Amicus Briefs: Bringing Our Expertise to the Courts

Posted on September 27, 2012

Over the past four years, our nation’s courts have become a major battleground in the debate about gun violence in our communities. Right now, people who want to carry loaded firearms on public streets are forcing judges across the country to question the scope of the Second Amendment. But where should judges turn for guidance in evaluating these claims? The Supreme Court’s landmark Heller decision in 2008 effectively upended the legal understanding of the Second Amendment that had existed for almost eighty years. When it comes to gun litigation, courts are now having to evaluate how to keep our communities safe with little Second Amendment case law to guide them.

The Law Center is helping to fill that void through amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) briefs in significant Second Amendment cases across the country. Because we are the only organization in the country that tracks Second Amendment litigation, national, state, and local firearms laws, and pending firearms legislation nationwide, we have unique expertise that can help courts understand the critical importance of smart laws to prevent gun violence. Through amicus briefs, we can present that expertise to courts shaping the meaning of the Second Amendment.

Amicus briefs enable us to get involved in precedent-setting cases that have nationwide significance, since numerous challenges to similar gun laws are currently pending before courts across the country. We recently filed an amicus brief in the First Circuit Court of Appeals in Hightower v. Boston, in which we argued that a Massachusetts law requiring a license to carry a concealed weapon in public does not violate the Second Amendment. When the court issued its decision upholding the law on August 30th, it became the first federal appellate court in the nation to issue a decision on a Second Amendment challenge to a concealed carry law. Six other federal appellate courts are currently facing similar challenges. 

Our amicus briefs also provide critical information to supplement the arguments that state and local government defendants present in their own briefs. For example, we recently filed an amicus brief in Pizzo v. Lee, a challenge to a California law that restricts the carrying of concealed weapons in public. Because the U.S. Supreme Court emphasized in Heller that courts should look to history when addressing Second Amendment challenges, we focused our amicus brief on the robust history of public carry restrictions since the nation’s founding, an issue that government attorneys would have been unable to fit in their own briefs.

Our briefs are vital in cases in which a powerful gun lobby group is participating as a plaintiff or amicus. We filed an amicus brief in the federal district court in Woollard v. Gallagher in order to counter the influence of the powerful pro-gun group that was suing Maryland over its law requiring a license to carry a handgun in public. Although the court struck down portions of the Maryland law — issuing a decision that was out of sync with every other district court that had previously considered a similar challenge — Maryland has appealed, and we recently filed another amicus brief in the case in the Fourth Circuit.

Across the country, the Law Center is fighting in the courts to keep communities safe from gun violence. Through amicus briefs, we are able to support governments facing costly and time-consuming Second Amendment lawsuits that threaten important firearms laws. For more, read about the many amicus briefs we have filed since Heller.

Want to see more success stories? You can find them here.