Wednesday, December 5, 2018
In its opinion in Association of New Jersey Rifle and Pistol Clubs v. Attorney General of New Jersey, a divided panel of the Third Circuit rejected a challenge to New Jersey's prohibition of large capacity magazines (LCM), defined as magazines capable of holding more than ten rounds of ammunition, N.J. Stat. Ann. 2C:39-1(y), 2C:39-3(j). The challengers sought a preliminary injunction based on violations of the Second Amendment, the Equal Protection Clause, and the Fifth Amendment's Taking Clause; after an evidentiary hearing the district judge denied the injunction.
On the Second Amendment claim, the Third Circuit majority agreed with the general analysis laid out by the Second Circuit in New York State Rifle & Pistol Ass’n, Inc. v. Cuomo (2015). Judge Patty Shwartz, writing for the majority, first determined that a "magazine" is an arm regulated under the Second Amendment. Judge Shwartz then considered whether the regulation of a specific type of magazine, namely an LCM, “imposes a burden on conduct falling within the scope of the Second Amendment’s guarantee," by inquiring whether the type of arm at issue is commonly owned, and “typically possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes." The court noted that the record showed there were "millions" of such magazines and then assumed "without deciding that LCMs are typically possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes and that they are entitled to Second Amendment protection." The court then turned to the level of scrutiny to be applied — a question left open by the Court in Heller v. D.C. — by inquiring how severely the challenged regulation "burdens the core Second Amendment right."
Here, the court held that the New Jersey law did not severely burden the core Second Amendment right to self-defense in the home for five reasons and thus determined that intermediate scrutiny should apply. The court then held that the State of New Jersey has, undoubtedly, a significant, substantial and important interest in protecting its citizens’ safety," including reducing the lethality of active shooter and mass shooting incidents. The court rejected the challengers' argument that the rarity of such incidents should negate the state's interest, finding instead that the "evidence adduced before the District Court shows that this statement downplays the significant increase in the frequency and lethality of these incidents." The court further found that the LCM ban was a sufficiently close fit to the state's interest in promoting safety.
It was on the Second Amendment issue that Judge Stephanos Bibas dissenting, arguing that strict scrutiny should apply and that even if it does not, the New Jersey statute fails intermediate scrutiny. For Judge Bibas, although the majority stands in good company: five other circuits have upheld limits on magazine sizes," the courts err "in subjecting the Second Amendment to different, watered-down rules and demanding little if any proof."
While the Second Amendment challenge was at the heart of the case, the majority also rejected the challengers' claims under the Takings Clause and the Equal Protection Clause. On the Takings Clause, the majority held that there is not actual taking, and no "regulatory taking because it does not deprive the gun owners of all economically beneficial or productive uses of their magazines." On the Equal Protection Clause, the challengers faulted the Act because it allows retired law enforcement officers to possess LCMs while prohibiting retired military members and ordinary citizens from doing so.The majority did not engage in a robust analysis, but held that "retired law enforcement officers are not similarly situated to retired military personnel and ordinary citizens, and therefore their exemption from the LCM ban does not violate the Equal Protection Clause."
In short, the Third Circuit's opinion is part of a trend of determining that intermediate scrutiny applies to various regulations of high capacity firearms or magazines and upholding state regulation. Most likely a petition for certiorari will follow this opinion and it will be interesting to see whether the United States Supreme Court continues its own trend of denying such petitions.
[image: double-drum magazine, which holds 100 rounds, via]