Ezell’s doctrinal rules for the Second Amendment

The Seventh Circuit’s decision in Ezell v. Chicago is a tremendously important case for Second Amendment doctrine. The key rules from Ezell: use originalism from both 1791 and 1868 to determine if an activity is within the scope of the Second Amendment right. If it is, apply First Amendment doctrine, and make the standard of review more stringent when the activity is closer to the core of the right, and when the government is prohibiting rather than regulating. Generally speaking, when looking for guidance, look to Eugene Volokh.

As the above rules apply to the case at bar: The right to practice with firearms is an important ancillary to the core of the Second Amendment right, so Chicago’s ban on firing ranges is subject to not-quite-strict scrutiny.

Here’s how the Ezell court set forth the above standards.

The Second Amendment is like the First Amendment, in that a temporary deprivation of the right may constitute irreparable harm:

[F]or some kinds of constitutional violations, irreparable harm is presumed. See 11A CHARLES ALAN WRIGHT ET AL., FEDERAL PRACTICE & PROCEDURE § 2948.1 (2d ed. 1995) (“When an alleged deprivation of a constitutional right is involved, most courts hold that no further showing of irreparable injury is necessary.”). This is particularly true in First Amendment claims. See, e.g., Christian Legal Soc’y, 453 F.3d at 867 (“[V]iolations of First Amendment rights are presumed to constitute irreparable injuries . . . .” (citing Elrod v. Burns, 427 U.S. 347, 373 (1976))). The loss of a First Amendment right is frequently presumed to cause irreparable harm based on “the intangible nature of the benefits flowing from the exercise of those rights; and the fear that, if those rights are not jealously safeguarded, persons will be deterred, even if imperceptibly, from exercising those rights in the future.” Miles Christi Religious Order v. Twp. of Northville, 629 F.3d 533, 548 (6th Cir. 2010) (internal alteration and quotation marks omitted); see also KH Outdoor, LLC v. City of Trussville, 458 F.3d 1261, 1272 (11th Cir. 2006). The Second Amendment protects similarly intangible and unquantifiable interests. Heller held that the Amendment’s central component is the right to possess firearms for protection. 554 U.S. at 592-95. Infringements of this right cannot be compensated by damages.

When a law is “alleged to infringe Second Amendment rights,” there is a two-step inquiry, beginning with the question “Is the restricted activity protected by the Second Amendment in the first place? See Eugene Volokh, Implementing the Right to Keep and Bear Arms for Self-Defense: An Analytical Framework and a Research Agenda, 56 UCLA L. REV. 1443, 1449.”

To answer the first question, look to original meaning from both 1791 and 1868:

The answer requires a textual and historical inquiry into original meaning. Heller, 554 U.S. at 63435 (“Constitutional rights are enshrined with the scope they were understood to have when the people adopted them, whether or not future legislatures or (yes) even future judges think that scope too broad.”); McDonald, 130 S. Ct. at 3047 (“[T]he scope of the Second Amendment right” is determined by textual and historical inquiry, not interest-balancing.). McDonald confirms that when state- or local-government action is challenged, the focus of the original-meaning inquiry is carried forward in time; the Second Amendment’s scope as a limitation on the States depends on how the right was understood when the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified. See McDonald, 130 S. Ct. at 3038-42.

Courts should follow the Supreme Court’s lead and treat “original public meaning as both a starting point and an important constraint on the analysis. See Heller, 554 U.S. at 610-19; McDonald, 130 S. Ct. at 3038-42. ” [fn. 11].

Footnote 11 offers some examples of what the court apparently sees as the generally correct approach to the original public meaning inquiry:

11 On this aspect of originalist interpretive method as applied to the Second Amendment, see generally AKHIL REED AMAR, THE BILL OF RIGHTS: CREATION AND RECONSTRUCTION 215-30, 257-67 (1998); Brannon P. Denning & Glenn H. Reynolds, Five Takes on McDonald v. Chicago, 26 J.L & POL. 273, 285-87 (2011); Josh Blackmun [sic, Blackman] & Ilya Shapiro, Keeping Pandora’s Box Sealed: Privileges or Immunities, The Constitution in 2020, and Properly Extending the Right to Keep and Bear Arms to the States, 8 GEO. J.L. & PUB. POL’Y 1, 51-57 (2010); Clayton E. Cramer, Nicholas J. Johnson & George A. Mocsary, “This Right Is Not Allowed by Governments That Are Afraid of the People“: The Public Meaning of the Second Amendment When the Fourteenth Amendment Was Ratified, 17 GEO. MASON L. REV. 823, 824-25 (2010); Steven G. Calabresi & Sarah E. Agudo, Individual Rights Under State Constitutions When the Fourteenth Amendment Was Ratified in 1868: What Rights Are Deeply Rooted in American History and Tradition?, 87 TEX. L. REV. 7, 11-17, 50-54 (2008); Randy E. Barnett, Was the Right to Keep and Bear Arms Conditioned on Service in an Organized Militia?, 83 TEX. L. REV. 237, 266-70 (2004); David B. Kopel, The Second Amendment in the Nineteenth Century, 1998 BYU L. REV. 1359; Stephen P. Halbrook, Personal Security, Personal Liberty, and “The Constitutional Right to Bear Arms”: Visions of the Framers of the Fourteenth Amendment, 5 SETON HALL CONST. L.J. 341 (1995).

If the plaintiffs lose on the “scope” question, then the case is over and the government wins. If the alleged law does apply to something within the scope of the Second Amendment right, the court must apply judicial review. “[T]he rigor of this judicial review will depend on how close the law comes to the core of the Second Amendment right and the severity of the law’s burden on the right. See generally, Volokh, Implementing the Right to Keep and Bear Arms for Self-Defense, 56 UCLA L. REV. at 1454-72 (explaining the scope, burden, and danger-reduction justifications for firearm regulations post: Heller); Nelson Lund, The Second Amendment, Heller, and Originalist Jurisprudence, 56 UCLA L. REV. 1343, 1372-75 (2009); Adam Winkler, Heller’s Catch-22, 56 UCLA L. REV. 1551, 1571-73 (2009); Lawrence B. Solum, District of Columbia v. Heller and Originalism, 103 NW. U. L. REV. 923, 979-80 (2009); Glenn H. Reynolds & Brannon P. Denning, Heller’s Future in the Lower Courts, 102 NW. U. L. REV. 2035, 2042-44 (2008).”

The right to arms includes the right to practice with arms: “The right to possess firearms for protection implies a corresponding right to acquire and maintain proficiency in their use; the core right wouldn’t mean much without the training and practice that make it effective. The Ezell court pointed to the Supreme Court having “quoted at length from the ‘massively popular 1868 Treatise on Constitutional Limitations’ by judge and professor Thomas Cooley: ‘[T]o bear arms implies something more than the mere keeping; it implies the learning to handle and use them . . . ; it implies the right to meet for voluntary discipline in arms, observing in doing so the laws of public order’.” In addition, “‘No doubt, a citizen who keeps a gun or pistol under judicious precautions, practices in safe places the use of it, and in due time teaches his sons to do the same, exercises his individual right.’ (quoting BENJAMIN VAUGHAN ABBOTT, JUDGE AND JURY: A POPULAR EXPLANATION OF THE LEADING TOPICS IN THE LAW OF THE LAND 333 (1880)).”

So what exactly is the standard of review?

“The City urges us to import the ‘undue burden’ test from the Court’s abortion cases…but we decline the invitation. Both Heller and McDonald suggest that First Amendment analogues are more appropriate, see Heller, 554 U.S. at 582, 595, 635; McDonald, 130 S. Ct. at 3045, and on the strength of that suggestion, we and other circuits have already begun to adapt First Amendment doctrine to the Second Amendment context, see Skoien, 614 F.3d at 641; id. at 649 (Sykes, J., dissenting); Chester, 628 F.3d at 682; Marzzarella, 614 F.3d at 89 n.4; see also Volokh, Implementing the Right to Keep and Bear Arms for Self-Defense, 56 UCLA L. REV. at 1449, 1452, 1454-55; Lund, The Second Amendment, Heller, and Originalist Jurisprudence, 56 UCLA L. REV. at 1376; Winkler, Heller’s Catch-22, 56 UCLA L. REV. at 1572.

So “we can distill this First Amendment doctrine and extrapolate a few general principles to the Second Amendment context. First, a severe burden on the core Second Amendment right of armed self-defense will require an extremely strong public-interest justification and a close fit between the government’s means and its end.” This amounts to what the court calls “not quite ‘strict scrutiny.'” Or it could be called strict scrutiny light. A “an extremely strongly” state interest, rather than a “compelling one”; and “a close fit” rather than “narrowly tailored.”

For “laws restricting activity lying closer to the margins of the Second Amendment right, laws that merely regulate rather than restrict, and modest burdens on the right may be more easily justified. How much more easily depends on the relative severity of the burden and its proximity to the core of the right.” The Ezell court does not elaborate the doctrine for deciding lesser cases, because the instant case involves a prohibition very close to the core.

The “plaintiffs are the ‘law-abiding, responsible citizens’ whose Second Amendment rights are entitled to full solicitude under Heller . . .The City’s firing-range ban is not merely regulatory; it prohibits the ‘law-abiding, responsible citizens’ of Chicago from engaging in target practice in the controlled environment of a firing range. This is a serious encroachment on the right to maintain proficiency in firearm use, an important corollary to the meaningful exercise of the core right to possess firearms for self-defense.”

In short, the Second Amendment is part of normal constitutional law. The standard of review is not the absolutist “What part of ‘shall not be infringed’ don’t you understand?'” Nor is the standard “reasonableness” as a euphemism for “rational basis so long as all guns are not banned”; nor the weak “undue burden” standard that was invented for one particular unenumerated right which is an extreme outlier in the weakness of its basis in history, tradition, and other sources for unenumerated rights. Intermediate scrutiny does apply sometimes, as with the First Amendment, and, also as with the First Amendment, stricter scrutiny applies at other times. As with much of the rest of 21st century constitutional law, the interpretive methodology includes both originalism and a practical analysis which some persons would call “living constitutionalism.”