Draper v. Healey: Supporting Massachusetts’ Life-Saving Handgun Design Safety Standards

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Case Information: Draper v. Healey, No. 14-12471 (1st Cir. Brief Filed Jan. 29, 2016)

At Issue: This case involves a Second Amendment challenge to several handgun design safety regulations in Massachusetts, including a requirement that handguns be equipped with a “load indicator” so that users will know when a bullet is in the firing chamber. The challenged regulations were upheld in their entirety by the district court and the case is now on appeal with the First Circuit.

The Law Center’s Brief:  Our brief argues that the challenged regulations are “presumptively lawful” conditions on the commercial sale of firearms (a category expressly recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court), which fall entirely outside the scope of the Second Amendment. We also explain the importance of design safety standards when it comes to preventing the thousands of unintentional shootings that occur in America every single year. Even if the challenged regulations do burden the Second Amendment, they easily satisfy intermediate scrutiny as they are substantially related to the important government interest of protecting public safety by reducing unintentional shootings.

Watson v. Lynch: The Second Amendment Does Not Protect the Possession of Machine Guns

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Case Information: Watson v. Lynch, No. 15-2859 (3d Cir. Brief Filed Jan. 28, 2016)

At Issue: This case involves a Second Amendment challenge to federal laws that generally prohibit the private possession of machine guns manufactured after May 19, 1986. The district court ruled that the challenged laws do not violate the Second Amendment, and the case is now on appeal before the Third Circuit.

The Law Center’s Brief: Our brief focuses on the argument that machine guns are not protected firearms under the Second Amendment. We explain to the Third Circuit that machine guns are outside the scope of the Second Amendment for at least two distinct reasons: 1) machine guns easily qualify as “dangerous and unusual” weapons under Heller; and 2) the machine gun ban qualifies as a “longstanding” prohibition. Our brief establishes that these categories are best understood as categorical exceptions to the Second Amendment right and therefore fall outside of its scope entirely. Finally, the brief traces both the historical origins and ongoing success of machine gun regulation in America.

Voisine v. United States: Limiting Gun Possession for Those Convicted of Domestic Abuse

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Case Information: Voisine v. U.S., No. 14-10154 (U.S. Supreme Court Brief Filed Jan. 26, 2016)

At Issue: Petitioners in this case argue that they should not be prohibited under federal law from possessing firearms, even though they were convicted of misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence. The argument is a very technical legal argument that would have the effect of greatly narrowing the circumstances under which a convicted domestic abuser would be prohibited from firearm possession under federal law. These arguments were rejected by the First Circuit, and the case is now on appeal before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Law Center’s Brief:  We joined with the Brady Center on an amicus brief in which we argue that the federal firearm prohibition for convicted domestic abusers should be interpreted broadly to include individuals convicted of recklessly injuring a domestic partner. Our brief points out important social science research demonstrating how important it is that this life-saving probation be interpreted broadly. For example, studies show that in households with a history of domestic violence, the presence of a gun makes a homicide 5 times more likely.

Bauer v. Harris: Defending $19 Fee Imposed on Firearm Sales in California

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Case Information: Bauer v. Harris, No. 15-15428 (9th Cir. Brief Filed Oct. 22, 2015)

At Issue: This case involves a Second Amendment challenge to the use of the $19 Dealer Record of Sale (“DROS”) fee — imposed by the State of California on the sale of all firearms — to fund the Armed Prohibited Persons System (APPS), which is used to disarm individuals who have previously purchased a firearm, but who have subsequently become prohibited from firearm possession because of a criminal conviction or other disqualifying event. The district court for the Eastern District of California upheld the DROS fee as a “presumptively lawful” condition placed on the commercial sale of firearms. The case in now on appeal before the Ninth Circuit.

The Law Center’s Brief:  The brief argues that the district court correctly determined that the use of the DROS fee to fund APPS does not violate the Second Amendment as it is a “presumptively lawful” condition on the commercial sale of firearms. Moreover, even if this use of the DROS fee were to burden Second Amendment rights, it is valid because it is substantially related to the important government interest of reducing gun crime and violence. Finally, the brief explains the important role played by the DROS fee and the APPS program in addressing gun violence and the unique success that California has had in reducing gun violence through comprehensive firearms regulation.

Pena v. Lindley: Amicus Brief Defending California’s Unsafe Handgun Act

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Case InformationPena v. Lindley,  No. 15-15449 (9th Cir. Brief Filed Sept. 28, 2015)

At Issue: This case presents a Second Amendment challenge to the California Unsafe Handgun Act (“UHA”), which requires that all handguns must meet certain safety requirements before they may be sold within the State. The district court from the Eastern District of California rejected this challenge, noting that the UHA is a regulation on the commercial sale of arms and is therefore a “presumptively lawful” regulation falling outside the scope of the Second Amendment. The case is now on appeal before the Ninth Circuit.

The Law Center’s Brief: The Law Center’s brief addresses the importance of the Unsafe Handgun Act in keeping cheap and poorly made handguns off of the streets in California. The brief argues that the district court correctly concluded that the UHA law falls outside the scope of the Second Amendment, as it merely places a condition on the commercial sale of handguns and does not act as a prohibition. In the alternative, even if the UHA does burden conduct protected by the Second Amendment, it easily passes constitutional review under intermediate scrutiny, which is the appropriate level of review in this context, because of the minimal burden that the UHA imposes on the right to possess a firearm in the home for self-defense.

Wrenn v. District of Columbia: Joining with the Brady Center to Defend the District’s Concealed Carry Permitting System

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Case Information: Wrenn v. District of Columbia, No. 15-7057 (D.C. Cir. Brief Filed Sept. 3, 2015)

At Issue: This cases challenges the constitutionality of the District’s regulations regarding the issuance of concealed carry permits. Similar to California law, the District requires that a CCW applicant show a specific need for a permit and a general self-defense interest is not enough to meet this burden. These “may-issue” systems are in place in several states across the country and are associated with a reduction in crime, including aggravated assault. However, the district court found that these laws violate the Second Amendment and the case is now on appeal with the D.C. Circuit.

Our Amicus Brief: The Law Center joined an amicus brief coordinated by the Brady Center that defends the constitutionality of the District’s concealed carry regime and argues that this regime does not violate the Second Amendment. The brief also focuses on the relevant evidence provided by social science research and the perspective of law enforcement with respect to the regulation of concealed carry in public places. The brief argues that there is a strong policy justification for a concealed carry permitting regime that requires applicants to demonstrate an elevated level of need before a permit may be issued.

Tyler v. Hillsdale County Sheriff’s Department: Amicus Brief Arguing Against the Use of Strict Scrutiny in Second Amendment Cases

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Case Information: Tyler v. Hillsdale County Sheriff’s Dep’t, No. 13-1876 (6th Cir. Brief Filed Aug. 19, 2015)

At issue: This case presents an as-applied challenge to the federal statute that prohibits firearm possession for individuals who have been involuntary committed to a mental institution. The plaintiff, Clifford Tyler, had been involuntarily committed to a mental institution in the 1980s, but had a clean record and bill of health since that time and argued that the statute, as applied to him, violated the Second Amendment. The Sixth Circuit agreed with this argument and, in doing so, became the first federal court of appeals to generally endorse strict scrutiny as the appropriate level of review for Second Amendment challenges. This case has important implications for how courts around the country analyze laws designed to reduce gun crime and violence.

The Law Center’s Brief: Our brief argues that the Sixth Circuit was wrong in its general conclusion that strict scrutiny should be the default level of review for Second Amendment cases. As the harshest level of review available, strict scrutiny is inappropriate in the context of firearms regulations that have been proven to save lives. If any heightened scrutiny is in fact mandated by the Second Amendment, intermediate scrutiny is the more appropriate level of review. Our brief argues that it is not true that laws that burden fundamental rights automatically trigger strict scrutiny and that several of the factors relied on in applying strict scrutiny in other contexts are not present in the Second Amendment arena. Unlike other constitutional rights, the exercise of Second Amendment rights inherently increase the risk of injury and death to others. Moreover, the Heller court itself implicitly rejected strict scrutiny when it classified several categories of laws, such as felon-in-possession laws, as “presumptively valid.”

Protecting Strong Gun Laws: The Supreme Court Leaves Lower Court Victories Untouched

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In the last seven years, the U.S. Supreme Court has rejected more than sixty cases seeking to expand the very limited right defined in the unprecedented Second Amendment case, District of Columbia v. Heller. By repeatedly declining to review lower court decisions upholding federal, state, and local gun laws, the Supreme Court has maintained important limitations on the Second Amendment and has reconfirmed that the Amendment is not an obstacle to smart gun laws that keep our communities safe from gun violence.

Since the Court’s decision in the Heller case 2008, lower courts across the country have been inundated with costly and time-consuming challenges to state and local gun laws.  However, lower courts have consistently upheld these laws, noting that many of these laws have been successful at protecting people from gun violence and keeping guns out of the hands of criminals while still allowing law-abiding citizens to keep guns in their homes for self defense.  Since 2008, there have been over 1,000 Second Amendment cases challenging gun laws nationwide, with an overwhelming majority—94%—of the lower court decisions upholding those laws.

Many of these Second Amendment challenges to gun laws make their way to the Supreme Court.  However, the Court has refused to hear these cases,1 leaving lower court decisions upholding the laws intact and keeping strong gun laws on the books.  For example, the Supreme Court has refused to hear cases that:

Notes
  1. In 2010, the Court decided McDonald v. City of Chicago, which held that the right recognized in Heller extends to state and local governments.  That case involved a Chicago law nearly identical to the one struck down in Heller and did not expand the substantive scope of the Second Amendment.

Mance v. Lynch: Amicus Brief Defending Federal In-State FFL Requirement for Handgun Sales

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Case Information: Mance v. Lynch, No. 15-10311 (5th Cir. Brief Filed July 20, 2015)

At Issue: Plaintiffs in this case argue that the federal laws requiring out-of-state handgun purchases to be completed through an in-state federal firearms licensee (“FFL”) violate the Second Amendment. In other words, the challenged laws require a person wishing to buy a handgun in another state to have the purchase completed by an FFL that operates in their state of residence. Plaintiffs in this case are residents of the District of Columbia and wanted to purchase a firearm in Texas, but did not do so because of the extra costs associated with the in-state FFL requirement. The district court for the Northern District of Texas found that this requirement unduly restricts access to firearm markets and therefore violates the Second Amendment. The case is now on appeal before the Fifth Circuit.

The Law Center’s Brief: Our amicus brief argues that the challenged federal laws are compatible with the Second Amendment because they place such a small burden on a citizen’s ability to keep a firearm in the home for self-defense. The brief argues that laws imposing background checks and regulating large capacity ammunition magazines are “presumptively lawful” and not protected at all by the Second Amendment. Even if these regulations implicate the Second Amendment, both provisions survive constitutional scrutiny because they are reasonably related to the important governmental objective of protecting public safety and the safety of law enforcement officers.