Author Archive | David Kopel

Successes in Colorado Sheriffs’ Second Amendment case

This post provides an update on last week’s developments in Cooke et al. v. Hickenlooper. This is a lawsuit filed May 17 in federal District Court in Denver, challenging two gun laws enacted by the state legislature in March. In the case, I represent 55 of Colorado’s 62 elected Sheriffs, plus one retired police officer. Other plaintiffs, with their own attorneys, include the Colorado Farm Bureau, Outdoor Buddies (which helps disabled people participate in outdoor sports), the Colorado Outfitters Association (trade association for hunting guides), federally-licensed firearms dealers, the National Shooting Sports Foundation, and others. We argue that House Bill 1224 (magazine ban) and House Bill 1229 (background checks and paperwork on temporary loans and private sales of firearms) violate the Second and Fourteenth Amendment, and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

On June 12, we filed a motion for a preliminary injunction on two narrow issues in the magazine ban.

1. The magazine ban outlaws magazines which accept more than 15 rounds of ammunition. The ban also applies to magazines which are “designed to be readily converted” to hold more than 15. We argued that the “designed” language was unconstitutionally vague, in violation of the 14th Amendment, and to the extent that the language had any clear meaning, it violated the Second Amendment.

2. To qualify for grandfathering, a person must fulfill two requirements. First: own the magazine on July 1. Second: maintain “continuous possession” thereafter. We argued that “continuous possession” was unconstitutionally vague, and that what meaning it did have (according to the Attorney General) violated the Second Amendment.

On the eve of the July 10 preliminary injunction hearing, the plaintiffs’ attorneys and the Colorado Attorney General’s office reached an agreement which resulted in new Technical Guidance being published by the Attorney General on July 10. The new [...]

Continue Reading 0

Colorado Inside-Out 1973 Time Machine

This Friday, July 6, at 8 p.m. Mountain Time, is Colorado Inside-Out’s annual Time Machine episode, on Colorado Public Television, channel 12. These episodes have won three regional Emmy Awards. This year’s episode takes us to 1973, with discussions of Equal Rights Amendment ratification, political violence, the energy crisis, and Watergate.

The characters are, from left to right: KHOW radio host Charlie Martin (Dominic Dezutti), folksinger Judy Collins (Patty Calhoun), Colorado State Rep. Gerald Kopel (me), an obscure actress with a couple Broadway cast appearances (Dani Newsum), and Rocky Mountain News police reporter Al Nakkula (Kevin Flynn). If you don’t live in Colorado, you can watch it on the website, starting sometime next week.

Also on the website, by Friday, will be a bonus segment, set in the year 2025. There we discuss the challenges facing President Chelsea Clinton, as she faces a hostile Congress dominated by the fusionist Green Tea Party.


Continue Reading 0

Indian Commerce Clause in the Supreme Court

Among the cases decided during final week of the Supreme Court term was Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl (Scotusblog summary here.) Justice Alito’s opinion for a 5-4 majority begins:

This case is about a little girl (Baby Girl) who is classified as an Indian because she is 1.2% (3/256) Cherokee. Because Baby Girl is classified in this way, the South Carolina Supreme Court held that certain provisions of the federal Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 required her to be taken, at the age of 27 months, from the only parents she had ever known and handed over to her biological father, who had attempted to relinquish his parental rights and who had no prior contact with the child. The provisions of the federal statute at issue here do not demand this result.

The majority opinion is about statutory interpretation. Justice Thomas joined the majority opinion, and also wrote a concurrence. His concurrence explained that the doctrine of constitutional avoidance was the reason that he joined the majority on statutory interpretation, thus finding that South Carolina’s adoption laws had not been preempted by the Indian Child Welfare Act. As Justice Thomas’s concurrence points out, the Constitution grants Congress the power “To regulate Commerce…with the Indian tribes.” Some persons have over-read the Indian Commerce Clause as a grant to Congress of plenary authority over anything involving Indians. Justice Thomas points out the error: the Indian Commerce Clause is about commercial relations with tribes. It is a not a grant of plenary congressional power over every Indian anywhere in the United States. Thus, Congress has no constitutional power to displace state adoption laws simply because a child has a drop of Indian blood.

Cited 9 times in the Thomas opinion is The Original Understanding of the Indian Commerce Clause, [...]

Continue Reading 0

Ice-T, Volokh, and Kopel: Together at last in a feature film

The film is Assaulted: Civil Rights under Fire. It opened Friday in a limited theatrical release. Assaulted tells the modern and historic story of the Second Amendment, with a particular focus on civil rights. The events include Reconstruction, the Deacons for Defense, the Battle of Athens, the post-Katrina gun confiscations, and much more. The narrator is Ice-T. On-screen talking heads include Eugene Volokh, Alan Gura, Adam Winkler, Gary Kleck, Dan Gross (Brady Campaign), Bobbie Ross, and me.

The production values of the film are very high; there is even a recreation of the 1946 Battle of Athens, Tennessee.

I thought it was a very good film, although as with any documentary, there were a few parts with which I did not entirely agree. (And I certainly don’t agree with everything that Ice-T has ever said.) I should point out one correction regarding me: the film identifies me as having a Ph.D., which is incorrect; I have a J.D.

Assaulted is currently showing in 16 theaters around the nation; if you would like it to be screened in your town, the website provides a form to request that. Congratulations to Executive Producer Kris Koenig for creating the first documentary about the Second Amendment to make it the screens of ordinary movie theaters. [...]

Continue Reading 0

Emmy award nomination–1912 Time Machine

For the sixth year in a row, Colorado Inside-Out’s annual Time Machine episode has been nominated for a Heartland Regional Emmy. (We’ve won three.) The category”Interview/Discussion – Program/Special.” In this episode (originally broadcast in July 2012), the Colorado Inside-Out political discussion program travels back to 1912.

Former Rocky Mountain News reporter Kevin Flynn turns in a stellar performance as Denver Police Commissioner George Creel. (Creel later served as President Wilson’s minister of propaganda during WWI.) Westword publisher Patty Calhoun plays the unsinkable Molly Brown. Dani Newsum is well-educated leader of the National Progressive League. I play the fictional Hobart Drizzlewhit, assistant designer of Denver’s new City Park municipal golf course.

In a few weeks, we will be taping a new episode to be broadcast on Friday, July 5. The new episode will be set in 1973, covering topics such as Watergate and the Yom Kippur Arab-Israeli War. In the 5-minute “postgame” segment (broadcast only on the Web), we will travel to the future, discussing the politics of a nation dominated by the fusionist Green Tea Party. [...]

Continue Reading 0

Colorado Sheriffs file Second Amendment lawsuit against anti-gun bills

On Friday, May 17, fifty-four Colorado Sheriffs filed a civil rights lawsuit in Federal District Court in Denver, against two anti-gun bills passed by the Colorado legislature in March. Joining the Sheriffs as Plaintiffs are the Colorado Farm Bureau, disabled persons, Outdoor Buddies (an organization that helps disabled persons participate in outdoor sports), the Colorado Outfitters Association (the trade association for hunting guides), the National Shooting Sports Foundation (the trade association for the firearms industry), magazine manufacturer Magpul, federally-licensed firearms dealers, the state’s largest shooting range, the Colorado State Shooting Association (governing body for the shooting sports in Colorado), and Women for Concealed Carry. The Complaint is available here.

The lawsuit involves House Bill 1224 (a sweeping ban on magazines, including small magazines) and House Bill 1229 (an unworkable system of background checks for temporary transfers of firearms, and for private sales). The Complaint alleges violations of the Second Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment (vagueness), and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

A 38 minute video of the press conference announcing the suit is available on YouTube. In this case, I am representing the Sheriffs.

Friday afternoon, Grand County Sheriff Rodney Johnson joined the case, bringing the number of plaintiff Sheriffs to 55 out of the 62 elected County Sheriffs in Colorado. (Denver and Broomfield have appointed Sheriffs who run the jail, but do not have the comprehensive responsibilities of the elected Sheriffs.) The Complaint will be amended next week to reflect Sheriff Johnson’s participation.


Continue Reading 0

Walter Hines Page bleg

What is the best source detailing the activities of Walter Hines Page (President Wilson’s Ambassador to the Court of St. James) in advising the British government about how to conduct propaganda operations in the United States, prior to U.S. entry into World War I?

How about for the general American view (during the 1920s) that American entry into WWI was a mistake, and the U.S. had been tricked by British business interests?



Continue Reading 0

Why maximal enforcement of federal gun laws is not always a good idea

A common trope of many Second Amendment advocates is to urge more vigorous enforcement of existing federal gun control laws, as the alternative to enacting additional laws. Rhetorically, that’s very effective. But as a policy matter, it is not always a good idea. Consider legislation recently considered by the Senate:

The Manchin-Toomey amendment was supported by the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms (CCRKBA), although the group later dropped its support for reasons unrelated to the issues raised in this post. Section 102(3) of Manchin-Toomey was the finding that “Congress believes the Department of Justice should prosecute violations of background check requirements to the maximum extent of the law.”

The alternative to Manchin-Toomey was the Grassley-Cruz substitute, which was supported by the National Rifle Association. Grassley-Cruz had a much more detailed program, with supporting funding, to increase federal prosecutions for violations of 18 U.S. Code 922 (the section which defines most of the prohibited acts by persons who are not licensed firearms dealers) and section 924 (the penalties section, with penalties for the various offenses by licensed dealers and by other persons, as well as definitions of some additional crimes). The beefed-up enforcement is in pages 15-26 of Grassley-Cruz.

Both Manchin-Toomey and Grassley-Cruz included a variety of other changes in federal gun laws, and some of them were very constructive. But as for the prosecution provisions, I think they were dubious.

To begin with, much of what is in section 922 is possessory offenses, occurring entirely within a single state. Supposedly, these provisions are enacted under Congress’s power “to regulate Commerce…among the several States.” I realize that Supreme Court since 1937 has usually been reluctant to rule that a federal criminal statute is outside the interstate commerce power. However, that judicial deference to congressional statutes [...]

Continue Reading 0

The “Pro-Gun” Provisions of Manchin-Toomey are Actually a Bonanza of Gun Control

The Toomey-Manchin Amendment which may be offered as soon as Tuesday to Senator Reid’s gun control bill are billed as a “compromise” which contain a variety of provisions for gun control, and other provisions to enhance gun rights. Some of the latter, however, are not what they seem. They are badly miswritten, and are in fact major advancements for gun control. In particular:

1. The provision which claims to outlaw national gun registration in fact authorizes a national gun registry.

2. The provision which is supposed to strengthen existing federal law protecting the interstate transportation of personal firearms in fact cripples that protection.

Let’s start with registration. Here’s the Machin-Toomey text.

(c) Prohibition of National Gun Registry.-Section 923 of title 18, United States Code, is amended by adding at the end the following:
“(m) The Attorney General may not consolidate or centralize the records of the
“(1) acquisition or disposition of firearms, or any portion thereof, maintained by
“(A) a person with a valid, current license under this chapter;
“(B) an unlicensed transferor under section 922(t); or
“(2) possession or ownership of a firearm, maintained by any medical or health insurance entity.”.

The limit on creating a registry applies only to the Attorney General (and thus to entities under his direct control, such as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives). By a straightforward application of inclusio unius exclusio alterius  it is permissible for entities other than the Attorney General to create gun registries, using whatever information they can acquire from their own operations.  For example, the Secretary of HHS may consolidate and centralize whatever firearms records are maintained by any medical or health insurance entity. The Secretary of the Army may consolidate and centralize records about personal guns owned by military personnel and their families.

The Attorney General [...]

Continue Reading 0

Bleg on temporary of seizures firearms

I would be grateful if commenters could point to cases, statutes, or secondary materials which address these questions: In Terry stops, traffic stops, and other police encounters with individuals which do not involve an arrest, under what circumstances can a law enforcement officer temporarily detain a person’s firearm? For example, for officer safety during a traffic stop? To call a central database and see if the gun’s serial number is on a list of stolen guns? [...]

Continue Reading 0

Knives and the Second Amendment

That’s the title of my forthcoming article in the University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform. My co-authors are Clayton Cramer and Joe Olson. The abstract:

This Article is the first scholarly analysis of knives and the Second Amendment. Knives are clearly among the “arms” which are protected by the Second Amendment. Under the Supreme Court’s standard in District of Columbia v.  Heller, knives are Second Amendment “arms” because they are “typically possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes,” including self-defense.

Bans of knives which open in a convenient way (bans on switchblades, gravity knives, and butterfly knives) are unconstitutional. Likewise unconstitutional are bans on folding knives which, after being opened, have a safety lock to prevent inadvertent closure.

Prohibitions on the carrying of knives in general, or of particular knives, are unconstitutional. There is no knife which is more dangerous than a modern handgun; to the contrary, knives are much less dangerous. Therefore, restrictions on the carrying of handguns set the upper limit for restrictions on knife carrying.

The Article is just the beginning of long overdue scholarly analysis of laws about knives. Not all households own firearms, but almost every household owns a knife, even if we do not count table knives. Issues involving knife carrying come up quite frequently in state criminal courts, but the legal academy has thus far failed to provide the courts with useful guidance. Persons who are interested in writing on Second Amendment issues, and who wish to make an original contribution, will find that there is plenty to write about.


Continue Reading 0

Sex, Drugs, Alcohol, Gambling, and Guns: The Synergistic Constitutional Effects

That’s the title of a new article by Trevor Burrus (Cato) and me, forthcoming in a symposium issue on drug policy, from the Albany Government Law Review. The symposium title is “Overdose: The Failure of the US Drug War and Attempts at Legalization.” Here is an excerpt from the introduction:

In this Article we discuss the synergistic relationship between the “wars” on drugs, guns, alcohol, sex, and gambling and how that relationship has helped illegitimately increase the power of the federal government over the past century. The Constitution never granted Congress the general “police power” to legislate on health, safety, welfare, and morals; the police power was reserved to the States. Yet over the last century, federal laws against guns, alcohol, gambling, and some types of sex, have encroached on the police powers traditionally reserved to the states. Congress’s infringement of the States’ powers over the “health, safety, welfare, and morals”6 of their citizens occurred slowly, with only intermittent resistance from the courts. In no small part due to this synergistic relationship, today we have a federal government that has become unmoored from its constitutional boundaries and legislates recklessly over the health, safety, welfare, and morals of American citizens.

In part I we discuss how the Taxing Clause was the original conduit for congressional overreach. In part II we analyze the Interstate Commerce Clause’s role in augmenting government power. Part III examines how that overreach has affected citizens’ property rights, and Part IV looks at how civil liberties, particularly Fourth Amendment protections, have been negatively affected by the federal government’s synergistic wars against sex, drugs, gambling, and guns.

This 20-page article is certainly not a comprehensive survey of the synergistic effects of the constitutional damage caused by the federal wars on drugs, guns, alcohol, sex, and gambling. It is [...]

Continue Reading 0

Letter to Senator Cruz on constitutional issues in federal gun control proposals

On Tuesday, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights will hold a hearing “Proposals to Reduce Gun Violence: Protecting Our Communities While Respecting the Second Amendment.” Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) is Chair of the Subcommittee, and Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) is the Ranking Member. The Subcommittee has solicited letters from the public. My letter is below.


Feb. 8, 2013

Dear Senator Cruz:

I am submitting this letter for the Feb. 12, 2013, Senate Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights hearing “Proposals to Reduce Gun Violence: Protecting Our Communities While Respecting the Second Amendment.”

To begin with, the Subcommittee should acknowledge that crime reduction policy has been a great success in the United States in recent decades. For example, in the early 1980s, the U.S. homicide rate was more than 10 per 100,000 population. Today, that rate has fallen by over half, to under 5. This is comparable to the early 1960s. Overall rates of violent crime have also fallen sharply since their peak of several decades ago.[1]

There are many causes for this progress. Perhaps one of them is that today, 41 of the 50 states respect the constitutional right to bear arms, so that a law-abiding adult can obtain a permit to carry a concealed firearm for lawful protection, or even carry without a permit in a few states. In contrast, in the early 1980s, only about half a dozen medium or small states provided a fair system for licensing the carrying of firearms.

Second, the exploitation of the Newtown murders as an occasion to impose a plethora of new anti-gun laws is unwise. Professor Gary Kleck, of Florida State University, is by far the most eminent worldwide scholar on quantitative data about firearms, and [...]

Continue Reading 0

Is citizen control of taxes and spending unconstitutional?

Colorado’s Constitution (Art. X, sect. 20) is the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights. Like similar provisions in other states, Colorado’s TABOR requires voter approval for tax increases, and for most spending increases that exceed inflation plus population growth. Several state legislators have filed suit in federal court to have TABOR declared unconstitutional. Allegedly, requiring voter approval for tax or spending increases violates Article IV, sect. 4 of the U.S. Constitution, which provides: “The United States shall guarantee to every State a Republican Form of Government. . . .”

In federal district court, the Colorado Attorney General filed a motion to dismiss Kerr v. Hickenlooper, based on the argument that RFOG claims are non-justiciable. That motion was denied, and the case is currently on interlocutory appeal to the 10th Circuit.

On Friday, I filed an amicus brief on behalf of the Independence Institute and the Cato Institute. The brief draws heavily from Rob Natelson’s article, A Republic, Not a Democracy? Initiative, Referendum, and the Constitution’s Guarantee Clause. 80 Texas Law Review 807 (2002). Natelson shows that the Founders consistently used the words “republic” or “republican” to refer to governments which had direct democracy. As the brief summarizes an analysis of every known Founding-Era dictionary: “Not one of these sixteen definitions from nine different Founding-Era definitions contained the least suggestion that a republic had to be purely representative.”

Moreover, the Supreme Court, in Luther v. Borden and Minor v. Happersett, has stated that the admission of a State into the Union is a conclusive determination that the State, at the time of admission, had a Republican Form of Government. Significantly:

In 1907, Congress admitted Oklahoma into the Union, although Oklahoma’s Constitution contained very strong provisions for initiative and referendum (Okla. Const., art. V, §§1-7) and provided for a mandatory

Continue Reading 0

Evolving Christian Attitudes Towards Personal and National Self-Defense

A forthcoming issue of the Connecticut Law Review will feature a symposium on an article by Prof. Nicholas Johnson (Fordham) about the changing attitudes of the Black leadership towards firearms. In brief, Black leadership was historically very supportive the right to keep and bear arms, and particularly concerned that Blacks be able to have firearms for defense against white racists. The leadership’s attitude changed quite strongly in the late 1960s, and has remained anti-gun ever since. Johnson suggests that among the explanations for the change is that civil rights successes turned that leadership into powerful participants in the government, rather than outsiders.  Thus, the leadership adopted a more establishmentarian approach.

The symposium will have a variety of articles responding to Johnson. My own article observes that the change in attitude of the Black leadership parallels a change in much of the American Christian leadership about the legitimacy of defensive violence–at both the personal and the national level. For the Christian leadership, opposition to the Vietnam War was the proximate cause, but the change persisted long after the war had ended. Here’s the abstract:

This Article analyzes the changes in orthodox Christian attitudes towards defensive violence.

While the article begins in the 19th century and ends in the 21st, most of the Article is about the 20th century. The article focuses on American Catholicism and on the Vatican, although there is some discussion of American Protestantism.

In the nineteenth and early in the twentieth centuries, the traditional Christian concepts of Just War and of the individual’s duty to use force to defend himself and his family remained uncontroversial, as they had been for centuries. Disillusionment over World War One turned many Catholics and Protestants towards pacifism. Without necessarily adopting pacifism as a theory, they adopted pacifism as a practice. World War

Continue Reading 0