Archive | McDonald v. City of Chicago

Evolving Christian Attitudes Towards Personal and National Self-Defense

Issue number 5 of this year’s Connecticut Law Review is an excellent symposium on firearms law, policy, and culture. The lead article is from Nicholas Johnson, of Fordham: Firearms Policy and the Black Community: An Assessment of the Modern OrthodoxyJohnson (who is my co-author on the Second Amendment textbook Firearms Law and the Second Amendment) details the long and honorable history of Black Americans’ use of arms for lawful self-defense, especially against white racists. Johnson observes that in the late 1960s, Black political leadership abruptly shifted from the community’s traditional support for armed self-defense into being quite hostile to gun ownership.

The Johnson article is a short version of his forthcoming (Jan. 14, 2014) book Negroes and the Gun: The Black Tradition of Arms by Nicholas Johnson (Jan 14, 2014). I very highly recommend the book. It goes far beyond the Connecticut article. The subject of race control and gun control has been a subject of increasing scholarly attention ever since Robert J. Cottrol and Raymond T. Diamond’s 1991 Georgetown LJ article, The Second Amendment: Toward an Afro-Americanist Reconsideration. Having followed the subject carefully for the past two decades, I am amazed by how much original research that Johnson brought to the book, and by the rigorous analysis he provided for the most difficult questions.

In the Connecticut symposium, response essays are offered from leading “pro-gun” scholars (Cottrol & Diamond, Don Kates & Alice Marie Beard) and from leading “anti-gun” scholars (Michael DeLeeuw, David Kairys, Andrew McClurg [my co-author on another gun textbook], and William Merkel).

My own contribution to the symposium is an article titled Evolving Christian Attitudes Towards Personal and National Self-Defense. (SSRN link here; Conn. L. Rev. link here.) My article observes that the Black political leaderships’ sharp turn against self-defense [...]

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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. [...]

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The Great Gun Control War of the 20th Century — And its Lessons for Gun Laws Today

This is the subject of my article in a forthcoming symposium issue of the Fordham Urban Law Journal. The article details the political, cultural, social, and legal battles over gun control from the 1920s to the early 21st century. Here’s the abstract:

A movement to ban handguns began in the 1920s in the Northeast, led by the conservative business establishment. In response, the National Rifle Association began to get involved in politics, and was able to defeat handgun prohibition. Gun control and gun rights became the subjects of intense political, social, and cultural battles for much of the rest of the 20th century, and into the 21st.

Often, the battles were a clash of absolutes: One side contended that there was absolutely no right to arms, that defensive gun ownership must be prohibited, and that gun ownership for sporting purposes could be, at most, allowed as a very limited privilege. Another side asserted that the right to arms was absolute, and that any gun control laws were infringements of that right.

By the time that Heller and McDonald came to the Supreme Court, the battles had mostly been resolved; the Supreme Court did not break new ground, but instead reinforced what had become the American consensus: the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms, especially for self-defense, is a fundamental individual right. That right, however, is not absolute. There are some gun control laws which do not violate the right, particularly laws which aim to keep guns out of the hands of people who have proven themselves to be dangerous.

In the post-Heller world, as in the post-Brown v. Board world, a key role of the courts will be to enforce federal constitutional rights against some local or state jurisdictions whose extreme laws make them outliers from

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New textbook: Firearms Law and the Second Amendment: Regulation, Rights and Policy

The first law school textbook on the Second Amendment is now available from Aspen Publishers. The co-author are Nick Johnson (Fordham), Michael O’Shea (Oklahoma City), George Mocsary (Connecticut), and me. Here’s the publisher’s page for the textbook, from which professors can request a free review copy. The book is also available for civilian purchase from Amazon.

We also have our own website for the book. There, you can read the detailed Table of Contents, and the Preface. The website is in an early stage of development; eventually, it will include detailed research guides and topic suggestions for students who are writing seminar papers. If you a professor and one of your students writes a seminar paper which makes a genuine contribution to knowledge about a topic, we invite you to send the us paper for publication on the website.

The textbook will have an accompanying Teacher’s Manual. We are currently finishing that up, and aim to have it available before the Fourth of July. (It’s free for professors who get a review copy, and forbidden for anyone else.)

Besides the 11 chapters in 1,008 pages of the printed book, there will also be four more on-line only chapters, available to purchasers of the printed book. These chapters will be: 12, Social science about firearms policy. 13, International law. 14, Comparative law. 15, A detailed explanation of firearms and their function. (Chapter 1 of the printed book provides a brief explanation of firearms and their function; the on-line chapter will go into much greater detail [e.g., what is a lever action gun?], and will have illustrations and photos.)

Finally, Firearms Law is the first law school textbook to be the subject of a podcast series. The published podcasts are: Chapter 3, The Colonies and the [...]

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Crime plummets in Chicago and DC after handguns re-legalized

So explains John Lott, in an opinion column for Not a surprising result. The McDonald v. Chicago amicus brief I wrote for the International Law Enforcements Educators & Trainers Association (and other law enforcement organizations, and criminologists) showed that after Chicago enacted its handgun ban, its violent crime rate rose sharply. Pre-ban, Chicago had a violent crime rate 1.12 times greater than the violent crime rate of the 24 other largest cities. (That is, Chicago’s violent crime rate was 12% higher than that of the 24 other cities.) Post-ban, Chicago’s crime rate soared immediately, and remained 67% higher than the other large cities. The possibility that Chicago’s sudden and long-standing deterioration compared to other large cities is less than 1 in 100,000. Details are presented at pages 17-22 of the brief, and the appendices. [...]

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Congressional hearing on interstate handgun carry reciprocity

On Tuesday I testified before the U.S. House subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security, regarding H.R. 822, which would set up a national system of interstate reciprocity for concealed handgun carry permits. My 24-page written testimony is here. The video of the subcommittee hearing is about and hour and 45 minutes. Nearly all members of the 21-member attended the hearing, and used their opportunity to ask 5 minutes worth of questions. Most of the questions posed to George Mason Law’s Prof. Joyce Malcolm, Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, and me, were quite thoughtful. Some congressional hearings are just a form of kabuki theater, but in Tuesday’s hearing, Representatives of both parties, and on both sides of the gun issue, seemed to be sincerely trying to learn more. The bill currently has 243 House co-sponsors. [...]

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Cert. Petition in Right to Carry Case

Filed earlier this week by Stephen Halbrook, in the case of Williams v. Maryland. In short, Maryland bans all handgun transportation or carry without a permit, and has a permitting process which formally declares that it will deny permits to almost everyone. As the petition explains, “the Maryland State Police, the Maryland Handgun Permit Review Board, and the Maryland courts have consistently interpreted these provisions [state regulations] to require the applicant to document, typically with police reports, that he or she has been the victim of assaults, threats, or robberies, except for applications involving certain occupations.”

Williams was peaceably transporting his handgun from his girlfriend’s home to his own home. He has been convicted, and sentenced to a year in prison. The state’s highest court, the Maryland Court of Appeals, rejected Williams’ Second Amendment challenge, because, supposedly, the Heller and McDonald affirmations of a general right to carry handguns (except in “sensitive places”) is mere dicta which the Maryland court will not follow unless a future U.S. Supreme Court cases formally announces “we meant what we already said.”

As Halbrook points out, “When the Framers intended that a provision of the Bill of Rights related to a house, they said so. [3d and 4th amendments.] They did not recognize a limited right to keep and bear arms only in one’s house. Despite this plain textual reference prohibiting infringement on the right to ‘bear arms,’ the Maryland court argued that the right need not be recognized at all because this Court has not decided cases directly on point. ‘But general statements of the law are not inherently incapable of giving fair and clear warning .. . .’ United States v. Lanier, 520 U.S. 259, 271 (1997).2 [note 2:] ‘The easiest cases don’t even arise. There has never been . . [...]

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Assessing the Very Limited Impact of McDonald and Heller on Gun Regulations

When the Supreme Court for the first time recognized the existence of an individual right to bear arms in District of Columbia v. Heller in 2008, I warned that the decision might well end up giving gun owners very little new protection against regulation:

The Supreme Court may have endorsed an individual right under the Second Amendment to bear arms. But
the District of Columbia certainly isn’t leaping to implement that right…..

History shows that mere judicial recognition of a right doesn’t guarantee that the right will get meaningful protection. It is especially unlikely if the right is supported by jurists on only one side of the political spectrum. Judicially recognized rights also can get short shrift if the Supreme Court defines their scope narrowly.

To the delight of some and the distress of others, both these factors may limit the impact of the newly recognized individual right to bear arms.

Earlier this year, McDonald v. City of Chicago ruled that the Second Amendment applies to state governments as well as the feds. Nonetheless, it is far from clear that the ruling will have much effect. McDonald left intact Heller’s expansive list of “presumptively lawful regulatory measures,” which includes restrictions on the sale of guns, bans on carrying guns in “sensitive” locations, bans on ownership by felons (which in most states includes a wide range of people who have not been convicted of any violent crime), and others.

A recent ABA Journal [HT: Josh Blackman] article on lower court decisions applying McDonald and Heller seems to bear out my prediction:

Proponents hailed Heller and McDonald as setbacks for gun control advocates. They predicted a shift in gun policy throughout the country.

But so far it hasn’t happened that way. While there have been challenges throughout the country to local,

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Amicus brief in Calif. concealed carry case

Peruta v. San Diego is one of several cases challenging sheriff misapplication of California’s concealed handgun carry licensing statute. The case features Chuck Michel as lead attorney for plaintiffs. The case does not assert that California’s statute requiring a license to carry a concealed handgun for protection is unconstitutional. Rather, the argument is simply that the statute specifies that licenses should be issued to qualified applicants (training, good moral character) who have “good cause.” Pursuant to Heller, lawful self-defense is not only good cause, it is the best possible cause. The case has already survived a motion to dismiss.

Along with Prof. John Eastman, I filed an amicus brief on behalf of the Independence Institute, Law Enforcement Alliance of America, Doctors for Responsible Gun Owners, and the Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence. The arguments are:

 I. The case can be decided without a standard of review, because near-total prohibition of a constitutional right is never constitutional.
II. A “reasonable” regulation is one that does not eliminate the exercise of a right, but instead is narrowly tailored, is based on a significant government interest, and leaves ample alternatives.
III. The state court cases approvingly cited in Heller expressly affirm the right to carry.
IV. Twentieth century state courts decisions affirm the general right to carry for lawful self-defense.
V. McDonald specifically addresses and prohibits mass deprivation of the right to bear arms.

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The Individual Mandate Debate as a Replay of McDonald v. City of Chicago

The more I participate in discussions on the constitutionality of the indivdiual mandate, the more it feels to me like a replay of last year’s discussions on the Privileges or Immunities Clause on the road to McDonald v. City of Chicago.

In both cases, the issue is whether the Supreme Court will adopt limitations on the scope of government power that are greatly desired by libertarians and supported from an originalist perspective, but that Supreme Court doctrine hasn’t shown any particular sign of adopting as a a matter of constitutional law. In both cases, much of the commentary in favor of the limitation seems aimed at fostering a sense of the legitimacy of those limitations with the hope that this will make it more likely for the Supreme Court to adopt them. In both cases, I find myself at odds with my co-bloggers on the likelihood that the Supreme Court would take that step — with my co-bloggers seeing it as a quite realistic possibility, and me seeing it as extremely unlikely. (In both cases, I saw it from the outset as a likely 8-1, with only Justice Thomas on board.) And in both cases, many commenters are extremely passionate about what they believe the correct constitutional answer must be — with commenters seemingly lining up in the same way on the two issues.

There are differences, of course. The debate over McDonald was more for law geeks than the public: It concerned the likelihood an argument would win in a known case, not even the result in that case, and it lacked the broad political movement that exists over the individual mandate. Still, I can’t avoid the sense of deja vu. [...]

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My Senate briefing on Kagan and the McDonald Case

It was delivered in late June to the Second Amendment Task Force, a group of Republican Senate aides. (Unfortunately, the Senate’s protocals of partisanship prevent organizations like this from having aides from both parties.) My presentation is here (22 minutes). The presentation by Hans Von Spakovsky, Senior Research Fellow at The Heritage Foundation, is here. And Stephen Halbrook’s presentation is here. [...]

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The Battle Cry of Freedom


A wonderful song at all times, and especially around Independence Day, especially this year.

“The Battle Cry of Freedom” was written during the Civil War, and sung by Union troops going into battle. This video pays tribute to Ulysses Grant, the General most responsible for winning the war for the Union. Elected President of the U.S. in 1868 and re-elected in 1872, U.S. Grant vigorously enforced federal civil rights laws to protect the freedmen. Not until Lyndon Johnson in 1963-69 would an American President work with such determination for civil rights. After leaving the White House, Grant served as the 8th President of the National Rifle Association.

The National Rifle Association’s brief in McDonald v. Chicago quoted President Grant:

Subsequently, President Grant issued a report on enforcement of the Civil Rights Act which noted that parts of the South were under the sway of the Klan, which sought “to deprive colored citizens of the right to bear arms,” and to reduce them “to a condition closely akin to that of slavery * * *.” Ex. Doc. No. 268, 42nd Cong., 2d Sess., 2 (1872).

The brief  likewise quoted a report from General Grant about the conditions in Mississippi which had helped convince Congress of the necessity of the Fourteenth Amendment, to make the Second Amendment applicable to all state and local governments:

“The statute prohibiting the colored people from bearing arms, without a special license, is unjust, oppressive, and unconstitutional.” Cong. Globe, 39th Cong., 2d Sess., 33 (1866).

McDonald v. Chicago brings the United States an important step closer to accomplishing a central purpose of the Fourteenth Amendment: making all of the Bill of Rights applicable to every state and local government in America. It was a national tragedy that the Supreme Court essentially nullified much of the Fourteenth [...]

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“Despite High Court Skepticism, Advocates Defend Privileges Clause Push”

In the National Law Journal, Tony Mauro has an article on the possible impact of the petitioner’s tactical decision to focus on the Privileges or Immunities Clause in McDonald v. City of Chicago. I think it’s just too early to know, as the decisions haven’t been written yet. If I had to guess, though, my guess would be that the three significant effects of that decision were (a) to revive interest in the original meaning of the 14th Amendment among court watchers, (b) to give Paul Clement 10 minutes of oral argument time, and (c) to get our readers nice and toasted from playing the the J. Aldridge/Bingham drinking game. [...]

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