Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Ninth Circuit Upholds San Francisco's Gun Regulations

Affirming the federal district judge, a panel of the Ninth Circuit in its opinion in Jackson v. City of San Francisco found that San Francisco's gun regulations likely survived the Second Amendment challenges and therefore the denial of the preliminary injunction was proper.

At issue were two San Francisco gun-related regulations: one that requires handguns to be stored in a locked container at home or disabled with a trigger lock when not carried on the person and the other that prohibits the sale of hollow-point ammunition within San Francisco.

Handgun-231696_640The panel, as other courts have done, derived its framework from District of Columbia v. Heller, first asking whether the challenged regulations burden conduct protected by the Second Amendment and then applying the "appropriate" level of scrutiny.  Because Heller (and McDonald v.Chicago which incorporated the Second Amendment against the states) left open this second inquiry, the panel - - - again following other circuits - - -then analyzed  ‘how close the law comes to the core of the Second Amendment right’ and ‘the severity of the law’s burden on the right.’   The panel analogized to First Amendment principles and noted that "firearm regulations which leave open alternative channels for self-defense are less likely to place a severe burden on the Second Amendment right than those which do not." The panel applied intermediate scrutiny to the regulations.

The opinion distinguished the San Francisco gun regulation requiring safety measures from those seemingly similar District of Columbia safety measures the United States Supreme Court found unconstitutional in Heller:

Section 4512 does not impose the sort of severe burden imposed by the handgun ban at issue in Heller that rendered it unconstitutional. Unlike the challenged regulation in Heller, section 4512 does not substantially prevent law-abiding citizens from using firearms to defend themselves in the home. Rather, section 4512 regulates how San Franciscans must store their handguns when not carrying them on their persons. This indirectly burdens the ability to use a handgun, because it requires retrieving a weapon from a locked safe or removing a trigger lock. But because it burdens only the “manner in which persons may exercise their Second Amendment rights,” the regulation more closely resembles a content-neutral speech restriction that regulates only the time, place, or manner of speech. The record indicates that a modern gun safe may be opened quickly. Thus, even when a handgun is secured, it may be readily accessed in case of an emergency. Further, section 4512 leaves open alternative channels for self-defense in the home, because San Franciscans are not required to secure their handguns while carrying them on their person. Provided San Franciscans comply with the storage requirements, they are free to use handguns to defend their home while carrying them on their person.

[citations omitted]

As to the sale of hollow point bullets, the panel found that there was standing to challenge the restriction and that such ammunition was protected by the Second Amendment.  But it again applied intermediate scrutiny and found the regulation survived.  It reasoned that the city's regulation "imposed only modest burdens on the Second Amendment right" given "the availability of alternative means for procuring hollow-point ammunition." 

The opinion is firmly rooted in current doctrine, even as that doctrine is in disarray.  Earlier this month the Delaware Supreme Court held a gun restriction in public housing unconstitutional; earlier this year a district judge in Chicago held that city's gun regulations unconstitutional.   The United States Supreme Court this Term has denied certiorari to several petitions seeking review of lower court cases including Fifth Circuit cases upholding a ban of sales of guns to those under 21.

Borrowing from First Amendment doctrine seems especially problematic in these cases, but understandable given the infantile state of the doctrine.

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First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Second Amendment | Permalink

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