One of The First Post-Heller Second Amendment Opinions:

Mullenix v. BATF (E.D.N.C. July 2, 2008):

Plaintiff is a federally-licensed firearms dealer, and alleges that the ATF arbitrarily denied him permission to import a reproduction of a World War II-era German machinegun[, the BD44]....

Title 18, section 925(d) of the United States Code provides that certain types of firearms may be imported into the United States. Among these are firearms “generally recognized as particularly suitable for or readily adaptable to sporting purposes.” ... [T]he ATF determined that the BD44 was not importable under section 925(d)(3) because it was not “generally recognized as particularly suitable for or readily adaptable to sporting purposes.” Plaintiff challenges the ATF's decision. Plaintiff argues that the ATF's interpretation of section 925(d)(3) is arbitrary and capricious, and seeks damages for lost income resulting from his inability to sell BD44s to prospective military re-enactors....

Plaintiff first argues that “[a]ll bans [on gun ownership] are clear unconstitutional infringements to the right to own and bear arms.... [In Heller,] the Supreme Court rejected the notion that the Second Amendment right is unlimited:

Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited. From Blackstone through the 19th-century cases, commentators and courts routinely explained that the right [to keep and bear arms] was not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.

In light of Heller, plaintiff's facial challenge to section 925(d) fails.

Alternatively, plaintiff contends that, although Congress has the power to regulate the individual right to keep and bear arms, “regulation” of that right is limited to reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions. According to plaintiff, Congress may not “regulate” his individual right to keep and bear arms by declaring that he may not own certain types of arms, and he may accordingly own almost any type of weapon he chooses (including the BD44) so long as he complies with reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions. See [plaintiff's brief] at 7-8 (“[N]ever does Congress have the right ... to ban the ownership of any defensive arm equivalent or superior to that used by the standing armies of the United States.”).

Unfortunately for plaintiff, the Supreme Court rejected this argument in Heller. See Heller at *26 (construing United States v. Miller, 307 U.S. 174 (1939), to hold that “the type of weapon at issue [a sawed-off shotgun] was not eligible for Second Amendment protection”); id. (“Miller stands ... for the proposition that the Second Amendment right, whatever its nature, extends only to certain types of weapons.”); id. at *27 (finding it a “startling reading” of Miller to suggest “that the National Firearms Act's restrictions on machineguns ... might be unconstitutional”); id. at *28 (“[T]he right [is] not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever....”). Accordingly, in light of Heller, the court rejects plaintiff's challenge to section 925(d), and rejects plaintiff's claim that the Second Amendment entitles him to possess the BD44 in this case.

Not a surprising result, or likely an important one, but it is one of the first, so I thought I'd note it.

UPDATE: When I posted this, I labeled this the "first" post-Heller Second Amendment opinion -- forgetting that Lexis sometimes has unpublished cases that Westlaw doesn't, and neglecting (for no good reason) the fact that some unpublished cases never make their way to Lexis or Westlaw and a few others take some time to get posted. I've revised the title accordingly, and will blog shortly on at least one earlier post-Heller Second Amendment case. Thanks to commenter ClosetLibertarian for reminding me about this.


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.


One More Early Post-Heller Second Amendment Opinion:

The brief decision from Senior Judge Milton Shadur is in the newly filed lawsuit challenging Chicago's handgun ban, McDonald v. City of Chicago (N.D. Ill.); it's minor, but I thought I'd note it nonetheless, because it might foreshadow what we might see in the future in this important case:

This newly-filed action has been assigned to this Court’s calendar. From a reading of the Complaint it appears that plaintiffs’ counsel may view this litigation--which is entitled to serious consideration on its own merit--as a vehicle for some other purposes as well. This memorandum order is issued sua sponte to strip the Complaint of some surplusage--listed in the order of appearance, rather than in any effort to rank the stricken allegations in terms of importance--that does not conform to the directive of Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a) as to the content of a federal complaint.

1. Because yesterday’s Supreme Court decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, No. 07-290, 554 U.S. __, 2008 WL 2520816 (U.S. June 26) requires no independent justification for the ownership and possession of firearms under the Second Amendment (see Complaint ¶34), all but the first sentence of each of Complaint PP1 through 4 are stricken.

[Footnote, slightly moved: Nothing in the Supreme Court's opinion addresses the registration and licensing requirements targeted by the Complaint (see Heller, 2008 U.S. LEXIS 5268, [WL] at *28 n.26 and *30), and no view is of course expressed here as to such substantive issues.]

2. Complaint ¶8 appears to reflect an inaccurate characterization of the form of government that is prescribed for the City of Chicago. Absent some showing to the contrary by plaintiffs’ counsel, that paragraph will be stricken, Richard Daley will be dismissed as a defendant and all of the Complaint’s references to “Defendants” will be converted to singular form.

3. Because 28 U.S.C. §§2201 and 2202 are not independent sources of federal subject matter jurisdiction, reference to those sections is stricken from Complaint ¶9.

4. Complaint ¶¶40 through 45 are stricken as patently inappropriate.

5. All of the Complaint’s references to “Cause of Action” are also stricken. In that respect, see NAACP v. American Family Mut. Ins. Co., 978 F.2d 287, 291-93 (7th Cir. 1992)).

Here are the relevant portions of the complaint:

1. Plaintiff Otis McDonald is a natural person and a citizen of the United States, residing in Chicago, Illinois. Mr. McDonald resides in a high-crime neighborhood and is active in community affairs. As a consequence of trying to make his neighborhood a better place to live, Mr. McDonald has been threatened by drug dealers.

2. Plaintiff Adam Orlov is a natural person and a citizen of the United States, residing in Chicago, Illinois. Mr. Orlov is a former Evanston, Illinois, police officer. As a police officer, Mr. Orlov was entrusted with a handgun for the purpose of defending himself and others from violent crime.

3. Plaintiff Colleen Lawson is a natural person and a citizen of the United States, residing in Chicago, Illinois. Ms. Lawson’s home has been targeted by burglars.

4. Plaintiff David Lawson is a natural person and a citizen of the United States, residing in Chicago, Illinois. Mr. Lawson’s home has been targeted by burglars....

40. Many Chicago gun owners fail to re-register their firearms every year. Among these recently was Alderman Richard Mell, whose firearms became unregisterable when he failed to timely renew his registration certificates.

41. Accordingly, Alderman Mell proposed an ordinance amending the law to permit, for one month, lapsed guns to be re-registered if their owners had attempted to re-register their guns between May 1, 2007 and April 1, 2008, a period that would have covered his lapsed firearm registrations.

42. Defendant Mayor Daley endorsed Mell’s proposal, stating: “A lot of people go back and forth to their summer homes ... A lot of people move their shotguns. A lot of ’em are bird hunters, gun collectors.... They move ’em back from Wisconsin, Michigan, [other] parts of Illinois.”

43. Defendant Mayor Daley added: “It’s one time [for] one month ... You want to have ’em register. There’s nothing wrong with that ... People want to just register. A lot of ’em bring ’em back from hunting trips. So, why not?”

44. Speaking of Alderman Mell’s desire to re-register his lapsed guns, Defendant Mayor Daley stated: “He has a home in Wisconsin. He brings ’em back and forth. He’s not running out with a shotgun and hurting people.

45. The proposed re-registration amnesty bill was passed by the Chicago City Council, with the amnesty period extended to 120 days. The fee for re-registering a lapsed firearm under the amnesty bill is $60.00.”

My questions: (1) The main issue in this case is to what extent the Second Amendment applies to the states via the Fourteenth Amendment. It's at least conceivable that the Amendment might apply to the states differently than it does to the federal government; this is an unlikely result, but one the Court reached in the early 1970s as to the Jury Trial Clause, which has been read as requiring unanimous juries in federal prosecutions but not state prosecutions. If this is so, then is it clear that the remaining sentences of paragraphs 1 through 4 are surplusage? Or is the judge simply assuming that the Second Amendment is either fully incorporated or not at all incorporated, so that Heller view -- which is that the right to keep and bear arms doesn't require any special justification on the claimant's part -- is dispositive?

(2) Why doesn't the material related to the reregistration ordinance potentially undermine the strength of the government's likely argument that the ordinance's constraints on law-abiding citizens are really needed to fight crime (quite independently of the digs at the supposed self-dealing by Chicago officials)? True, it might prove to be irrelevant, but that's not clear now. Or is it just that the proper place for introducing such matters is at trial and in pretrial motions, rather than in the complaint?


Yet Another Early Post-Heller Second Amendment Case:

Johnson v. United States (E.D. Mo. July 2, 2008), summarily rejects a felon's Second Amendment challenge to the federal ban on felons' possessing firearms:

Moreover, on June 26, 2008, the Supreme Court completely foreclosed Movant's Second Amendment ... constitutional challenge to this statute:

Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited. From Blackstone through the 19th-century cases, commentators and courts routinely explained that the right was not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose. See, e.g., Sheldon, in 5 Blume 346; Rawle 123; Pomeroy 152-153; Abbott 333. For example, the majority of the 19th-century courts to consider the question held that prohibitions on carrying concealed weapons were lawful under the Second Amendment or state analogues. See, e.g., State v. Chandler, 5 La. Ann., at 489-490; Nunn v. State, 1 Ga., at 251; see generally 2 Kent *340, n. 2; The American Students' Blackstone 84, n. 11 (G. Chase ed. 1884). Although we do not undertake an exhaustive historical analysis today of the full scope of the Second Amendment, nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.

Johnson, who was representing himself, had felony convictions from the mid-1990s for assault with a deadly weapon, theft, and escape from custody. The pistol that he possessed in 2005, when he was arrested for being a felon in possession of a firearm, had been stolen. Because of Johnson's criminal history, which also included "a series of traffic and drug-related misdemeanors, and an additional misdemeanor resisting arrest," he was sentenced to eight years in prison.


District Court Wrongly Follows Pre-Heller "Collective Rights" Circuit Precedent:

Here's U.S. v. Lewis, from the District of the Virgin Islands:

Malik Ostalaza ... and his co-defendant, Ronald Lewis, Jr., were charged in May, 2008 in a five-count indictment. Count One charges Ostalaza with possession of a firearm with an obliterated serial number, in violation of Title 18, Section 922(k) of the United States Code (“Section 922”). Counts Four and Five charge Ostalaza with unauthorized possession of a firearm, in violation of Title 14, Section 2253(a) of the Virgin Islands Code [which essentially appears to be a ban on possessing a firearm without a license -EV]. Ostalaza is not charged in Counts Two and Three.

Ostalaza now argues that Counts One, Four and Five should be dismissed because they violate the Second Amendment of the Constitution. In his motion, Ostalaza neglects to substantiate that argument with citations to any authority. Instead, Ostalaza points to District of Columbia v. Heller, a case that was pending before the Supreme Court at the time his motion was filed. Ostalaza states only that he “reserves the right to challenge” the indictment on Second Amendment grounds.

In United States v. Rybar, 103 F.3d 273, 286 (3d Cir. 1996), cert. denied, 522 U.S. 807 (1997), the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit explained that “the Second Amendment furnishes no absolute right to firearms.” Relying on its decision in Rybar, in United States v. Willaman, 437 F.3d 354, 356-57 (3d Cir. 2006), cert. denied, 547 U.S. 1208 (2006), the Third Circuit rejected the defendant’s contention that Section 922 violates the Second Amendment. In reference to the defendant’s argument that Rybar “is simply bad law,” the Willaman Court stated that “plainly [Rybar] is binding on this panel.”

[Footnote: Moreover, while the Supreme Court acknowledged in Heller the right of the individual to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, the Court also held that that right is not unfettered. See 2008 U.S. LEXIS 5268, at *95 n.26 (identifying “presumptively lawful regulatory measures” and noting that the Court’s list of those measures “does not purport to be exhaustive”).]

It may well be that the defendant didn't provide enough argument to support his motion to dismiss. I'm also pretty sure that the courts will find that the right to keep and bear arms isn't substantially burdened by the ban on knowingly possessing a firearm with an obliterated serial number; and they may well uphold the Virgin Islands license requirement, or conclude that only someone who has tried to get a licensed but been denied one is entitled to challenge the requirement.

But the court's reliance on precedent strikes me as quite weak: Rybar was decided by the Third Circuit on the theory that the Second Amendment only protects gun possession when it has a "connection with militia-related activity." Heller rejects that theory, which means that Rybar and Willaman are no longer good law.

Certainly in the Third Circuit (and to my knowledge in all other circuits) "a subsequent panel may depart frm a previous panel's decision if required to do so by an intervening Supreme Court decision," Toledo Mack Sales & Service, Inc. v. Mack Trucks, Inc., 2008 WL 2420729 (3rd Cir. June 17) (paraphrasing earlier precedent). I take it that district courts can and should do the same: "[W]here intervening Supreme Court authority is clearly irreconcilable with our prior circuit authority[,] ... a three-judge panel of this court and district courts should consider themselves bound by the intervening higher authority and reject the prior opinion of this court as having been effectively overruled." Miller v. Gammie, 335 F.3d 889, 900 (9th Cir. 2003) (en banc).

So I don't think the district court was entitled to punt the matter to the pre-Heller collective-rights precedent. It needed to do the Heller analysis (or, if appropriate, decline to deal with the Second Amendment question, if the litigant hadn't adequately argued it). And simply saying that under Heller the "right is not unfettered" isn't an adequate justification for the court's decision, either: Obviously some fetters are permissible but others aren't, so the question is why these particular gun controls are justified given the Heller reasoning.

UPDATE: I should note that, technically speaking, the Second Amendment might not apply to the Virgin Islands of its own force: The Insular Cases from the early 1900s held that only some constitutional rights apply to such territories, and the jury rights (grand jury, criminal jury, and civil jury) and the Second Amendment have often been seen as not being included. Nonetheless, Congress has expressly applied "the first to ninth amendments inclusive," except the Grand Jury Clause, to the Virgin Islands.


More on Guns in Post Office Parking Lots:

Monday, the magistrate judge in U.S. v. Dorosan, which I blogged about here, issued a further opinion, including this on the Second Amendment question (which is whether the federal government could criminalize the bringing of guns onto post office property, including leaving them in a car parked in the parking lot):

The Court has considered defense counsel's argument that Dorosan's vehicle is an extension of his home; however, that result obtains only when the vehicle is not parked on postal property where access is restricted. In this case, the restricted employee parking and loading area where Dorosan parked his vehicle during his shift bears signs that advise all who enter the gates, as follows:

Vehicles and their contents brought into, while on, or being removed from restricted nonpublic areas are subject to inspection. A prominently displayed sign shall advise in advance that vehicles and their contents are subject to inspection when entering the restricted nonpublic area, while in the confines of the area, or when leaving the area. Persons entering these areas who object and refuse to consent to the inspection of the vehicle, its contents, or both, may be denied entry; after entering the area without objection, consent shall be implied. A full search of a person and any vehicle driven or occupied by the person may accompany an arrest.

An area, such as the Gretna Post Office's employee parking lot, which bears warnings the likes of that aforestated can hardly be analogized to "home sweet home" or an extension of same. By the same token, privately owned vehicles parked on such "postal property" cannot be reasonably be considered an extension of home. The "postal property" at issue more closely approximates one of those "sensitive places" excepted by the Supreme Court in Heller, the Court's latest opinion addressing the Second Amendment "right to bear arms." Certainly a loaded semi-automatic weapon, even if secured in the locked glove compartment of a privately owned vehicle, creates an opportunity for violence on such "postal property" -- i.e., a "sensitive" area where access is restricted for reasons of facilitating the movement of inbound and outbound mail entrusted to the USPS.

[Footnote, moved: In Heller, the Supreme Court cautioned that "nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on the longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places ...." District of Columbia v. Heller (holding that the Second Amendment of the Constitution of the United States secures the fundamental right of all Americans to bear arms).]

Eradicating the potential for deadly workplace violence and ensuring the safety of both Government employees and the public on "postal property" is exactly the security measure that the regulation at issue was designed to effect. The regulation is an adjunct of the Postal Service's policies and more particularly the "zero tolerance" of workplace violence. Indeed, many of those who use postal facilities, including postal workers, do so from necessity, not choice; many members of the public must go to a post office to conduct their business and personal correspondence, carrying cash for stamps or money orders. Postal employees must enter and exit the postal property at issue carrying the U.S. mail.

As previously addressed in this Court's prior opinion, the postal regulation at issue (39 C.F.R. § 232.1(l)) passes Second Amendment constitutional muster and is reasonable as applied to Dorosan. The Government has a significant interest in protecting the integrity of the purposes to which it has dedicated the property (facilitating postal transactions) and ensuring the security of postal employees and the public who must: (1) visit postal property to conduct official and personal business; (2) wait single file in roped off lines inside of postal facilities; (3) idle in vehicles single file in "snorkel lanes" 21 on postal property to use "drive and drop" mail receptacles placed outside of the Post Office building; and (4) carry cash or other legal tender for stamps, money orders, passports and other goods and services provided by the United States Postal Service.

Noting the fact that there were no signs prominently displayed outside of the Gretna Post Office building publishing the regulation's prohibition against carrying firearms (§ 232.1(l)) or animals (§ 232.1(j)) on "postal property," the defendant argued that the statute was vague, overly broad and unconstitutional as applied to the defendant. More particularly, defense counsel suggested that the regulation effectively outlaws conduct including matriculating the drop box lane in a vehicle with either a firearm or an animal safely stowed within its confines. The undersigned Magistrate Judge expresses no opinion whatsoever as to the constitutionality of regulation's ban on carrying firearms or animals in public areas without official purpose -- i.e., operating a vehicle through the "snorkel lane" of the Gretna Post Office while accompanied by a pet Shih Tzu, other non-seeing eye dog or, perhaps, armed with a loaded handgun stowed in the glove compartment. Neither of those issues are before the Court in this case, which involves the prohibited conduct of carrying and storing firearms without official purpose in the gated/restricted access employee parking, loading and unloading area of the subject "postal property."


It's As If Heller Never Happened:

[UPDATE: The decision below was filed July 7, and PACER, which I checked before posting the post, echoes this. Nonetheless, as two commenters pointed out, the decision is dated June 25, one day before Heller was handed down. If anyone could explain why there'd be a two-week delay between the signing of the written decision and the filing — something I generally haven't found to be the case in district court — I'd love to hear it.

It may be that my condemnation of the court was mistaken or at least overstated, given the June 25 date; on the other hand, Heller was big news the very next morning -- and anticipated to be coming down then -- so if the district court decision wasn't officially filed until July 7, I wonder why there wouldn't be an opportunity to correct it. In any case, I'd love to hear what people who are knowledgeable on such matters, especially in the Northern District of California, could tell me.]

From Bates v. San Jose, 2008 WL 2694025 (N.D. Cal. July 7):

Bates was formerly a sergeant with the San Jose Police Department. He was granted a disability retirement from the department in April 2004, due to the fact that the City could not accommodate the work restrictions placed upon him by his physician, at least in part to “avoid psychologically or physically stressful work.” Upon receipt of this information, defendant Amoroso, then deputy chief, denied Bates a concealed weapon permit under Cal.Penal Code § 12027.1(e) which prohibits the issuance of a permit to carry a concealed weapon to any officer who has retired “because of a psychological disability.” ...

Bates now sues the City, Davis and Amoroso for violation of his civil rights to freedom from deprivation of due process of law, freedom from summary punishment and freedom from the deprivation of the right to bear arms for failing to initially grant him a concealed weapons permit under § 12027.1. [Footnote:] The denial of a concealed weapons permit does not constitute a deprivation of the right to bear arms. Hickman v. Block, 81 F.3d 98, 101-02 (9th Cir.1996), cert. denied, 519 U.S. 912 (1996)....

But Hickman expressly rested on the view that "the Second Amendment is a right held by the states, and does not protect the possession of a weapon by a private citizen" — a view D.C. v. Heller expressly rejected. As one might guess, while district courts are generally bound by circuit precedent, "where intervening Supreme Court authority is clearly irreconcilable with our prior circuit authority" — including when the irreconcilability is in the "mode of analysis" and not just square conflict in the specific holdings — "a three-judge panel of this court and district courts should consider themselves bound by the intervening higher authority and reject the prior opinion of this court as having been effectively overruled." Miller v. Gammie, 335 F.3d 889, 899, 900 (9th Cir. 2003). And it's not like Heller was a low-profile case that judges and clerks would routinely miss, or that the conflict between Heller and Hickman was somehow subtle. Now it may well be that under Heller, concealed weapons bans remain constitutional; there's language in Heller that suggests this. I should also note that all the briefing in this case came before Heller, so the parties technically didn't raise Heller; and more broadly, my skim of the plaintiff's opposition to the city's motion for summary judgment didn't really discuss the Second Amendment. If the court had made any of these points, that would have been fine. But simply relying on a precedent that Heller swept away strikes me as wrong, though of a piece with other recent decisions (see here and here).


Ninth Circuit's Sensible Response to a D.C. v. Heller Claim:

From yesterday's unpublished U.S. v. Gilbert (some paragraph breaks added):

Keith Gilbert appeals his jury conviction on one count of conspiracy to manufacture unregistered firearms ..., one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm ..., seven counts of possession of a machinegun ..., and two counts of possession of an unregistered firearm ....

At trial, Gilbert admitted to participating in each of the four controlled purchases and testified that he knew the buyer was acting as an informant. Gilbert maintains that he sold the guns to the informant intentionally, to challenge the constitutionality of firearms laws. Gilbert attempted several times to testify, twice successfully, that he believed the Second Amendment gave an individual the right to bear arms. Each time, the court sustained government counsel's objections and instructed the jury to disregard Gilbert's answers.

The court also denied Gilbert's request for an additional jury instruction to the effect that the Second Amendment affords an individual right to possess firearms for personal use. The final jury instructions included, at the government's request, the following instruction:

A person does not have the right under the Second Amendment, or under any other provision of the Constitution, to possess a machinegun. A person does not have a right, under the Second Amendment, or under any other provision of the Constitution, to possess a rifle with a barrel shorter than 16 inches that the person has not registered in the National Firearms Registration and Transfer Record.

... The district court's instructions were particularly appropriate to rebut inferences created by Gilbert's counsel's statements that Gilbert believed the Second Amendment allowed him to possess, sell, and manufacture firearms, Gilbert's stricken statements about his beliefs regarding the Second Amendment, and his statement that he was challenging the constitutionality of the law.

The Supreme Court's recent decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, holding that the Second Amendment protects a limited individual right to possess a firearm -- unconnected with service in a militia -- does not alter our conclusion. Under Heller, individuals still do not have the right to possess machineguns or short-barreled rifles, as Gilbert did, and convicted felons, such as Gilbert, do not have the right to possess any firearms....

Gilbert also argues that the district court erred by preventing him from testifying as to his understanding and beliefs concerning the Second Amendment.... [T]he charges against Gilbert did not require, as an element of proof, evidence that Gilbert knowingly broke the law, only that he knowingly possessed weapons and knew the characteristics of those weapons. The only elements of proof which required inquiry into Gilbert's mental state were met: the government proved that Gilbert joined the conspiracy knowing its object and intending to accomplish it, and that he knowingly possessed machineguns and a rifle with a barrel less than 16 inches in length.

Thus we conclude that the district court acted well within its discretion to exclude Gilbert's testimony regarding his beliefs about the Second Amendment as inadmissible [as irrelevant]. For the same reason, we conclude that the district court's exclusion of Gilbert's testimony did not violate his right to present a witness in his own defense.

Whatever one might think about what D.C. v. Heller should have said about these issues (and I'm inclined to approve of its conclusions on them), it seems to me the Ninth Circuit read and applied Heller quite correctly.


Felons and the Second Amendment:

U.S. v. Harden, No. 06-79-KI (D. Or.) (King, J.):

Defendant Daniel Devon Harden is charged in a single-count indictment under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1) with possessing a firearm after being previously convicted of a felony. Harden moves to dismiss his indictment based on District of Columbia v. Heller, in which the Court held that the Second Amendment "guarantee[s] the individual right to possess and carry weapons in case of confrontation." Harden argues he has a Second Amendment right to possess a firearm for self-defense, even though he is a felon.

The Court also cautioned, however:

Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose: For example, concealed weapons prohibitions have been upheld under the Amendment or state analogues. The Court's opinion should not be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.

Harden's argument goes well beyond the holding in Heller. I decline to extend the case to that extent.

If Harden's argument simply went beyond the holding in Heller, it seems to me that a judge probably ought to give reasons for "declin[ing] to extend the case" -- but here, the argument goes firmly against the dictum in Heller, and thus seems to be basically disposed of by the Supreme Court's opinion.


Another Post-Heller Second Amendment Decision:

U.S. v. Robinson (E.D. Wis. July 23) (Adelman, J.):

[D]efendant fails to show that Heller renders his prosecution [for being a felon in possession of a firearm] constitutionally infirm....

First, defendant fails to demonstrate that Heller applies to felons. The Court specifically stated in that case:

There seems to us no doubt, on the basis of both text and history, that the Second Amendment conferred an individual right to keep and bear arms. Of course the right was not unlimited, just as the First Amendment’s right of free speech was not. Thus, we do not read the Second Amendment to protect the right of citizens to carry arms for any sort of confrontation, just as we do not read the First Amendment to protect the right of citizens to speak for any purpose....

Although we do not undertake an exhaustive historical analysis today of the full scope of the Second Amendment, nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.

Defendant claims that this is dicta, but I cannot so quickly dismiss this explicit limitation on the Court’s holding. Further, defendant cites no authority in support of his claim that the Second Amendment right extends to felons. To my knowledge, no court has, even under an individual rights interpretation of the Second Amendment, found 18 U.S.C. § 922(g) constitutionally suspect. E.g., United States v. Emerson, 270 F.3d 203, 262-63 (5th Cir. 2001) (finding that the Second Amendment protects individual rights, but nevertheless upholding § 922(g)(8)); [also citing some post-Heller district court and unpublished circuit court cases]. Finally, the Seventh Circuit regularly rejected such challenges pre-Heller, see, e.g., United States v. Price, 328 F.3d 958, 961 (7th Cir. 2003) (noting that even advocates of an individual rights interpretation of the Second Amendment excluded felons), and nothing in Heller persuades me that the court of appeals is likely to change course now.

Second, defendant can find little support in Heller given the circumstances of his case. Heller’s actual holding is:

that the District’s ban on handgun possession in the home violates the Second Amendment, as does its prohibition against rendering any lawful firearm in the home operable for the purpose of immediate self-defense. Assuming that Heller is not disqualified from the exercise of Second Amendment rights, the District must permit him to register his handgun and must issue him a license to carry it in the home.

Defendant contends that he was accosted by police on the porch of his home and found to be in possession of a firearm, which he claims he possessed to protect himself and his family in the high crime area in which they lived. However, he glosses over the circumstances of his encounter with the police. [Details omitted. -EV] Even under its broadest possible reading, Heller does not sanction a felon carrying a gun in his pocket in public, then pulling that gun on a police officer [which is what the court concludes happened here -EV]. The Second Amendment interests in self-defense and protection of the home discussed in Heller cannot reasonably be extended to cover defendant’s conduct here.


Mistake of Fact About Whether You're a Felon = Defense to Felon-in-Possession Statute (with Second Amendment in a Supporting Role):

Federal law bans felons from possessing firearms, but doesn't expressly say whether this applies only to people who know they are felons. Usually this doesn't matter, since it is the rare felon who's confused about whether he's a felon. But U.S. v. Kitsch (E.D. Pa. Aug. 1, 2008) (Dalzell, J.), involves such a case:

[Footnote: The facts are largely undisputed. Because we must decide whether Kitsch's version of the story would, if credited by the jury, justify acquittal, we resolve any factual disputes in his favor for purposes of this motion.] In 1988 and 1989, Kitsch was cooperating with law enforcement officials in Atlantic County, New Jersey in an investigation against a man named Dino Starn who was, among other things, growing marijuana in a barn on his property. As a means of helping the narcotics officer with whom he was working obtain evidence against Starn, Kitsch set a small, smoky fire on the windowsill of the barn and then promptly called the fire department. When the fire department arrived, it found the marijuana growing in the barn and Starn was later charged.

As a result of the fire, Kitsch was charged with third-degree arson, a felony under both New Jersey and federal law. He pled guilty to the state offense after meeting with law enforcement officials who told him they would set aside the conviction and Kitsch could live as though the event had never happened. Although he served a thirty-day custodial sentence on Sundays, Kitsch avers that he truly and reasonably believed that his conviction had either been set aside or expunged. [More factual details omitted. -EV]

The district court concludes that under federal law Kitsch would be guilty only if he knowingly possessed a gun knowing that he was a felon, and that Kitsch is entitled to a jury instruction that "in order to convict Kitsch, the Government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he knew or was willfully blind to the fact that he had a prior felony conviction that had not been set aside or expunged."

The district court's reasoning chiefly rested on the general presumption against strict liability, to its reading of this statute, and to its reading of past precedents interpreting similar statutes; based on this, the court was willing to reject an out-of-circuit court of appeals precedent, United States v. Langley, 62 F.3d 602 (4th Cir. 1995), that held the contrary. But the court also suggested that the Second Amendment, as interpreted in D.C. v. Heller, supported its conclusion:

A statute that imposes criminal penalties for the exercise of an enumerated constitutional right despite defendant's reasonable belief in good faith that he has complied with the law must, at the very least, raise constitutional doubts. Post-Heller, the Government's desired construction of Section 922(g)(1) imposes just such a burden on defendants who, for whatever reason, reasonably believe that they are not felons within the statutory definition. Faced with a statute that raises this sort of doubt, it is "incumbent upon us to read the statute to eliminate those doubts so long as such a reading is not plainly contrary to the intent of Congress."

The trial is yet to come; we'll see whether the court's ruling helped Mr. Kitsch. For a similar opinion concluding that a constitutional right to bear arms -- there, both the Second Amendment and a right to bear arms under the state constitution -- counseled against reading a gun control law as imposing strict liability, see State v. Williams, 148 P.3d 993 (Wash. 2006) (which I blogged about here).


Court Citing the Second Amendment In Way That Helps Gun Owner:

I should note that the no strict liability under the felon-in-possession decision that I discussed below appears to be the first post-Heller case in which the Second Amendment was actually cited in a way that helps a gun owner (though not as a decisive factor, but just reinforcement for a conclusion that the court said would have been reached even without the Second Amendment).


Post-Heller Federal Appellate Decision on the Second Amendment:

U.S. v. Fincher (8th Cir.) (thanks to How Appealing for the pointer):

[U]nder Heller, Fincher’s possession of the guns is not protected by the Second Amendment. Machine guns are not in common use by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes and therefore fall within the category of dangerous and unusual weapons that the government can prohibit for individual use. [The court apparently took the same view as to Fincher's sawed-off shotgun. -EV] Furthermore, Fincher has not directly attacked the federal registration requirements on firearms, and we doubt that any such attack would succeed in light of Heller.

There's more, dealing with Fincher's pre-Heller arguments that his membership in a non-state-run militia group gave his actions constitutional protection.


Second Amendment Doesn't Protect Illegal Aliens:

So concludes a Magistrate Judge in the Southern District of Florida, in U.S. v. Boffil-Rivera, recommending that the District Judge reject a constitutional challenge to a federal statute that criminalizes gun possession by illegal aliens. Seems like a pretty sensible result, but what's interesting is the reasoning:

That common law right [to keep and bear arms, secured by the Second Amendment,] was held only by citizens and those who swore allegiance to the Government; it did not include everyone present on American soil.... For instance, Samuel Adams and other delegates urged the Massachusetts ratifying convention to recommend barring Congress from “prevent[ing] the people of the United States, who are peaceable citizens, from keeping their own arms.” The New Hampshire convention proposed that “Congress shall never disarm any Citizen unless such as are or have been in Actual Rebellion.” In these proposals, the pre-existing right clearly inured only to “peaceable” or lawful “Citizens.” See also David Yassky, The Second Amendment: Structure, History, and Constitutional Change, 99 Mich. L. Rev. 588, 626–27 (2000) (“The average citizen whom the Founders wish to see armed was a man of republican virtue -– a man shaped by his myriad ties to his community, the most important for this purpose being the militia.”).

Founding-era statutes confirm this limitation on the pre-existing common law right. During the American Revolution, several states passed laws providing for the confiscation of weapons owned by persons refusing to swear an oath of allegiance to the state or the United States. To deal with the potential threat coming from armed citizens who remained loyal to Great Britain, states took the obvious precaution of disarming these persons. Thus, even within the confines of the pre-existing right to keep and bear arms, certain persons -– such as those who did not swear loyalty to this country -– were seen as falling outside the protection of that right, and laws or regulations that disarmed them were well-established at the time the Second Amendment was adopted. Indeed, several Founding-era state constitutions expressly provided that the right to bear arms extended only to “citizens.” See, e.g., Pa. Cons. Stat. (1790); Ky. Const. (1792); Miss. Const. (1817); Conn. Const. (1818); Me. Const. (1819).

Along these same lines, Heller concluded that the reference to “the people” in the Second Amendment “unambiguously refers to all members of the political community, not an unspecified subset.” Heller grouped this reference to “the people” with others found in the Bill of Rights, specifically the First, Fourth, and Ninth Amendments, as defined by an earlier Supreme Court decision, United States v. Verdugo-Urquidez, 494 U.S. 259 (1990). In that decision, which related to the scope of the Fourth Amendment’s application to the DEA’s search of a foreign national that took place on foreign soil, Justice Rehnquist’s majority opinion adopted the following definition of “the people”:

“[T]he people” seems to have been a term of art employed in select parts of the Constitution .... [Its uses] sugges[t] that “the people” protected by the Fourth Amendment, and by the First and Second Amendments, and to whom rights and powers are reserved in the Ninth and Tenth Amendments, refers to a class of persons who are part of a national community or who have otherwise developed sufficient connection with this country to be considered part of that community.

Verdugo-Urquidez is but one example of a series of cases that recognize that foreign nationals or “aliens” are not entitled to all the rights and privileges of American citizens. Justice Jackson’s “ascending scale of rights” analysis is fully applicable today:

The alien, to whom the United States has been traditionally hospitable, has been accorded a generous and ascending scale of rights as he increases his identity with our society. Mere lawful presence in the country creates an implied assurance of safe conduct and gives him certain rights; they become more extensive and secure when he makes preliminary declaration of intention to become a citizen, and they expand to those of full citizenship upon naturalization.

Johnson v. Eisentrager, 339 U.S. 763, 770-71 (1950) (emphasis added). As a result, lawful resident aliens who are present within the constitution’s jurisdiction and have “developed substantial connections with this country” are entitled to minimal constitutional protections. The recognition of certain rights to resident aliens, however, does not mean that “all aliens are entitled to enjoy all the advantages of citizenship or, indeed, to the conclusion that all aliens must be placed in a single homogenous legal classification. For a host of constitutional and statutory provisions rest on the premise that a legitimate distinction between citizens and aliens may justify attributes and benefits for one class not accorded to the other; ....”

Neither foreign nationals who have not yet reached our shores, nor illegal aliens who have done so unlawfully and without the Attorney General’s permission, are entitled to the full panoply of rights available to citizens or even resident aliens. To the contrary, that status by definition places such individuals outside the traditional protections of the Constitution ....

Clearly, under any historical interpretation of the enactment of the Second Amendment or the interpretation of any similar right under the Constitution, the individual right to bear arms defined by Heller does not apply to an illegal and unlawful alien. This Defendant, alleged by this Indictment to have been an unlawful alien, is not a citizen, is not ostensibly a person with identifiable and significant ties to the community, and is not someone who has any duty of allegiance to the United States. A person of his status could have been barred from possessing a firearm under English or Colonial American common law, and similarly could be precluded from doing so under the Second Amendment. His mere presence here does not entitle him to constitutional protection because he is clearly outside the scope of the “political community” who are conferred rights under the Second Amendment....

I'm inclined to be skeptical of arguments based on Revolutionary-War-era statutes — what a nation did in time of a war in which its existence is in very serious doubt doesn't tell us that much about what the general constitutional rules ought to be. But the view that "the people" wasn't understood as including illegal aliens seems to me quite plausible.

More on the implications of this decision (and of the underlying question) in posts to come. Thanks to Robert Luck for the pointer.


The Second Amendment and Non-Citizens:

The Second Amendment / illegal alien decision discussed in the post below reminds me of a broader question — do noncitizens who are legally present in the U.S. have Second Amendment rights?

1. Federal law generally bars gun possession by noncitizens who are here under a nonimmigrant visa. Some state laws go further and ban all possession by noncitizens, including by permanent residents. The law of Guam likewise bans all possession by noncitizens, and because federal statutes extend the Bill of Rights to Guam, the Guam law could be challenged even without reaching the question whether the Second Amendment is incorporated against the states.

Generally speaking most constitutional rights have been extended (at least where criminal punishment, as opposed to the threat of deportation, is involved) to legal aliens. Should this apply to the Second Amendment? The reasoning in the illegal alien opinion seems to potentially apply to legal aliens as well, though that's not clear.

2. Also, what about the Court's doctrine that state and local laws (as opposed to federal law) discriminating based on citizenship are subject to strict scrutiny? There's an exception for discrimination that denies aliens access to "political functions" that are "intimately related to the process of democratic self-government" (such as voting or jury service, or hiring of police officers, probation officers, or public school teachers), but given the Court's self-defense-rights reasoning in Heller, that likely doesn't apply here. A few state courts have considered this argument, and have split on it. See generally Pratheepan Gulasekaram, Aliens With Guns: Equal Protection, Federal Power, and the Second Amendment, 92 Iowa L. Rev. 891 (2007).

3. Note also that some state constitutions secure a right to keep and bear arms to all persons, while others speak of "people" and still others speak specifically of "citizens." There might thus be a right to bear arms under at least some such state constitutions, as I argued in this op-ed that criticized an Omaha ban on handgun possession by noncitizens (including perfectly legal residents) — the Nebraska Constitution provides that "All persons have certain inherent and inalienable rights," including "the right to keep and bear arms for security or defense of self, family, home, and others, and for lawful common defense, hunting, recreational use, and all other lawful purposes." Cf. People v. Zerillo, 189 N.W. 927 (Mich. 1922) (striking down on state right-to-bear-arms grounds a ban on aliens possessing guns); People v. Nakamura, 62 P.2d 246 (Colo. 1936) (likewise). But see State v. Vlacil 645 P.2d 677 (Utah 1982) (rejecting such a claim without much explanation, under a state constitutional provision that speaks of "the people" rather than citizens); and there are also several decisions from other states that reject noncitizens' claims on the plausible theory that the particular state constitutional provision speaks expressly of a right of the "citizen."


Illegal Aliens and Other Constitutional Provisions:

The magistrate judge's opinion in the Second Amendment illegal alien case also reminded me of our own then-Judge Paul Cassell's opinion in a Fourth Amendment case involving an illegal alien who feloniously reentered the U.S. If the magistrate judge's opinion is adopted by the district court, and the decision is then appealed and affirmed using the reasoning that "the people" doesn't generally include illegal aliens, it may well have an important effect on Fourth Amendment illegal alien cases as well as Second Amendment ones.

UPDATE: Reader David Warren points out that then-Judge Cassell later expressly held the opposite as to an illegal alien who had not feloniously reentered the U.S. See U.S. v. Atienzo, 2005 WL 3334758 (D. Utah 2005):

In light of Esparza-Mendoza [the earlier case I linked to above], the question is now presented as to whether that decision should be extended to block illegal aliens who are not previously-deported felons from claiming Fourth Amendment protections. As just explained, this issue was specifically reserved in Esparza-Mendoza. The reasoning of Esparza-Mendoza does not automatically require the conclusion that illegal aliens who are not felons are categorically barred as a class from asserting Fourth Amendment rights. The opinion rests in no small part on the unique status of felons-who are generally excluded from the political process. With respect to illegal aliens who are not felons, the decision whether they fall outside the Fourth Amendment would seem to require a case-by-case determination. Because in this case the government does not challenge Atienzo's argument that he has sufficient connections, the court concludes that he can assert a Fourth Amendment claim.

While deported alien felons are excluded from the national community in a permanent way, the situation may be different for at least some persons who have committed no felonious criminal act other than to remain in this country illegally....

Having rejected the categorical position that all illegal aliens as a class lack sufficient connection to this country to assert Fourth Amendment rights, the court has no legal arguments before it disputing Atienzo's specific position that he has sufficient connections. In light of the posture of the case, the simplest course is for the court to then accept the uncontested specific view that Atienzo can claim Fourth Amendment protection.

The Second Amendment opinion I link to, of course, concludes that illegal aliens generally, not just illegal alien felons, lack Second Amendment rights.


The Second Amendment and People Convicted of Domestic Violence Misdemeanors:

From U.S. v. Booker (D. Me. Aug. 11) (Woodcock, J.):

Heller left unanswered a significant question: The level of scrutiny the Court must apply to the restriction on Mr. Booker's individual right to bear arms. As Heller notes, the "traditionally expressed levels" are "strict scrutiny, intermediate scrutiny, and rational basis." The Heller majority acknowledged that it did not establish "a level of scrutiny for evaluating Second Amendment restrictions," but it left some hints. First, the Heller majority rejected Justice Breyer's "interest-balancing" approach, observing that it knew "no other enumerated constitutional right whose core protection has been subjected to a freestanding 'interest-balancing' approach." Second, the majority conceded that the District of Columbia law would pass rational-basis scrutiny and, since it ruled the District's complete ban on handguns unconstitutional, the necessary implication is that the rational-basis test is not applicable. The remaining options are strict and intermediate scrutiny.

Strict scrutiny is generally reserved for statutory restrictions that affect the exercise of certain "fundamental right[s]." The individual right to bear arms might well be a fundamental right, the restriction of which requires strict scrutiny. This conclusion is supported by the placement of Second Amendment within the Bill of Rights alongside this Country's most precious freedoms. However, as Justice Breyer points out, Heller expressly approves some statutory restrictions -- the types of people who may exercise this freedom; the places where this freedom may be exercised; and, the ability to buy and sell the objects of this freedom -- "whose constitutionality under a strict scrutiny standard would be far from clear." "Intermediate scrutiny is used, for discrimination based on gender and for discrimination against nonmarital children." Heller itself concedes that it does not "clarify the entire field." It consciously left the appropriate level of scrutiny for another day.

Rather than tackle this complex and unanswered question, the Court starts from a different place. Heller teaches that even though the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to bear arms, it is "not unlimited." Heller states that "nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms." A useful approach is to ask whether a statutory prohibition against the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill is similar enough to the statutory prohibition against the possession of firearms by persons convicted of the misdemeanor crime of domestic violence to justify its inclusion in the list of "longstanding prohibitions" that survive Second Amendment scrutiny.

The Court concludes it does. To reach this conclusion, the Court starts by comparing the constitutionally-sanctioned prohibition against firearm possession by felons with the prohibition against persons convicted of misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence. A person can, of course, be convicted of a felony which had nothing to do with physical violence and which would not necessarily predict future misuse of a firearm. Nevertheless, the law forbids any convicted felon, regardless of the nature of the felony, from possessing firearms and Heller constitutionally sanctioned this broad prohibition. [Footnote: The same point is generally applicable to the mentally ill....]

By contrast, the predicate offense under which Mr. Booker was convicted is defined in 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(9) as requiring "the use or attempted use of physical force" by someone who is a spouse, parent, or guardian of the victim or someone in a position similar to a spouse, parent, or guardian of the victim. [Footnote: Mr. Booker emphasizes that an individual may be convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence in Maine by reckless behavior; he argues that there is not a significant enough government interest to deprive him of his Second Amendment right if he acted only recklessly. However, the felony convictions to which Mr. Booker's predicate offence is being compared run the gamut of the mens rea spectrum, and a domestic violence offender's mens rea does not impact the Court's analysis under Heller.] If anything, as a predictor of firearm misuse, the definitional net cast by § 922(g)(9) is tighter than the net cast by § 922(g)(1). Turning to the governmental interest, the manifest need to protect the victims of domestic violence and to keep guns from the hands of the people who perpetrate such acts is well-documented and requires no further elaboration.

Based on the absence of a meaningful distinction between felons and persons convicted of crimes of domestic violence as predictors of firearm violence, the critical nature of the governmental interest, and the definitional tailoring of the statute, the Court concludes that persons who have been convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence must be added to the list of "felons and the mentally ill" against whom the "longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms" survive Second Amendment scrutiny.

Not an unanswerable argument, of course, but at least a plausible and relatively detailed attempt to confront the underlying question, unlike some of the other early post-Heller district court decisions (see, for instance, here).


District Court on the Second Amendment:

Industrious v. Cauley (E.D. Ky. Oct. 1), rejects yet another Second Amendment challenge to felon-in-possession laws -- a result that is correct under D.C. v. Heller, and also seems justified in this particular case on various procedural grounds that the court mentions. But at the end, the court says -- citing the D.C. Circuit decision that Heller affirmed, Parker v. District of Columbia, 478 F.3d 370 (D.C. Cir. 2007), and that petitioner relied on more than he did on Heller --

Finally, the Court notes that the Parker decision concerned gun restriction laws and the unique legal status of the District of Columbia, as opposed to the status of “States.” See Parker, 478 F.3d at 406 (“The Second Amendment’s “character and aim” does not require that we treat the District as a State. The Amendment was drafted in response to the perceived threat to the “free[dom]” of the “State[s]” posed by a national standing army controlled by the federal government .... Accordingly, both the Supreme Court and this court have consistently held that several constitutional provisions explicitly referring to citizens of “States” do not apply to citizens of the District.”). Parker does not assist Industrious in this § 2241 proceeding.

But the quote from Parker is from the dissent, not from the majority opinion. The majority expressly held that the Second Amendment did apply to citizens of the District. And more broadly, the majority's reasoning recognizing an individual right to possess guns was not limited to D.C. residents, or tied to "the unique legal status of the District of Columbia" -- it applied equally to federal laws affecting U.S. citizens throughout the country, as does the Heller decision, which affirmed the D.C. Circuit majority opinion. (Note that the Industrious case involved a conviction for violating a federal law.)

As I said, this doesn't affect the bottom line, given Heller's assertion that bans on felon possession of guns are constitutional, and given the apparent procedural barriers to Industrious's claim (I assume the district court is right about those). But it does show a pretty serious error in the district court's interpretation and citation of the Parker decision, and in the district court's understanding of current Second Amendment law.

I should note, before people start casting political aspersions, that Judge Wilhoit, who wrote the opinion, was appointed by President Reagan in 1981.


District Court Upholds Ban on Firearms Possession by Unlawful Users of Controlled Substances:

The statute is 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(3), which bans possession by anyone "who is an unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance (as defined in section 102 of the Controlled Substances Act." The case is U.S. v. Yancey (W.D. Wis. Oct. 3), and the relevant analysis is:

As this court noted recently, Heller stands only for the proposition that the District of Columbia cannot constitutionally ban handgun possession in the home for use in self-defense by persons not otherwise prohibited from gun possession. United States v. Kilgore, 2008 WL 4058020 (W.D. Wis. Aug. 26, 2008). Heller did not address a state’s right to impose restrictions on handgun possession. Indeed, the Court said explicitly that its opinion was not intended to suggest that all gun laws and firearms restrictions are unconstitutional. Id., at 2816-17 ("[N]othing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill ...["]). As this court held recently in affirming the constitutionality of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1), which criminalizes firearm possession by felons, Heller did not make the firearm restrictions of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g) constitutionally suspect. Instead, this statute contains just the sort of longstanding prohibitions on firearm possession that Heller allowed. Kilgore, 2008 WL 4058020.

Since Heller was decided, no court has found the firearm restrictions in 18 U.S.C. § 922 to be unconstitutional, even under an individual rights interpretation of the Second Amendment. Instead, courts have repeatedly affirmed the constitutionality of the statute’s prohibition of firearm possession by felons, E.g., Kilgore, 2008 WL 4058020; United States v. Robinson, 2008 WL 2937742 (E.D. Wis. July 23, 2008); U.S. v. Brunson, 2008 WL 4180057 (4th Cir. Sept. 11, 2008); United States v. Irish, 2008 WL 2917818 (8th Cir. July 31, 2008); United States v. Gilbert, 2008 WL 2740453 (9th Cir. July 15, 2008)); persons convicted of domestic violence offenses (United States v. Booker, 2008 WL 3411793 (D. Maine Aug. 11, 2008); United States v. White, 2008 WL 3211298 (S.D. Ala. Aug. 6, 2008)); and illegal aliens (United States v. Boffil-Rivera, No. 08-20437(S.D. Fla. Aug. 12, 2008)). Although to my knowledge no court has confronted the provision defendant challenges, which prohibits firearm possession by an unlawful user of a controlled substance, the provision’s constitutionality is not suspect. Rather, it is another example of a longstanding prohibition on firearm possession that Heller permits.

If the government proves, as it has charged, that defendant is an unlawful user of a controlled substance and that he was in knowing possession of a firearm, a jury could find defendant guilty of violating 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(3). Such a conviction would not violate the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution. Nothing in Heller restricts the federal government from criminalizing the possession of firearms by unlawful users of controlled substances.


Second Amendment, Illegal Aliens, and Noncitizens More Generally:

U.S. v. Guerrero-Leco, 2008 WL 4534226 (W.D.N.C. Oct. 6, 2008), holds that the Second Amendment doesn't apply to illegal aliens. The court correctly declines to follow pre-Heller Fourth Circuit precedent that upheld the ban on illegal aliens' possession of guns, and instead reasons itself from Heller. The reasoning, unfortunately, isn't very detailed:

The Supreme Court did not find that all individuals present in America are protected by the Second Amendment. Rather, the Court described that protection as belonging to American citizens [footnote] who "inherited [it] from our English ancestors." Nothing in the opinion purports to extend the Second Amendment's protection to those outside the American political community like the defendant who allegedly entered and remained unlawfully in the country. This inferior court will not read into Heller a more expansive right than recognized therein.

[Footnote:] Examples include: "we do not read the Second Amendment to protect the right of citizens to carry arms for any sort of confrontation," Id. at 2799 (emphasis in original); "this right was intended ... and was guaranteed to, and to be exercised and enjoyed by the citizen," Id. at 2806 (quoting Andrews v. State, 50 Tenn. 165, 183 (1871)(ellipsis in original; internal quotation marks omitted)); "the Second Amendment does not protect those weapons not typically possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes," Id. at 2815-16; "[The District's requirement] makes it impossible for citizens to use [firearms in the home] for the core lawful purpose of self-defense and is hence unconstitutional," Id. at 2818.

But I doubt that the Court's casual references to citizens were a deliberate judgment that the right only applies to citizens (and thus not to, for instance, legally resident aliens), or should be treated as holding or even strong dictum on the matter. "Citizen" is sometimes loosely used, including in court opinions, to generally mean individuals; and more broadly courts may talk about the rights of citizens (who are the bulk of rightsholders) without foreclosing the possibility that noncitizens might have such rights as well. Consider, for instance, the full context for the first passage quoted in the footnote: "Thus, we do not read the Second Amendment to protect the right of citizens to carry arms for any sort of confrontation, just as we do not read the First Amendment to protect the right of citizens to speak for any purpose." The Court wasn't suggesting that the First Amendment protects only citizens (a view that the Court has generally expressly rejected); it was using citizens to mean something broader (or at least saying that citizens have the right without denying that noncitizens might as well).

There are good and careful arguments that can be made in favor of the conclusion that the Second Amendment doesn't apply to illegal aliens -- such as those put forth by a magistrate judge in the Southern District of Florida in August -- but I don't think that the court's argument here is by itself persuasive.


The NRA Clinging to Guns and Pro-Immigrant Sentiment:

Federal law doesn't bar permanent resident noncitizens from getting guns, and neither does Washington State law. But Washington law requires that noncitizens get a special alien firearm license, and the state Department of Licensing is refusing to issue such licenses:

We are unable to issue alien firearms licenses at this time.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has told law enforcement agencies it is against federal law to use federal databases for background checks if they share the results with a non-criminal justice agency such as the Department of Licensing. As a result:
* Law enforcement agencies cannot perform the background checks required by state law for issuing an alien firearms licenses.
* We cannot complete the application process or issue alien firearms licenses.

The NRA, the Second Amendment Foundation, and several permanent residents who live in Washington are now suing, claiming this violates the Second Amendment (which they argue is incorporated against the states via the Fourteenth Amendment) as well as the Equal Protection Clause and 42 U.S.C. § 1981. For more on the general legal theories involved, see this post of mine from three months ago. For more on the litigation, see this Seattle Post-Intelligencer article. Note that the Washington Constitution's right to bear arms is of no help to noncitizens, because — unlike some other state constitutions (e.g., Nebraska's) — the Washington Constitution secures the right only to each "individual citizen."

By the way, here's the 42 U.S.C. § 1981 theory, which my earlier post didn't discuss:

1. This statute — enacted shortly after the Civil War — provides (emphasis added), "All persons within the jurisdiction of the United States shall have the same right in every State and Territory to make and enforce contracts, to sue, be parties, give evidence, and to the full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings for the security of persons and property as is enjoyed by white citizens, and shall be subject to like punishment, pains, penalties, taxes, licenses, and exactions of every kind, and to no other."

2. This doesn't just bar race discrimination, but also discrimination against noncitizens (as to the subjects involved).

3. The state constitutional provision securing a right to bear arms, and state laws related to concealed carry licenses, are "laws ... for the security of persons and property."

4. Therefore, discrimination against "lawfully admitted resident aliens" violates § 1981.

Note: Though the logic of this statutory argument might extend beyond lawfully admitted resident aliens, federal gun statutes generally bar gun possession by illegal aliens and by most aliens who have nonimmigrant visas. These statutes likely implicitly limit § 1981 as to those kinds of aliens. And even if § 1981 continues to preempt state laws limiting ownership by such non-lawful-immigrant noncitizens, federal law would make such ownership illegal and thus make the state law question largely moot.

Thanks to Venkat Balasubramani for the pointer.


Judges Kozinski, Kleinfeld, and Rawlinson Weigh in on the Second Amendment on Airplanes:

From U.S. v. Davis (Nov. 21) (unpublished and unsigned); recall that Judges Kozinski and Kleinfeld endorsed the individual rights view of the Second Amendment even before D.C. v. Heller (in their dissents from denial of rehearing en banc in Silveira v. Lockyer, and in Judge Kleinfeld's similar dissent in Nordyke v. King):

We affirm James S. Davis's conviction and sentence for fraud and carrying a concealed weapon on an airplane. Davis got through security with a handgun underneath his jacket because he impersonated a federal Customs Agent.

Davis challenges the constitutionality of 49 U.S.C. § 46505, relying on District of Columbia v. Heller, 128 S. Ct. 2783 (2008). The Supreme Court specified that nothing in that opinion was intended to cast doubt on the prohibition of concealed weapons in sensitive places. Id. at 2816-17....


A Fairly Detailed Discussion of the Second Amendment and Domestic Restraining Orders:

U.S. v. Luedtke (E.D. Wis. Nov. 18, 2008) upholds against a Second Amendment challenge the federal ban on possessing firearms while under a domestic restraining order, and offers more analysis than most district court Second Amendment decisions have provided. I'm not sure the analysis is entirely right, but it struck me as worth noting. Note also that the decision leaves open the door to challenging what strikes me as the most troublesome aspect of the federal ban, which is that in principle it could apply even in jurisdictions where courts may issue a boilerplate injunction that "explicitly prohibits the use, attempted use, or threatened use of force" without a finding that the target has indeed in the past already used, attempted to use, or threatened to use illegal force.