Attorney General James Fights to Ensure States Have the Right to Protect Residents from Gun Violence

NEW YORK – New York Attorney General Letitia James, as part of a coalition of 16 attorneys general, is fighting to ensure states have the right to use various means to protect their residents from gun violence. In an amicus brief filed in support of the State of California in Rhode v. Becerra, Attorney General James and the coalition defend a California law that requires gun dealers to conduct background checks prior to all ammunition sales, and that also requires all ammunition sales to occur face-to-face, among other requirements. The coalition argues that states have the right to enact reasonable firearm restrictions that protect public safety and reduce the prevalence of gun violence in their states.

“The threat of gun violence continues to affect millions of Americans across the country every day, whether they live in New York, California, or any other state,” said Attorney General James. “States have the right to take the necessary steps to ensure that their schools, their workplaces, and their houses of worship are not turned into killing fields. These simple measures — approved by voters — are well within California’s rights and will stop tens of millions from unnecessarily being placed in harm’s way. The majority of Americans nationwide support universal background checks, which is why — until the federal government takes the necessary steps to protect Americans — states can and should continue to take the lead to end the senseless cycle of gun deaths that we’ve seen in Parkland, Las Vegas, Santa Barbara, Charleston, Orlando, Pittsburgh, Aurora, El Paso, Virginia Beach, Newtown, and so many other devastated communities.”

In November 2016, California voters overwhelmingly supported Proposition 63, which requires a background check before Californians can purchase ammunition, prohibits the possession of standard-capacity ammunition magazines, levies fines for failing to report guns that are lost or stolen, establishes procedures for enforcing laws prohibiting firearm possession by specified persons, and requires the California Department of Justice to participate in the federal National Instant Criminal Background Check System. A lawsuit challenging two of these requirements was filed in May 2017. The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California entered a preliminary injunction, last year, to stop the law’s requirements from taking effect as the case makes its way through the courts. But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit later stayed that order, pending California’s appeal of the preliminary injunction.

In the brief — filed in the Ninth Circuit — the coalition argues that requiring a background check for ammunition sales and placing restrictions on shipping ammunition directly to purchasers are reasonable requirements that California has the right to adopt because:

  • The Second Amendment allows states to enact new and varied measures in response to gun violence: The brief makes clear that states are entitled to adopt reasonable restrictions to protect the health, safety, and welfare of their residents by preventing crime and minimizing gun violence. Background checks and face-to-face sale requirements can prevent prohibited individuals from purchasing ammunition without infringing on law-abiding individuals being able to exercise their Second Amendment rights.

  • States have a responsibility to prevent gun violence and protect public safety: The brief explains that states have primary responsibility for ensuring public safety. By implementing these new measures to prevent dangerous or other prohibited individuals from obtaining ammunition, California can reduce the likelihood that its residents will become victims of preventable gun violence.

Separately, Attorney General James has fought to support commonsense gun reform while in office. In January, Attorney General James and a coalition of attorneys general filed a lawsuit challenging the Trump Administration’s efforts to allow 3D-printed gun files to be released on the internet. These files would allow anyone to go online to simply use easily, downloadable files with specifications for particular guns, including AR-15s, and then manufacture unregistered and untraceable 3D-printed firearms, in essence, a ghost gun. In March, Attorney General James and the coalition secured a preliminary injunction that stopped the Trump Administration from continuing to evade enforcement of the law as it is currently written. And in April — as the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) continued to spread across the nation and the proliferation of guns increased as well, Attorney General James and the coalition urged U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and U.S. Attorney General William Barr to enforce federal laws and stop companies from disseminating dangerous files for 3D-printed gun files on the internet.

Last year, Attorney General James sent cease and desist letters to the operators of numerous websites unlawfully selling nearly complete assault weapons into New York State. Each of these websites were selling incomplete weaponry pieces that could be easily assembled into illegal assault weapons.

Joining Attorney General James in filing this amicus brief are the attorneys general of Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia, Washington, and the District of Columbia.