The Tenth Circuit divided 2-1 today on the constitutionality of banning guns for persons who have been convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor. The issues arises because federal prosecutors petitioned for a Writ of Mandamus, to stop a Utah district judge from employing a jury instruction which the prosecutors did not want. The issue was whether a domestic violence misdemeanant can be criminally convicted for possessing a gun if the jury decides that he poses no threat of violence, after the defendant raises the issue as an affirmative defense.
In case no. 09-4145, Judges Hartz and Kelly voted to issue the Writ of Mandamus which the prosecutors had sought. Judge Murphy dissented, and would have set the issue for briefing.
The case involves two separate issues: first, whether the federal d.v. gun ban is constitutional in all circumstances, and second, whether the answer to the first question is so clear as to make mandamus appropriate. On the second question, at least, I think Judge Murphy has the better argument, although the majority opinion has some valid points.
As for Judges Hartz and Kelly, who authored the majority opinion to issue the writ, Judge Hartz’s record on the Second Amendment suggests hostility to the right. Judge Kelly’s record, in contrast, demonstrates that he takes the right seriously, and attempts to apply it conscientiously to the cases at bar. (As detailed in my Denver University Law Review article, The Second Amendment in the Tenth Circuit: Three Decades of (Mostly) Harmless Error, which was recently cited in a concurring opinion by Judge Tymkovich in United States v. McCane, upholding the felon-in-possession statute.)