Saturday, April 27, 2013
While the facts may not be as originally reported, the NRA t-shirt of West Virginia High School Student has been causing consternation. Was he really suspended - - - and arrested - - - for wearing a t-shirt?
Such a result is most likely inconsistent with Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District. But that's not the full constitutional or perhaps factual story.
Monday, April 15, 2013
In a closely watched petition for certiorari in Kachalsky v. Cace, the Supreme Court declined an opportunity to review the Second Circuit's upholding of NY's "concealed carry" law.
Recall that the Second Circuit in Kachalsky v. County of Westchester applied intermediate scrutiny
New York's requirement that applicants prove “proper cause” to obtain licenses to carry handguns for self-defense under New York Penal Law.
Friday, April 5, 2013
A three-judge panel of the Second Circuit ruled this week in United States v. Bryant that the Second Amendment does not protect a right to possess a gun for drug trafficking. With the ruling, the Second Circuit joins the Seventh and Ninth Circuits in rejecting Second Amendment challenges to 18 U.S.C. Sec. 924(c), providing criminal sanctions for using or carrying a firearm during and in relation to a drug trafficking crime.
The Second Circuit seized on language in D.C. v. Heller that says that the Second Amendment protects "the right of law-abiding, responsible citizens to use arms in defense of hearth and home," and that "the Second Amendment protects a personal right to keep and bear arms for lawful purposes, most notably for self-defense within the home." (Emphasis added, both times.) The court ruled that possession of a gun for a drug trafficking crime is (obviously) not possession for a lawful purpose, and therefore federal law can punish such possession without running afoul of the Second Amendment. The court explained:
Here, Bryant may have purchased and possessed the Remington shotgun for the "core lawful purpose" of self-defense but his right to continue in that possession is not absolute. The jury determined there was sufficient evidence to convict Bryant of drug trafficking and also to convict him of possessing a firearm in connection with that drug trafficking. . . . Thus, once Bryant engaged in "an illegal home business," he was no longer a law-abiding citizen using the firearm for a lawful purpose, and his conviction for possession of a firearm under these circumstances does not burden his Second Amendment right to bear arms.
Friday, March 22, 2013
A state judge ruled that a Lousiana statute that criminalizes gun possession by felons violated the state's new and enanced right to bear arms, according to the Times-Picayune. The judge ruled the criminal ban unconstitutional and dismissed the felon possession charge against the defendant in the case. The ruling will go directly to the state supreme court.
Louisiana voters last year overwhelmingly passed a proposed state constitutional amendment, Proposed Amendment 2, that made "the right to keep and bear arms . . . fundamental" and explicitly provided for strict scrutiny review of any restriction of that right. The amendment also did away with previous language that permitted the state to prohibit the carrying of a concealed weapon. Here's the Lousiana SOS backgrounder; here are the ballot measures.
Under the new amendment, courts faced with a restriction on "the right to keep and bear arms" must apply strict scrutiny review. According to Judge Darryl Derbigny, Louisiana's statute criminalizing felon possession of guns just didn't cut it.
Saturday, February 23, 2013
A three-judge panel ruled yesterday in Peterson v. Martinez that the Second Amendment doesn't protect a person's right to carry a concealed weapon in public. The court didn't even apply a particular level of scrutiny or other constitutional test, because it ruled as a threshold matter that the Second Amendment doesn't even apply--that concealed carry doesn't even come within the Second Amendment's sweep.
The plaintiff in the case challenged a Colorado law that allows concealed carry permits for Colorado citizens only (and not out-of-staters). The plaintiff was a Washington resident, and he therefore didn't qualify. He argued that the ban on concealed carry for out-of-staters violated the Second Amendment, the right to travel, and Article IV Privileges and Immunities.
In ruling against the plaintiff on his Second Amendment claim, the court quoted Robertson v. Baldwin (1897), which said that "the right of the people to keep and bear arms is not infringed by laws prohibiting the carrying of concealed weapons." The court recognized this as dicta, but said that it followed Supreme Court dicta nearly as closely as it followed holdings, and, in any event, the Court in neither Heller nor McDonald clarified things. (If anything, the court said, those cases only strengthened the Robertson language.) Moreover, the court said that bans on concealed carry are "longstanding." For these reasons, it ruled that the Second Amendment didn't even apply--that concealed carry doesn't fall within the Second Amendment's protection.
Judge Lucero concurred, writing that even if concealed carry fell within the Second Amendment, Colorado's ban on concealed carry for out-of-staters would satisfy the appropriate constitutional test--intermediate scrutiny--because of the state's interest in public safety, and because much of the information necessary to determine whether an individual is qualified for concealed carry is kept in locally maintained databases. In other words, the state couldn't promote its interest in public safety by licensing out-of-staters, because it couldn't get the information necessary to determine whether they qualified based on other criteria.
The court also rejected the plaintiff's right-to-travel and Article IV claims. As to the right to travel, the court said that Colorado's ban isn't anything like the kinds of infringements on the right that other courts, including the Supreme Court, have recognized. As to Article IV, it said that concealed carry is not a privilege or immunity protected by Article IV, as evidenced by the longstanding bans on concealed carry (the same reason why it ruled that concealed carry isn't covered by the Second Amendment).
The ruling came the same day as the Seventh Circuit's en banc ruling overturning Illinois's law banning carrying ready-to-use guns in public. The two bans are different, though, and the courts' approaches are, too. Thus the Seventh Circuit looked to whether carrying a ready-to-use gun outside the home goes to self-defense; it said that it did, and that Illinois's ban thus violated the Second Amendment. The Tenth Circuit looked to whether concealed carry even comes within the Second Amendment's reach. It looked to history to conclude that it doesn't, and thus upheld Colorado's ban on concealed carry for out-of-staters.
Friday, February 22, 2013
The Seventh Circuit today denied en banc review of its earlier three-judge panel decision in Moore v. Madigan overturning Illinois's prohibition on carrying a ready-to-use gun outside the home. The panel held that the prohibition violated the Second Amendment. Today's denial reaffirms that ruling and sets the case up for potential Supreme Court review. (As of this writing, Illinois AG Lisa Madigan's press office couldn't say whether the state would seek Supreme Court review.)
Recall that the case challenged Illinois's prohibition on carrying guns outside the home. The earlier panel held that the text, history, and recent precedent on the Second Amendment all supported the conclusion that the Second Amendment right to self-defense extends outside the home. Judge Posner wrote that opinion; Judge Williams dissented.
Judge Hamilton, joined by Judges Rovner, Wood, and Williams, dissented from today's denial of en banc review. The dissent echoed Judge Williams's earlier dissent--that the majority's reading stretches the Supreme Court's holdings in Heller and McDonald, both of which turned on a right of self-defense in the home:
First, extending the right to bear arms outside the home and into the public sphere presents issues very different from those involved in the home itself, which is all that the Supreme Court decided in [Heller] and [McDonald]. I will not repeat the debate in the panel opinions reviewing the historical and empirical evidence, for that debate was, in the majority's view, essentially dicta. The core of the panel majority's reasoning is that because there is a need for self-defense outside the home as well as in, Heller and McDonald should extend to public carrying of loaded firearms. . . . The logic has some appeal, but its simplicity overlooks qualitative differences between a private home and public streets and buildings that must be considered as we try to interpret [those cases].
Judge Hamilton also noted that the majority's approach sets the Second Amendment test somewhere between rational basis review and strict scrutiny, thus allowing a range of gun regulation, even if not an outright ban on carrying guns outside the home:
- reasonable limits on who can carry a gun outside the home, including training and proficiency requirements;
- reasonable limits on where qualified persons can carry firearms in public;
- reasonable limits on how qualified persons may carry firearms (e.g., loaded or not, concealed, etc.);
- reasonable limits on which firearms may be carried; and
- allowing private bans (by bar owners, restaurant owners, and the like) on firearms.
Wednesday, February 13, 2013
President Obama's proposals to ban assault weapons and limit the size of magazines violates the Second Amendment, according to David B. Rivkin, Jr., and Andrew M. Grossman writing in last week's WSJ. They say that the ban and limit would interfere with the Second Amendment right to bear arms for self defense--a right, they say, that ought to be applied every bit as rigorously as the First Amendment right to free speech.
Lots of gun-rights advocates have made similar claims, but Rivkin and Grossman's piece may be particularly notable: Rivkin was on the early edge of certain other constitutional claims that many did not take seriously at the time but that were nevertheless ultimately vindicated. Recall that he argued early in the debates that the universal coverage provision, or the so-called individual mandate, in the Affordable Care Act exceeded congressional authority under the Commerce Clause. (Rivkin made that argument on the pages of the WSJ, too.) Many didn't take this seriously. But last summer, the Court said he was right (although it also upheld congressional authority to enact the provision under its taxing power, which Rivkin also argued against).
Anyway, here's Rivkin's case against President Obama's proposals:
[Assault weapons] may look sinister, but they don't differ from other common weapons in any relevant respect--firing mechanism, ammunition, magazine size--and so present no greater threat to public safety. Needless to say, the government has no legitimate interest in banning guns that gun-controllers simply do not like and would not, themselves, care to own.
Also constitutionally suspect are restrictions on magazine size. There is no question that a limit of 10 rounds (as the president has proposed) or seven (as enacted by New York state last month) would impair the right to self-defense. A magazine with 10 rounds may provide adequate protection against a single nighttime intruder. But it may not: What if there are two intruders?
In short: assault weapons and 10-round magazines may be necessary for self-defense, and there's no good reason for government to restrict them.
Rivkin and Grossman argue that Second Amendment restrictions--even including things like requirements to carry gun insurance and even especially high taxes on ammunition--ought to get the full First Amendment treatment: strict scrutiny, or something close to it.
Wednesday, January 23, 2013
Representative Steve Stockman (R-TX) and Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) today introduced companion bills that would overturn President Obama's series of recent orders on gun control. Politico reports here; The Hill here; and Stockman's press release is here. (Rep. Stockman, you may recall, earlier called for President Obama's impeachment over the orders.)
According to Stockman's press release, his objection is more about separation of powers than infringement on the Second Amendment, though he mentions both. As to powers, he argues that "the Constitution flatly prohibits the President from making up his own laws." Stockman's legislation, the Restore The Constitution Act, would
declare any past, present or future executive action that infringes on the powers and duties of Congress in Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution, or the Second Amendment to the Constitution or that would require the expenditure of federal funds not specifically appropriated for the purpose of executive action, is advisory only and has no force or effect unless enacted by law.
Wednesday, December 26, 2012
An interactive map revealing gun information published by a suburban New York newspaper is causing an uproar. The newspaper explained, to "create the map, The Journal News submitted Freedom of Information requests for the names and addresses of all pistol permit holders in Westchester, Rockland and Putnam [Counties]. By state law, the information is public record."
The newspaper's actions come in the wake of renewed conversations regarding gun control and ownership. However, the disclosure of information using google maps is not new. Activists used Google maps to disclose the names, addresses, and contributions made by Californians in support of Proposition 8 that prohibited same-sex marriage. (Recall Prop 8 is now before the United States Supreme Court.)
While not using mapping applications, the Supreme Court's 2010 decision in Doe v. Reed is relevant. In Doe v. Reed, the Court 8-1 rejected a First Amendment challenge to the disclosure of names on a petition seeking a ballot initiative, again prohibiting same-sex marriage, in Washington state. Interestingly, during the oral argument, the Justices seemed often to conflate the Washington initiative with California's Proposition 8. Yet the fact that state law through its public record law was merely requiring disclosure, rather than prohibiting speech, was central to the Court's opinion that there was not a right to remain anonymous. The names were thus disclosed.
State law could, however, provide a "Firearms Ownership Privacy Act" such as those being advocated by the National Rifle Association that might seek to declare gun permits non-public records. The firearms privacy act passed in Florida, prohibiting doctors from inquiring about gun ownership, was enjoined as a violation of the First Amendment.
[image screenshot via]
Friday, December 21, 2012
ConLawProf Adam Winkler's book Gun Fight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America published in 2011 has understandably receiving renewed attention.
One of the more interesting arguments Winkler makes is that the Black Panthers were the true pioneers of modern pro-gun advocacy, at a time when the National Rifle Association championed gun regulation.
Winkler's article for The Atlantic, The Secret History of Guns, also published last year and adapted from the book, is definitely worth a (re)read.
Thursday, December 20, 2012
The national conversation on violence has shifted since last week to include not only discussions of the Second Amendment, the role of conlaw scholars, appropriate quotations, and arming school teachers, but also "violent video games."
Any mention of the regulation of violent video games occurs in the shadow of the Court's 2011 decision in Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association in which the Court held unconstitutional California's statute prohibiting the sale of violent video games to minors under the age of 18 without parental permission. Scalia, for the Court, assessed the statute under the First Amendment, reasoning that the statute was not narrowly tailored:
As a means of protecting children from portrayals of violence, the legislation is seriously underinclusive, not only because it excludes portrayals other than video games, but also because it permits a parental or avuncular veto. And as a means of assisting concerned parents it is seriously overinclusive because it abridges the First Amendment rights of young people whose parents (and aunts and uncles) think violent video games are a harmless pastime.
In dissent, Breyer cited more than 100 studies on the links between violent video games and aggression, contending that legislatures were in a better position to assess such social science data than judges.
Professor William Ford (pictured) interrogates the scientific and social scientific underpinnings of video game regulation. In his article The Law and Science of Video Game Violence: What Was Lost in Translation?, forthcoming in Cardozo Arts & Entertainment Law Journal, available in draft on ssrn, Ford ultimately agrees with the Court's conclusion in Entertainment Merchants Association, given that "the First Amendment interests at stake in these cases outweighed the speculative possibility that a legislature is better able to assess scientific evidence than the courts." He criticizes Breyer's view that legislatures are better positioned to assess the data than judges, by noting that legislators are also ill-equipped as social scientists. Ford states that "there is no study, let alone a literature, assessing the relative skill of legislators and judges in reviewing or assessing scientific evidence." Ford then implies that legislators might be less able to assess the evidence, because "the dominant goal usually associated with legislative behavior is reelection, which is not necessarily conducive to the careful assessment of scientific evidence." Taken to its logical conclusion, that sentiment would have the courts very busy indeed, and would obliterate deferential review in constitutional law.
Ford's arguments about the social science literature, however, are exceedingly well-taken. In sum, it is inconclusive at best. Considering not only Entertainment Merchants Association, but other legislation and cases, he summarizes:
The relevant literature is large, especially when one recognizes that these cases cannot just be about whether video game “violence” causes “aggression.” At a minimum, these cases were also about, or should have been about, a nuanced view of what counts as violence and aggression, how to operationalize violence and aggression, what types of violence may be particularly harmful, who might be most susceptible to harmful effects from violent media, and whether government restrictions would do anything to alleviate the harm.
Ford's article is also worth a read for its excellent discussion of "causation" in the debates about the role of video games. This is an issue that may surface as more facts become known about recent events - - - and even more studies are produced that may be used by legislators and courts.
[image: Mortal Kombat via]
Wednesday, December 19, 2012
If the often touted solution to unacceptable speech is "more speech" in the First Amendment context, perhaps there is a parallel Second Amendment solution, as in "more guns." Indeed, one repeated suggestion to prevent school shootings is to arm teachers with sufficient fire power.
Claire Potter (pictured) contemplates this suggestion in her popular Chronicle of Higher Education column "Tenured Radical." Her latest post "Teachers are not Soldiers," highlights the ethical and moral rationales for not allowing violence to escalate into our schools and universities.
But Potter also has a compelling and deeply pragmatic argument. She relates an incident when a student was killed on campus and she and her colleague suspected that perhaps "Jack," a student who had been acting unbalanced, was the perpetrator:
Imagine if, because of our uncertainty about what was wrong with Jack or what it meant, we had greeted our innocent student — already laboring under great emotional strain — with a couple of handguns in the face. Imagine, worse, if there had been a second, inadvertent, killing that day because we misread his fear, anger or confusion as aggression. Veteran police officers, well trained as they are, make this mistake with far too great a frequency in the city I now live in. Historically, and in our current wars, so do soldiers.
Potter's post is worth reading in full, especially if you can't precisely articulate the reasons you don't want to carry an automatic weapon with you to class in addition to your casebook, notebook, powerpoint notes, flash drive, keys, and class attendance list.
Tuesday, December 18, 2012
"Beat Generation" afficionados and American Literature majors know William S. Burroughs' Naked Lunch; ConLawProfs may recall the First Amendment implications including the eventual decree by Massachusetts' highest court that the book was not obscene, Attorney General v. A Book Named “Naked Lunch,” 218 N.E.2d 571 (Mass. 1965).
Many also know the broad outlines of William Burrough's life, including his drug addiction and his fatal shooting of his wife. For those less well-acquainted, Ted Morgan's biography, Literary Outlaw: The Life and Times of William S. Burroughs is an interesting read. Morgan discusses the various versions of Burroughs' killing of his wife in Mexico by shooting her in the head. The usual version (and Burroughs' own) features a small social gathering, drinking alcohol, and Burroughs' suggestion that his wife put a glass on her head and he shoot it off "William Tell" style. He missed and she was dead. He eventually fled back to the United States and was convicted in Mexico in absentia. Morgan quotes Burroughs as haunted by the killing and "often" saying his life was an "evil river" and that he was possessed by an "evil spirit."
Given his biography, Burroughs makes a rather odd spokesperson for Second Amendment rights. Yet, as both Dan Filler over at Faculty Lounge and Brian Leiter quoting Jason Walta note, a December 14 op-ed in USA Today in favor of expansive Second Amendment rights begins with a quote from William S. Burroughs: " "After a shooting spree," author William Burroughs once said, "they always want to take the guns away from the people who didn't do it." "
Monday, December 17, 2012
With renewed attention on the Second Amendment and guns after Friday's horrific events, a provocative (re)read is Carl T. Bogus' 2000 article, The History And Politics of Second Amendment Scholarship: A Primer, published in a Symposium on the Second Amendment in Volume 76 of Chicago-Kent Law Review, and available on the Second Amendment Foundation website here.
Professor Bogus (pictured) who has written widely on the Second Amendment discusses the involvement of the legal scholarly community with Second Amendment issues and organizations. Writing years before the Court's 5-4 decisions in District of Columbia v. Heller (2008) and McDonald v. City of Chicago (2010), Bogus traces the move from the "collective right" model (stressing the militia aspect) of the Second Amendment that was universal until 1960, including the efforts of organizations to fund work friendly to the individual right interpretation of the Second Amendment, which became known as the "Standard Model."Bogus stops short of arguing scholars were improperly influenced, but argues that the influences are worth considering, writing:
One last note before concluding. I have written about the campaign to develop a large body of literature supporting the individual right position and to create a perception that this view constitutes a standard model of scholarship (a perception this Symposium is likely to end). I have observed that some writers have connections to gun rights organizations, and even that some received grants in connection with their writings. I do not, however, contend that anyone was paid or improperly influenced to advocate a position that he or she does not genuinely hold. On the contrary, I am convinced that individuals identified in this Article believe - - - many passionately - - - in what they have written. And I believe everyone, regardless of political affiliation or belief, is entitled to have his or her work judged on its merits.
Why then discuss the history and politics of Second Amendment scholarship? Why not focus entirely on the merits? The history and politics of Second Amendment scholarship, including to some extent the political affiliations and agendas of the participants, is relevant because so-called standard modelers made it relevant. They have made much of both the size of the individual right literature and the prominence of certain scholars endorsing that position. It is important, therefore, to understand the history and politics that have helped bring these about.
Although more than a decade old, Carl Bogus article is certainly worth a (re)read by constitutional scholars.
Tuesday, December 11, 2012
A divided three-judge panel of the Seventh Circuit ruled today in Moore v. Madigan that Illinois's prohibition on carrying a ready-to-use gun outside the home violates the Second Amendment. The crux of the ruling is the majority's view that the Second Amendment protects the right to self defense even outside the home.
Judge Posner wrote a meandering opinion for the majority, examining history, text, precedent, social science, and even the fact that Illinois is the only state with a flat ban on carrying ready-to-use guns. Judge Posner wrote that the Second Amendment text ("keep" and "bear") and the language of both Heller and McDonald suggested that the right to self defense in those cases was not limited to the home.
Judge Posner applied the Seventh Circuit's "strong showing" standard from U.S. v. Skoien, 614 F.3d 638 (7th Cir. 2010), addressing the federal ban on firearm possession of any person "who has been convicted in any court of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence." 18 U.S.C. Sec. 922(g)(9). Under that standard, the government has to make a "strong showing" that a gun ban was vital to public safety. Here, Illinois had to make an even stronger showing than the government in Skoien, because "the curtailment of gun rights [under Illinois law is] much narrower." Op. at 14. The standard is higher--maybe much higher--than rational basis review. The court explained:
A blanket prohibition on carrying a gun in public prevents a person from defending himself anywhere except inside his home; and so substantial a curtailment of the right of armed self-defense requires a greater showing of justification than merely that the public might benefit on balance from such a curtailment, though there is no proof it would. In contrast, when a state bans guns merely in particular place, such as public schools, a person can preserve an undiminished right of self-defense by not entering those places; since that's a lesser burden, the state doesn't need to prove so strong a need. Similarly, the state can prevail with less evidence when, as in Skoien, guns are forbidden to a class of persons who present a higher than average risk of misusing a gun. And empirical evidence of a public safety concern can be dispensed with altogether when the ban is limited to obviously dangerous persons such as felons and the mentally ill. Illinois has lots of options for protecting its people from being shot without having to eliminate all possibility of armed self-defense in public.
Op. at 15.
Judge Posner said that Illinois failed to meet this standard. In particular, Judge Posner wrote that Illinois was alone among the 50 states in having such a restrictive law, and that "[i]f the Illinois approach were demonstrably superior, one would expect at least one or two other states to have emulated it." Op. at 16.
Judge Williams dissented, arguing that the Supreme Court in Heller and McDonald did not answer the question here--whether the Second Amendment protects the right to carry guns for self defense outside the home--and that the court should defer to the State unless and until the Supreme Court rules otherwise.
Monday, December 3, 2012
Judge Thomas Johnston (WDWV) ruled in U.S. v. Mark that the federal ban on body armor possession by a convicted felon did not violate the Second Amendment or Due Process Clause, and that Congress did not exceed its authority in enacting the ban under the Commerce Clause.
Mark brought his challenge after he was charged and convicted of possession of body armor by a felon under 18 U.S.C. Secs. 931 and 921(a)(35). Federal marshalls found the body armor, along with a cache of weapons, in a protective sweep of his home after his arrest.
Judge Johnston ruled that the statutes did not violate the Second Amendment, because there was no indication that the Framers intended to protect body armor in the Second Amendment, and there was no case law on body armor providing any additional guidance. He wrote that the statutes were not unconstitutionally vague under due process in defining "body armor," because Section 931 gives a definition "that is readily understandable to the ordinary person." Op. at 19. And he held that the jurisdictional element in Section 931 was indistinguishable from the jurisdictional element in 18 U.S.C. Sec. 922(g)(1), the statute penalizing possession of firearms by convicted felons and upheld by the Fourth Circuit--on the basis of its jurisdictional element.
Judge Johnston also ruled the marshalls' search, a protective sweep of the home after arrest, didn't violate the Fourth Amendment.
December 3, 2012 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Criminal Procedure, Due Process (Substantive), Fourth Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis, Second Amendment | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Wednesday, November 28, 2012
The central argument of ConLawProf Allen Rostron's article, Justice Breyer’s Triumph in the Third Battle over the Second Amendment, published at 80 George Washington Law Review 703 (2012), and available in draft on ssrn, received further validation with yesterday's Second Circuit opinion upholding a New York law restricting concealed carrying of firearms in public.
Rostron (pictured) considers the range of lower court decisions resulting from challenges to state and local firearm regulations made possible by the Court's recent Second Amendment decisions. Heller v. District of Columbia, the first "battle" in the gun wars, recognized a Second Amendment right beyond the militia, and in the second battle of 2010, the Court in McDonald v. City of Chicago, incorporated this right to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment. However, in neither "battle" did the Supreme Court specify what level of scrutiny or test should be used to assess the validity of gun laws under the Second Amendment, leaving the lower courts to struggle with this issue.
Rostron's contribution is his engagement with the third "battle": the interpretation and application of Heller and McDonald in the lower courts. He argues that the third phase of the fight over the right to keep and bear arms is moving toward an unusual result, with these decisions reflecting the "pragmatic sentiments of Justice Breyer’s dissenting opinions in Heller and McDonald," rather than the majority, plurality, or concurring opinions that are long on history and rhetoric and short on doctrine or guidance.
Rostron is candid about his own preferences and equally candid that the politics or doctrine could shift, including the Court's grant of certiorari in an additional case in order to promulgate a strict scrutiny standard. For now, however, Rostron's compelling article demonstrates that Breyer's dissent operates in many ways as a majority opinion.
Of course, if Breyer's view had prevailed in the controversial 5-4 decisions in Heller and McDonald, the federal courts would not be busily adjudicating these Second Amendment challenges.
Tuesday, November 27, 2012
Second Circuit on Second Amendment: New York's Gun Licensing Limitation for Concealed Handguns Is Constitutional
In a unanimous opinion today, a Second Circuit panel in Kachalsky v. County of Westchester upheld New York's requirement that applicants prove “proper cause” to obtain licenses to carry handguns for self-defense under New York Penal Law section 400.00(2)(f).
Affirming the district judge, the panel interpreted the Supreme Court's controversial Heller v. District of Columbia 2008 decision, as well as the subsequent McDonald v. City of Chicago opinion holding that the Second Amendment right recognized in Heller was incorporated to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment. (Recall that four Justices in McDonald ruled incorporation was through the due process clause, with Justice Thomas concurring in the result, but contending incorporation occurred through the privileges or immunities clause).
One of the issues left open by Heller and McDonald was the level of scrutiny to be applied to gun regulations. The plaintiffs, represented by Alan Gura, familiar from both Heller and McDonald, argued that strict scrutiny should apply. In rejecting strict scrutiny, the Second Circuit panel emphasized that the New York regulation at issue was not within the core interest protected by the Heller Court's interpretation of the Second Amendment - - - self-defense within the home - - - but was a limitation of concealed weapons permits to those who could demonstrate a "special need for self-protection distinguishable from that of the general community or of persons engaged in the same profession." The panel also rejected the plaintiffs' argument that the concealed carry permits were akin to prior restraint under the First Amendment. The court stated, "“We are hesitant to import substantive First Amendment principles wholesale into Second Amendment jurisprudence. Indeed, no court has done so.” (emphasis in original). Later in the opinion, the court provided an even more convincing argument:
State regulation under the Second Amendment has always been more robust than of other enumerated rights. For example, no law could prohibit felons or the mentally ill from speaking on a particular topic or exercising their religious freedom.
Recall that even the majority opinions in Heller and McDonald maintained that prohibiting felons or the mentally ill from possessing guns was consistent with the Second Amendment.
The Second Circuit decided that "intermediate scrutiny" was "appropriate in this case": "The proper cause requirement" of the New York law "passes constitutional muster if it is substantially related to the achievement of an important governmental interest."
The substantial (and indeed compelling) governmental interests were "public safety and crime prevention," as the parties seemed to agree. As to the substantial relationship, the court noted that the "legislative judgment" surrounding these issues was a century old and that the proper cause requirement was a "hallmark" of New York's handgun regulation since then. The court also noted that the law was not a ban, but a restriction to those persons who have a reason to possess a concealed handgun in public. New York did submit more current studies, and the court credited these even as it stated that the decision was clearly a policy one for the legislature. Heller did not, the court ruled, take such "policy choices off the table."
The Second Circuit's opinion is doctrinally well-reasoned, but also a deliberate engagement with the history of gun regulation. In the very beginning of its analysis, the opinion states
New York’s efforts in regulating the possession and use of firearms predate the Constitution. By 1785, New York had enacted laws regulating when and where firearms could be used, as well as restricting the storage of gun powder.
The court returns again and again to the history, in New York and elsewhere, even as it reiterates that history does not answer the question.
[image" The Knotted Gun," sculpture in NYC outside UN, via].
Sunday, October 28, 2012
A three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit in NRA v. ATF upheld the federal ban on gun sales by federal firearms licensees to those under 21 years of age against a Second Amendment challenge. Notably, the court ruled that the ban didn't even touch activity protected by the Second Amendment (and it therefore didn't violate the Second Amendment). But, the court ruled, even if it did touch activity protected by the Second Amendment, it did not violate the Second Amendment.
This is the first federal circuit court ruling on these federal provisions and only the second federal court ruling on them. (The first, a 2008 district court ruling from the Western District of Texas, held the provisions constitutional under an intermediate scrutiny standard.) Otherwise the ruling breaks no new ground in Second Amendment jurisprudence post Heller and McDonald--it hews closely to the Second Amendment jurisprudential line set by other circuits--and it therefore may be a model and bellwether for other cases challenging these provisions.
The NRA will certainly seek en banc review, and the ultimate loser at the Fifth Circuit will undoubtedly seek cert. The case presents a good candidate for the Supreme Court to set and to apply a Second Amendment standard (on the one hand), but it's almost surely too soon, without any other circuit ruling on the provisions (on the other). At the end of the day, the Supreme Court is unlikely to take this one up, so long as any final ruling from the Fifth Circuit reflects the kind of cautious, well-within-bounds approach of this panel.
The federal provisions, 18 U.S.C. Secs. 922(b)(1) and (c)(1), together prohibit federally licensed firearms dealers from selling handguns to persons under the age of 21. The NRA sued with a couple individual named plaintiffs and argued that the restriction violated the Second Amendment.
The Fifth Circuit disagreed. The court recognized that the Supreme Court has not defined a precise constitutional test for Second Amendment challenges. But in adopting the flexible and "prevailing" two-step inquiry established by the Third, Fourth, Sixth, Seventh, Tenth, and D.C. Circuits, the court drew on language from Heller:
[N]othing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.
Op. at 10 (quoting Heller at 626-27) (emphasis added). The two-step inquiry asks: (1) Does the challenged law impinge upon a right protected by the Second Amendment? and (2) Does intermediate scrutiny or strict scrutiny apply?
As to the first question, the court carefully surveyed the history and tradition of gun sale regulations and concluded that
the conduct at issue falls outside the Second Amendment's protection. At a high level of generality, the present ban is consistent with a longstanding tradition of targeting select groups' ability to access and to use arms for the sake of public safety. More specifically, the present ban appears consistent with a longstanding tradition of age- and safety-based restrictions on the ability to access arms. In conformity with founding-era thinking, and in conformity with the views of various 19th-century legislators and courts, Congress restricted the ability of minors under 21 to purchase handguns because Congress found that they tend to be relatively immature and that denying them easy access to handguns would deter violent crime.
Op. at 26-27. Thus the court ruled that it didn't even need to get to the second question.
But just in case, it did. On the second question, the court applied intermediate scrutiny and held that curbing violent crime by those under 21 constitutes an important government objective and that the sales ban--not a blunter possession ban--adequately served that end.
Friday, October 19, 2012
The labels of constitutional interpretative practice often attached to Justices such as "legal realist" or "originalist" are both useful and problematical. In her essay, John Paul Stevens, Originalist, 106 Northwestern University Law Review 743 (2012), available on ssrn, Professor Diane Marie Amann (pictured), makes an argument that Justice Stevens could just as well be called an originalist as his more usual label of pragmatist.
Amann's essay argues that scholars need to recognize that Stevens "has done battle upon originalism’s own field of combat." She highlights Stevens opinions in the "gun rights" cases of District of Columbia v. Heller (2008) and McDonald v. City of Chicago (2010), the latter of which was rendered the day before Stevens retired after almost thirty-five years as a Justice.
Importantly, she also situates Stevens career within the history of the Court, especially Justices appointed by FDR such as Justice Rutledge, for whom Stevens clerked in 1947.
For anyone teaching, writing, or studying theories of constitutional interpretation, Amman's essay is a must-read.