Tenth Circuit Upholds Ban on Gun Possession by Illegal Aliens

From United States v. Huitron-Guizar (10th Cir. May 7, 2012) (thanks to Prof. Doug Berman (Sentencing Law & Policy) for the pointer):

We applied “intermediate” scrutiny in Reese, 627 F.3d at 802, which involved a Second Amendment challenge by a citizen to 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(8), the provision forbidding firearms to those subject to a domestic-protection order. If we assume that an illegal alien like Mr. Huitron-Guizar, who has been here for decades and nowhere else, is entitled to the lawful exercise of this enumerated right, and if we observe that the law here not only burdens but eliminates the right by placing, on a class of perhaps millions, a total prohibition upon possessing any type of gun for any reason, “intermediate” scrutiny would seem to apply. Id., at 800 (comparing burdens imposed by the various § 922 restrictions). Under this standard a law is sustained if the government shows that it is “substantially related” to an “important” official end. Id. at 802.

The “principal purposes” of the Gun Control Act of 1968 are to “make it possible to keep firearms out of the hands of those not legally entitled to possess them because of age, criminal background, or incompetency, and to assist law enforcement authorities in the States and their subdivisions in combating the increasing prevalence of crime.” S.Rep. No. 90-1501, at 22 (1968). The alien-inpossession ban was incorporated from a predecessor statute by the 1986 Firearm Owners’ Protection Act, Pub.L. No. 99-308, 100 Stat. 449, likewise with purpose of keeping instruments of deadly force away from those deemed irresponsible or dangerous. S.Rep. No. 98-583, at 12 (1986).

Congress may have concluded that illegal aliens, already in probable present violation of the law, simply do not receive the full panoply of constitutional rights enjoyed by law-abiding citizens. Or that such individuals, largely outside the formal system of registration, employment, and identification, are harder to trace and more likely to assume a false identity. Or Congress may have concluded that those who show a willingness to defy our law are candidates for further misfeasance or at least a group that ought not be armed when authorities seek them. It is surely a generalization to suggest, as courts do, see, e.g., United States v. Orellana, 405 F.3d 360, 368 (5th Cir. 2005), that unlawfully present aliens, as a group, pose a greater threat to public safety—but general laws deal in generalities. The class of convicted felons, too, includes non-violent offenders. See McCane, 573 F.3d at 1048-49 (10th Cir. 2009) (Tymkovich, J., concurring) (suggesting that Heller’s “dictum” should not foreclose challenges to the felon-dispossession law in § 922(g)(1)). The law applies with equal force to those who entered yesterday and those who, like Mr. Huitron-Guizar, were carried across the border as a toddler. The bottom line is that crime control and public safety are indisputably “important” interests.

If the right’s “central component,” as interpreted by Heller, 554 U.S. at 599, is to secure an individual’s ability to defend his home, business, or family (which often includes children who are American citizens), why exactly should all aliens who are not lawfully resident be left to the mercies of burglars and assailants? That must be at least one reason behind the wave of challenges to § 922(g)(5). But courts must defer to Congress as it lawfully exercises its constitutional power to distinguish between citizens and non-citizens, or between lawful and unlawful aliens, and to ensure safety and order.

Here’s the Tenth Circuit’s reasoning in Reese explaining why intermediate scrutiny was the proper test:

The initial question we must address is whether intermediate scrutiny is also appropriate for the statute challenged by Reese. To be sure, § 922(g)(8) is arguably more restrictive than § 922(k), the statute at issue in Marzzarella, in that it prohibits the possession of all types of firearms. On the other hand, however, § 922(g)(8) is less restrictive than § 922(k) in that it applies only to a narrow class of persons, rather than to the public at large. And, in that regard, § 922(g)(8) is substantially similar to § 922(g)(9), the statute at issue in Skoien. Specifically, both statutes prohibit the possession of firearms by narrow classes of persons who, based on their past behavior, are more likely to engage in domestic violence. Based upon these characteristics, we conclude that § 922(g)(8), like the statutes at issue in Marzzarella and Skoien, is subject to intermediate scrutiny.

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