publication, “The California Model.” Since then, what changes have you seen in that movement?
Laura Cutilletta: There has been an increase in litigation. Anytime a local government enacts stricter rules in California, the gun lobby sues. We’ve been successful in defending Sunnyvale in their litigation; the most recent ruling was in our favor. Pleasant Hill is still a big fight. The local government wanted to regulate gun dealers, and [pro-] gun advocates came out in extreme force: they threatened to sue, they were bullying with threats of voting officials out of office.
But in the next election the council members that were in favor of the ordinance won, and the one that was strongly opposed lost his seat. While that was great, the litigation is dragging out. Fortunately, we found a pro bono law firm to defend the city.
The California model was an idea that we wanted other states to look at. The main difference is that there is much more of a coordinated effort now between the national gun violence prevention groups.
For example, in Iowa the gun lobby was trying to repeal the handgun purchase permit requirement. This was quietly slipped in and it was moving in the legislature. This got the attention of an activist in Iowa, and she called us and we explained what the bill would do. She also got the Center for American Progress involved; they spread the word to Americans for Responsible Solutions, which is Gabby Gifford’s group, and we reached out to Everytown for Gun Safety, and several groups got involved. The bill was ultimately defeated.
When something bad rears its head, we now have these new groups that we didn’t have before because they didn’t form until after Newtown, or [they] weren’t working on the gun issue.
GC: In the past year have there been any new projects or publications that you would like to share?
LC: We are tracking all Second Amendment litigation. Ever since the Heller decision there has been an onslaught of litigation. The gun lobby likes to say that Heller was this huge victory for them, and it was. But the cases since Heller have not been good for them. They’ve almost unanimously upheld gun laws. We’re the ones who are tracking and synthesizing this information, and we’re able to say to the public: these [gun] laws are being upheld.
We also wrote a model gun violence protection order law. The idea is that if somebody has a gun and their family members, the police, or people in the community are aware that the person is dangerous, but [he or she] hasn’t risen to the level of being committed to a hospital or arrested, or the authorities haven’t gotten involved, but the family knows that there’s something wrong, they can petition the court for an order to remove the gun from that person. California is the only state to have done this, passing it in the last year, but several states have come to us seeking help with their own versions of this law.
GC: Any comments about so-called “super-preemption” in Pennsylvania, Florida, and other states?
LC: Super-preemption bills were pending in several states this year. It’s a really dangerous policy. In some cases these bills give standing to the National Rifle Association and other groups like them to sue, and in other cases they impose penalties against a jurisdiction or even against an individual who enacts or enforces an ordinance that is found to violate preemption. These bills say that sovereign immunity, which would normally protect a local official, is waived. This has a chilling effect in that it scares officials from taking any action [to prevent gun violence] at all.
GC: We’ve been tracking preemption, but are there other gun violence prevention laws that we should be aware of?
LC: There is actually some really good news on the state level. Our main priority is always background checks. We want states to enact background check laws, since the federal government seems unable to make progress in that area. Oregon enacted a law that requires background checks for all gun sales. This follows on the heels of a universal background check law enacted in Washington last year, and a background check ballot initiative will be put before voters in Nevada in 2016.
In addition, domestic violence is a big issue for us. We saw nine states enact new laws this year that keep guns out of domestic abusers’ hands.
On the defensive side, the gun lobby has been pushing bills that allow carrying guns without a permit in public and carrying guns in schools.
GC: What kind of grassroots movement building is happening?
LC: A mother started Moms Demand Action after Newtown. There are a few new groups that started by Newtown parents: Newtown Action Alliance and Sandy Hook Promise, both led by parents of victims. In addition, smaller groups that have started across the country like Texas Gun. There is a group in Utah and new groups in places we didn’t see this sort of activity before. We’ve become better represented across the country.
GC: Are these newer groups reaching out to the Law Center for technical assistance and capacity building?
LC: Absolutely. There are so many bills introduced in each state every year and many of them are complicated. We help by reading all of the bills and explaining what they would do if enacted. We used to see a lot of success in California and a handful of other states, but now we can really see things happening in states where we really didn’t have a voice before.
GC: Is there anything else you’d like to update us about?
LC: I think the movement is in a really positive place right now. I feel good about that. I’ve been here long enough that I can really see the difference. All this influence and energy in the community is starting to build and make changes. We have been able to kill legislation that we couldn’t have before. We can get legislation through that we couldn’t before. So I think that is the theme: We are succeeding at the state level. The media are always talking about how at the federal level we have not been about to get the bills through that we wanted, and then they leave it at that.
But they’re not looking at what’s happening at the state level, and really, the action for our movement is in the states.