Currently Browsing: 2nd Amendment

Second Circuit Upholds SAFE Act, Mostly

This is not really much of a surprise, as the Second Circuit has been in open defiance of Heller and McDonald since the Court handed down those decisions. The Second Circuit sustained the unconstitutionality of the seven round load limit, made by the lower court, but also invalidated the ban on the pump-action Remington 7615.

You can read the whole opinion here. They followed the same reasoning as the Heller II court, arguing that they are indeed in common use, and typically possessed for lawful purposes. But they put all that aside and said they could be banned anyway. The reasoning is even worse than in Heller II.

Heightened scrutiny need not, however, “be akin to strict  scrutiny when a law burdens the Second Amendment” — particularly when that burden does not constrain the Amendment’s “core” area of protection. The instant bans are dissimilar from D.C.’s unconstitutional prohibition of “an entire class of ‘arms’ that is overwhelmingly chosen by American society for [the] lawful purpose” of self‐defense.94 New York and Connecticut have not banned an entire class of arms. Indeed, plaintiffs themselves acknowledge that there is no class of firearms known as “semiautomatic assault weapons”—a descriptor they call purely political in nature.95 Plaintiffs nonetheless argue that the legislation does prohibit “firearms of a universally recognized type—semiautomatic.” Not so. Rather, both New York and Connecticut ban only a limited subset of semiautomatic firearms, which contain one or more enumerated military‐style features.

In other words, it bans an entire class of arms, but we’ll just use some trickery and tell you how it really doesn’t. After that it’s your basic Intermediate Scrutiny two-step. One wonders why the Court of Appeals even bothered with the first part of the analysis.

Again, the lower courts are in open revolt against Heller and McDonald, and I do not think the Supreme Court has any stomach to put the revolt down. If we can win the White House in 2016, we need to call on Congress to save the states which treat the Second Amendment as if it were toilet paper.

Will SCOTUS Hear the Assault Weapons Case?

Bob Owens’s money is on “no.” I also think that is the safe bet. Trying to divine the purpose and meaning behind the Supreme Court’s moves is really not much more rigorous than tea leaf reading. But as I’ve said before, I don’t think Scalia and Thomas’s dissent in denying cert in Jackson was a good omen. Ian seems to have agreed with that assessment. I haven’t seen anything that changes my mind. The Jackson case would have just been reinforcing Heller. It would not have required the Court to do much in the way of blazing new trails in Second Amendment law. I took Scalia and Thomas’s dissent as desperate frustration that the Court was not only unwilling to take additional cases to further define the contours of the right, but was also unwilling to even defend Heller from the predations of the lower courts.

It’s quite possible that one of the Heller justices in the majority voted with the majority because he wasn’t willing to nullify the Second Amendment, but beyond that has little desire to see a lot of state and local gun laws overturned. This would fit the judicial minimalism philosophy of Justice Roberts. I’ve been amused by a lot of folks suggesting that Roberts is going liberal. I don’t think this is the case. Judicial minimalism or judicial restraint have generally been regarded as conservative philosophies rather than liberal ones. Also consider the President who appointed Roberts mostly had an interest in ensuring his “Global War on Terror” initiatives were upheld by the Court. Minimalism has been a good way for politicians who seek power to fool a lot of people into allowing them power under the banner of “conservatism,” with courts willing to strike down unconstitutional excesses being labeled “activist.” The American people have been played, but hopefully have started to catch on. We have to demand the next President appoint justices who are ready and willing to strike down unconstitutional laws, and enforce appropriate limits on governmental power.

The Atlantic: Gun Rights and Slavery Go Hand in Hand

Slave StatesI was wondering when Saul Cornell, former director of the now defunct Second Amendment Research Center, would show his face again. SARC was a Joyce funded effort to promote anti-Second Amendment scholarship to counter the voluminous pro-Second Amendment scholarship that had started dominating academia. The two disparate points of view came head-to-head in the Heller decision, and not a single justice accepted Cornell’s points of view.

I guess now that the Supreme Court has sufficiently signaled that it would not defend the Heller and McDonald decisions, and with Bloomberg throwing millions of dollars around to promote biased and flawed research, Prof. Cornell must might figure it’s time for him to come back on the scene. At “The Atlantic,” Cornell co-authors “The Slave-State Origins of Modern Gun Rights.” There’s an accompanying paper here.

His argument is as bogus as his previous anti-Second Amendment research partner Carl. Cornell completely glosses over the fact that the origins of gun control also come from the slaveholding South, in the form of attempting to disarms slaves and free blacks. Pro-Second Amendment scholarship has consistently shown that a significant concern for the drafters of the 14th Amendment was protecting the rights of free Blacks to keep and bear arms. Why would they have been concerned about this if there was such a culture of gun control in the North? Cornell points out that several Northern states had laws against going armed in an offensive manner. Yes, you could not legally carry a pistol and rob a bank with it, but that’s a different animal than carrying a firearm without ill intent.

Cornell clearly believes, and probably correctly, that the next big showdown is going to be over the right to bear arms, rather than merely keep them. If a Democrat wins in 2016, he’ll probably get his wish to redact that part of the Bill of Rights. Probably his wish to redact the whole Second Amendment and overturn Heller and McDonald. I believe the other side is very emboldened these days. If I had Bloomberg’s money to spend, and a supportive White House, I would be too. In the coming months and years, it is incumbent on us to be ready to mobilize to teach them once again that they are on the wrong side of history, and that they cannot win.

Partial Win in DC Circuit

A 3 judge panel has struck down some of DC’s gun laws. In the Heller III case. The Court threw out their gun rationing scheme, which is good news. The panel struck down the requirement that gun owners re-register every three years, appear in person, but upheld registration and training in general. The full opinion can be found here:

For the reasons set forth above, the district court’s final order is AFFIRMED with respect to: the basic registration requirement as applied to long guns, D.C. Code §7- 2502.01(a); the requirement that a registrant be fingerprinted and photographed and make a personal appearance to register a firearm, D.C. Code § 7-2502.04; the requirement that an individual pay certain fees associated with the registration of a firearm, D.C. Code § 7-2502.05; and the requirement that registrants complete a firearms safety and training course, D.C. Code § 7-2502.03(a)(13). The district court’s order is REVERSED with respect to the requirement that a person bring with him the firearm to be registered, D.C. Code § 7- 2502.04(c); the requirement that a gun owner re-register his firearm every three years, D.C. Code §7-2502.07a; the requirement that conditions registration of a firearm upon passing a test of knowledge of the District’s firearms laws, D.C. Code §7-2502.03(a)(10); and the prohibition on registration of “more than one pistol per registrant during any 30-day period,” D.C. Code § 7-2502.03(e).

Mixed bag, really. I’d probably not want to file cert on this case unless there’s a change on the Supreme Court that would make it stronger on the Second Amendment. It would be risky taking a case challenging these issues forward.

h/t Dave Hardy

Second Amendment Extended to Non-Residents by 7th Circuit

Despite the fact that the Supreme Court ruled that the Second Amendment right was a fundamental right, there is still an open question about whether or not it’s a fundamental right of personhood, like freedom of speech, or a citizenship right that can be restricted to non-citizens, like voting. Preexisting Supreme Court precedent essentially made Second Amendment rights for permanent residents a slam dunk after Heller and McDonald, and we’ve seen the courts have been favorable to that idea. For non-resident aliens, it’s a different matter. If it’s a citizenship right, then they can be barred from exercising that right, the same way they can be barred from voting.

Most of the rights protected in the Bill of Rights are fundamental rights of people. The idea of voting being a right at all was an alien concept until very recently. The 7th Circuit recently ruled that non-citizens have the right to bear arms, but that 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(5) was a permissible restriction. This makes me question whether or not someone in the country on a non-immigrant visa, but here legally, would have a reasonable chance of challenging 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(5)(B). Remember, it is technically illegal (felony illegal, in fact) to take a foreign national who is not here on an immigrant visa shooting. This is not usually enforced, but it is the law.

I would imagine an originalist analysis would have to look at the public understanding of the right at the time of ratification. The issue there is the concept of an illegal immigrant may have been foreign to the population at the time. Prior to about the late 19th century, there was virtually no federal laws controlling immigration, yet as early as 1798, Congress did pass a law that allowed for deportation of aliens that were “dangerous to the peace and safety of the United States.” Of course, it also restricted free speech and was roundly condemned by Thomas Jefferson. We know them as the Alien and Sedition Acts. It wasn’t until the 1870s and 1880s with the Page Act and Chinese Exclusion Act that Congress asserted a power to control immigration as well as naturalization at the federal level. You had Congress exercise at least some level of control over immigration with the Steerage Act if 1819, but that was just a reporting requirement. Prior to the existence of the United States, many of the colonies had their own immigration laws, most of which encourage immigration from Britain and Germany, but largely excluded Catholics. I’ve read articles arguing that Congress originally had no power to legislate on immigration, which would leave it up to the states. A question is how many states did so. But I’m also not sure that just because Congress didn’t exercise that power until 1875 didn’t mean they weren’t understood to have it.

My feeling is that the founding generation probably understood non-resident immigrants to have full Second Amendment rights, but in today’s political environment that seems untenable.

The courts have taken us this far, and no farther

It’s become obvious in the past few years that the federal appellate judiciary is generally hostile to expanding firearms rights, and that SCOTUS is unwilling to push the matter. It’s been a question in my mind as to why that might be, and I am examining some of my preconceptions about which Justices voted to grant cert. and why.

I’ve assumed, as did most people, that the majorities in both cases included the justices who granted cert. But, what if that’s not the case? In particular, what if Justice Roberts did not vote to grant cert, and what if instead one or more of the dissenters voted to grant cert. in Heller to take the opportunity to stop, once and for all, the individual rights interpretation, and then in McDonald to prevent the application of Heller to the states?

I infer from the most recent two decisions (King v. Burwell and Obergefell v. Hodges), as well as previous statements and decisions, that Justice Roberts really does not want to change the status quo when he thinks that the legislature should act instead. So, he votes against cert. so the courts don’t have to get involved in what he sees as a political decision, but when the question comes up anyway, he votes pro-rights in a fit of constitutional conscience. Meanwhile, the anti-gun justices went 0 for 2 in convincing their fellows of the rightness of their position, so they’re no longer interested in taking the third pitch, leaving Justices Thomas, Scalia, and Alito alone to vote to grant cert.

This isn’t my only theory of Justice Roberts and the missing cert. vote, it could be that he saw Heller as necessary and McDonald as sufficient to put the question back to the states (or that as of late the states are making strides on their own and SCOTUS should not intervene).

At any rate, we need to stop relying on the courts and continue to move in the legislatures. At the state level, this is already happening. We’ve suffered some reverses (WA and OR), mostly due to Bloomberg, but there’s a limit to how effective money can be. The important thing is, not to go too far, too fast. The NRA is throwing its political weight behind national reciprocity, which has come tantalizingly close to passing in previous congresses that were less obviously pro-rights. Will it be enough to override a veto? Maybe not, but it sets a marker. If a lawmaker votes Yea on this and this president vetos it, that lawmaker has to explain why he changed his mind in a subsequent vote. Once national reciprocity happens, then we can start working on the real prize; forcing shall-issue and “self-defense is good cause.”. FOPA proves that the federal government can force shall-issue, after all, they forced it for retired LEOs. They ought to be similarly able to force states to match NCIS’s timelines for completing background checks and force the states to consider self-defense as a “good cause” or “in the interests of public safety.” All of that theoretically leaves the management of purchase and carry at the state level, while requiring them to treat the RKBA as an actual right. Congress has the enforcement clause of the 14th amendment to justify this, too, no need to muck around with Commerce Clause.

This won’t happen soon, and it won’t happen with a hostile administration in the White House. So, just remember, elections have consequences (as our Chief Justice just reminded us).

DC Concealed Carry Dealt a Blow

It looks like the May 18 decision that ended Washington DC’s “good reason” provision to approving concealed carry licenses is now on hold.

The U.S. Court of Appeals on Friday evening stayed a ruling that had overturned a key provision of the District’s concealed carry law, giving city officials a legal reprieve and opportunity to prepare an appeal arguing that the law is constitutional.

That means anyone rushing out to apply will now have to fit the criteria in place as of early May.

Bad News for the Second Amendment from SCOTUS

All eyes have been on the Supreme Court to see what they would do in the case of Jackson v. City and County of San Francisco, which challenged San Franscisco’s ordinance mandating that firearms kept in the home be locked and rendered essentially unready for self-defense. The Court had the option of summarily reversing the decision, but it chose not to. Additionally, Justices Scalia and Thomas filed a dissent to the denial of cert:



The decision of the Court of Appeals is in serious tension with Heller. We explained in Heller that the Second Amendment codified a right “‘inherited from our English ancestors,’” a key component of which is the right to keep and bear arms for the lawful purpose of self-defense. 554 U. S., at 599. We therefore rejected as inconsistent with the Second Amendment a ban on possession of handguns in the home because “handguns are the most popular weapon chosen by Americans for self-defense in the home” and because a trigger-lock requirement prevented resi- dents from rendering their firearms “operable for the purpose of immediate self-defense.” Id., at 629, 635. San Francisco’s law allows residents to use their handguns for the purpose of self-defense, but it prohibits them from keeping those handguns “operable for the purpose of im- mediate self-defense” when not carried on their person. The law thus burdens their right to self-defense at the times they are most vulnerable—when they are sleeping, bathing, changing clothes, or otherwise indisposed. There is consequently no question that San Francisco’s law burdens the core of the Second Amendment right.

It only takes four justices to agree to hear a case, and it seems that Scalia and Thomas certainly wanted to take this one. So which of two of the Heller Five are just fine with letting the lower courts gut the Heller decision, and why? I’m fairly certain that Justice Alito is pretty solid on the Second Amendment, however for whatever reason he may not have wanted to join this dissent. Perhaps Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Kennedy weren’t willing to destroy the Second Amendment, but for whatever reason are not particularly keen to revisit the issue, even in the face of the lower courts thumbing their nose at Heller and McDonald.

This is a lot of tea leaf reading, but I don’t think this says good things about the Second Amendment and SCOTUS. We have to put a Republican in the White House in 2016. If the Courts can’t agree to take a case like Jackson, which would really just be reaffirming Heller, the Second Amendment is effectively dead unless we can get Scalia and Thomas the extra solid votes they need.

Due Process Issues with Gun Violence Restraining Orders

Bill of Rights

The National Journal has an article out touting our opponents latest tool in their quest to find issues they can use to increase the legal risk of gun ownership:

Jared Loughner’s parents knew he could be dangerous. In the months before his shooting rampage in a Tucson parking lot, they took away his shotgun. They disabled his car at night. They advised him to seek mental health care. But none of those actions stopped Loughner from purchasing a handgun and taking a taxicab to an event where Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was speaking. He opened fire, killing six people and injuring 13 others, including Giffords.

“The parents identified this risk, and—my goodness—they were taking some really bold steps to try to prevent what happened, but it wasn’t enough,” said Shannon Frattaroli, a gun violence prevention researcher at Johns Hopkins University. “They didn’t have enough tools at their disposal to prevent that new purchase.”

Read the whole thing. The root problem here is that we make it next to impossible to commit someone who’s exhibiting signs of being dangerously mentally ill. I wouldn’t trust Loughner with matches and gasoline either. This again is treating the Second Amendment as if it’s just some kind of second-class right, not worthy of the protections afforded to other rights.

Adam Winkler, a constitutional law professor and Second Amendment expert at University of California (Los Angeles), and said the NRA’s concerns are largely unfounded. “At the end of the day it’s not a thorny issue,” Winkler said. “It’s not a Second Amendment violation to take away the guns of someone who is dangerous.”

“Although [GVROs] are often portrayed as allowing family members or jilted lovers to take someone’s gun away, these restraining orders must be issued by a judge,” he said. “A judge is not going to issue an order unless he has reason to believe that a person is dangerous.”

This seems naive to me. Given that we know many judges are hostile and dismissive of Second Amendment rights, I predict there will be a large number of judges who will act as a rubber stamp for these GVROs. Keep in mind, these can be issued without the accused having the opportunity to appear or be represented counsel in an adversarial hearing. This is not due process, which should be required to deny someone a fundamental right.

I get that California enacted stiff penalties for false accusers, but the penalties mean nothing. I don’t believe the vast majority of false accusers will ever be charged. It’ll be a case of “he said, she said,” and prosecutors will understandably be reluctant to take the cases to trial on flimsy evidence. Let us not also discount the general hostility big city prosecutors have toward gun ownership in the first place, who might not be too sympathetic to a person petitioning them to charge a person who made a false accusation that got his or her guns taken away.

GVROs will be abused. It’s naive to think otherwise. There are people out there who seriously believe that gun ownership is a sign of mental illness in and of itself, and sometimes you may have those people in your family. It should only be a matter of time before gun rights attorneys can find someone screwed by this law who will make a good plaintiff, and then we’ll see whether the 9th circuit and the Supreme Court take due process seriously when it comes to the Second Amendment.

But No One Wants to Ban Guns!

You could have fooled me:

There are reports that the former Curves storefront at 2105 N. Pollard Street, in a small strip mall along Lee Highway, will be occupied by a gun shop. We, the citizens of Arlington County, oppose a gun shop at this location. We are alarmed that the shop is within 2 blocks of an Arlington County Public School that houses the HB Woodlawn Program and Stratford Program. Further, two elementary schools (Taylor and Arlington Science Focus), are only blocks away. Four additional schools are within 5 miles: Washington-Lee High School, St. Agnes, Key Elementary, and Glebe Elementary.

This is not a new idea. We sounded the alarm back in 2008 that Barack Obama was a proponent of the five mile rule for gun shops when he was an Illinois Senator. The idea has surfaced here and there ever since. Certainly this standard would ban gun shops most everywhere, except for very rural areas, but that’s the idea. It’s a backdoor way of banning guns and crushing the Second Amendment. If they came out and said they wanted to ban all guns, they’d lose all public support. So they come out and say something that sounds not quite so radical to the average low-information voters, and presto! You have a gun ban without making it sound like you want to ban guns.

I think the Second Amendment, properly interpreted, would bar any law that discriminated against gun dealers in zoning matters. It would not bar general zoning rules, such as those which distinguish between residential and commercial properties, but it would bar laws and ordinances clearly meant to frustrate the operation of businesses, rather than serving a legitimate government interest.

Much like the government must be neutral on matters of speech, so to must it be neutral on matters of gun ownership, including the right to sell firearms. The Second Amendment has to mean there is a right to sell firearms, albeit one subject to regulation according to Heller. You can find a lot of weak and lazy thinking about this on the other side in this area, such as this bit of commentary about a Minnesota car dealer that tried to have a gun giveaway with the purchase of a new car:

The dealer made claims about this being about the second amendment but the last time I checked there was nothing about a right to give guns away in a business deal. He also said callers were mean. I wonder if he means that the callers were insistent and emphatic in their opposition to the business deal.

When we’re “insistent and emphatic,” we’re “bullies.” When they do it, it’s fine. But let us not dwell on their rank hypocrisy, and get to the meat. In this case, since it was private pressure on the dealer that caused him to cancel the giveaway, the Second Amendment doesn’t apply here. The Bill of Rights only constrains government action, and not private action.

But if the Second Amendment is to be treated as other fundamental rights are treated, there is a presumption that the government needs to have a compelling interest, and the means the government uses to further that interest are the least intrusive method available. That’s strict scrutiny. Even intermediate scrutiny, if applied correctly by the courts (which it has not been in most cases) requires there to be an “important” government interest, where the law, ordinance, or regulation is “substantially related” to the promotion of that interest.

Now, let’s take a look at the case of a dealer giving away a gun through a federally licensed dealer. First, what government interest can we identify? “Reducing the number of guns on the street” is not an interest in light of gun ownership being a right. Keeping guns out of the hands of violent criminals is probably a compelling government interest, but since the person receiving it will have to undergo a federally mandated background check, that governmental interest is already at work here. They fail completely at the governmental interest part, whether you apply strict or intermediate scrutiny. The government can have no legitimate interest in reducing gun ownership levels, even if one were to accept the argument that reducing gun ownership in general reduces their availability to violent criminals. That would not be “narrowly tailored” or “substantially related.”

What about the ridiculous “not near a school rule?” Heller suggests that the government has a compelling interest in keeping firearms out of schools, since they are among the restrictions the Court said were “presumptively lawful.” Keeping guns out of the hands of children might be another compelling interest. But again, federally licensed dealers are prohibited from selling firearms to children. States can presumptively ban guns in schools, according to Heller, but would a ban on gun shops within 5 miles or even 1000 feet of a school be “narrowly tailored?” What interest would it be “substantially related” to? Again, by either strict or intermediate scrutiny, if applied correctly, these regulations do not pass constitutional muster. Such a law, if applied in the First Amendment context, would clearly be ruled “over broad” by the courts.

You will undoubtedly see more arguments along these lines, and it’s important to know how to take them apart and refute them. Make the other side look the uneducated fools. I don’t honestly blame them for summarily dismissing how we treat rights in this country, because their only hope left is to marginalize the Second Amendment, and somehow make it an outlying right. We should perhaps feel lucky they are so very bad at making those arguments.

UPDATE: See this map showing how five mile rule would work in Houston. How is this not a gun ban? “You can still own them. You just can’t really buy them, except for that one shop out in the middle of the desert that’s only open in the evenings. Only paranoid rednecks think the gun violence prevention movement is really a gun ban movement in disguise.”

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