Another Early Post-Heller Second Amendment Case:

It's U.S. v. Dorosan (E.D. La.), in which defendant -- a postal worker -- was found guilty last week of possessing firearm on postal property. The postal worker had a gun in the glove compartment of his car, which was parked in the Post Office lot; but this was found because a postal inspector, Norbert Lewis, "discovered a black canvas bag on the workroom floor next to a letter case for Route 5301. Said route was worked by the defendant ... on the previous day. Lewis did not know to whom the bag belonged so he opened the bag and found a magazine with twelve (12) rounds or .40 caliber hand gun ammunition and three (3) empty shell casings in the bag."

The magistrate judge's opinion rejecting Dorosan's Second Amendment challenge was filed last Monday; the discussion is fairly long, but I thought I'd offer a few excerpts:

Both Heller and Emerson [the 2001 Fifth Circuit case that anticipated the Heller individual rights ruling] ... make it clear that the “right to bear arms” –- albeit an individual fundamental right of all Americans secured by the Second Amendment –- is not unlimited....

The Property Clause of the United States Constitution grants Congress the right to regulate federal property. It provides: “The Congress shall have the Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the territory or other Property belonging to the United States....” The Fifth Circuit has routinely upheld federal regulations that are designed to promote workplace and public safety on government property....

Clearly, 39 C.F.R. § 232.1(1)[,] which bans possession of weapons solely on postal property is not unconstitutional as applied. Neither Heller nor Emerson involved gun control regulations banning possession of “arms” on federal property. Indeed, the Supreme Court in Heller described the District’s statute as a law that “totally bans handgun possession” extends to the home and “requires that any lawful firearm in the home be disassembled or bound by a trigger lock at all times, rendering it inoperable.

The regulation at issue in this case is far more limited in application in that it (1) applies only on the confines of properly noticed postal property, (2) is sanctioned by both the Property and Postal Clauses of the U.S. Constitution and (3) falls within the Heller Court’s category and non-exhaustive list of excepted longstanding prohibitions on carrying firearms –- i.e., “sensitive places such as schools and government buildings.”

Indeed, federal law (OSHA) requires employers to abate workplace hazards and encourages employers to take measures to prevent gun-related injuries. Surely, the United States Postal Service would be remiss if it failed to practice what federal law requires. Without question, § 232.1(1) bolsters the United States Postal Service’s zero tolerance for workplace violence and is a regulation designed to maintain safety and order on postal property. 18 U.S.C. § 930 (a), which prohibits possession of dangerous weapons, serves the same purpose within federal facilities. Congress has the authority to regulate safety of the post office and its property, notwithstanding the individual right to bear arms in the home, “where the need for defense of self, family and property is most acute.”

The ban at issue does not affect the right of all individuals to bear arms at home or traveling in a vehicle to and from work through high crime areas. Its reach does not extend beyond the noticed, gated confines of United States Postal Services’ property. It is narrowly tailored to effect public and workplace safety solely on postal property consistent with the Property and Postal Clauses. Similarly, 18 U.S.C. § 930(a) criminalizes knowing possession of dangerous weapons, but only within the confines of a federal facility/building. Regulations forbidding the possession or carrying of firearms “in sensitive places” such as federal and/or postal property abound; these longstanding prohibitions have been upheld.

I think the invocation of an enumerated Congressional power as a counterweight to an individual right -- what I call the Constitutional Tension Method -- is a mistake. All things that Congress does must theoretically be pursuant to some enumerated power. The D.C. gun ban was enacted, indirectly, through the enumerated power to legislate for the District of Columbia (though Congress exercised that power by letting the D.C. City Council enact ordinances, subject to the possibility of Congressional repeal). The point of the Bill of Rights, whether we're talking about the First Amendment or the Second or the Fourth or any other, was to constrain Congress in the exercise of its powers. (I wrote about this in the First Amendment context in this article.)

I also think the argument based on federal health and safety law is at the very least too cursory, and likely unsound. The USPS "would be remiss if it failed to practice what federal law requires," but federal law doesn't require gun bans by employers, and even if it did there would still be the question of whether such a requirement is constitutional under the Second Amendment. The court just seems to be assuming that the federal law is constitutional, without explaining why this is so.

Nonetheless, the other arguments may well be correct, especially given the language in Heller; I can't speak with complete confidence about the subject. I just wanted to flag my disagreement with the reliance on the enumerated power and on OSHA.

Note: While I was at first skeptical about the claim that "The ban at issue does not affect the right of all individuals to bear arms at home or traveling in a vehicle to and from work through high crime areas," I take it that the court is assuming (quite likely correctly) that Dorosan could have parked the car on a public street outside the post office.