Posted on July 12, 2013
Earlier this week, in a radical and confusing decision, a district court in Colorado ruled that the Second Amendment prevents a post office from keeping guns out of its parking lot. In Bonidy v. United States Postal Service, the plaintiff—joined by a radical right wing gun lobby group—challenged a postal service regulation prohibiting guns on post office property. The court held that while the plaintiff could not carry his gun inside the post office because it was a “sensitive place” under the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, he had a “right” to carry a gun in the post office’s parking lot.
The court’s ruling in this case is particularly surprising since the Tenth Circuit earlier this year flatly held in Peterson v. Martinez that “the Second Amendment does not confer a right to carry concealed weapons.” The court acknowledged that binding precedent, but also noted that the Tenth Circuit had not addressed a right to openly carry a firearm. The court went on to find that “the Second Amendment protects the right to openly carry firearms outside the home for a lawful purpose, subject to such restrictions as may be reasonably related to public safety.” What is odd about this conclusion—aside from the fact that nothing in Supreme Court or Tenth Circuit precedent compels it—is that this case simply did not involve the open carrying of firearms. Instead, the plaintiff sought a right to carry a concealed weapon onto post-office property, an issue that should have been squarely settled by Peterson. The court provides no explanation for this inconsistency.
The court then found—quite correctly—that the post office building itself was a sensitive place where restrictions on the right to bear arms were presumably justified. Indeed, Heller itself specifically mentions “government buildings” as one of the “sensitive places” where guns can be properly prohibited. However, the court concluded that the parking lot of the post office did not qualify as a “sensitive place” where restrictions on firearms were presumptively justified. The court held that the parking lot was not a “sensitive place” like the inside of the building because “an official, core government function is not performed in the . . . Post Office parking lot; rather, except for the presence of a few mailboxes, the lot merely facilitates the government function taking place inside by giving patrons a place to park.” After the court found the parking lot was not a sensitive place, the court also found that the government lacked any important reason for keeping guns out of the parking lot.
This is a radical conclusion that narrows the “sensitive places” concept from Heller to the point of being a complete fiction. For example, it is hard to imagine that a school’s parking lot does not also “merely facilitate the government function taking place inside by giving [students and teachers] a place to park.” If this decision is allowed to stand, it would allow guns to be brought within a few feet of all sorts of government buildings, which could gravely endanger the safety of everyone who uses those buildings.
It is important to note that this ruling does not apply to all post offices, only the one at issue in this case and may only apply to the plaintiff, rather than other gun owners. Moreover, this decision is a major outlier from the large majority of courts—including appellate courts—which have upheld common sense gun regulation, including limits on guns in sensitive areas. For more information on these victories, please see our Post-Heller Litigation Summary.