Case Information:Jackson v. City and County of San Francisco, No. 12-17803 (9th Cir. Filed March 14, 2013)
At Issue: Challenging San Francisco, California’s safe firearm storage law. This lawsuit challenges San Francisco’s ordinance requiring that a handgun kept within a residence be stored in a locked container or disabled with a trigger lock. This ordinance was designed to address the problems created by unsecured handguns in the home, which are disproportionately tied to violent unintentional shootings, suicides, illegal gun trafficking and school shootings. Plaintiffs argue that the ordinance is unconstitutional under the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Law Center’s Brief: Our brief, filed in support of the City and County of San Francisco, argues that under the U.S. Supreme Court’s Second Amendment opinions in District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008) and McDonald v. City of Chicago, 130 S. Ct. 3020 (2010), safe storage provisions like San Francisco’s are valid, constitutional legal requirements. Moreover, the history of gun storage laws shows that San Francisco’s ordinance is consistent with the Second Amendment, and challenges to modern safe storage laws have been rejected.
Since President Obama announced his support for laws requiring universal background checks on all gun buyers, banning military-style assault weapons and large capacity ammunition magazines, and punishing gun traffickers, there has been significant discussion about the constitutionality of these proposals under the Second Amendment. In order to move forward on real change to our nation’s gun laws, it’s vitally important that legislators understand that the president’s proposed reforms are completely constitutional and are critical to stopping our nation’s gun violence epidemic.
Today, a subcommittee of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing titled “Proposals to Reduce Gun Violence: Protecting Our Communities While Respecting the Second Amendment.” In written testimony submitted to the subcommittee, our Legal Director, Juliet Leftwich, discussed how the Second Amendment presents no obstacle to President Obama’s proposals. The testimony explained that although the U.S. Supreme Court held in District of Columbia v. Heller that the Second Amendment protects the right of a law-abiding, responsible citizen to possess a handgun in the home for self-defense, the president’s proposals are consistent with the Supreme Court’s decisions and the decisions of courts that have evaluated Second Amendment challenges since Heller.
Additionally, the Center for American Progress today released a memo coauthored by the Law Center’s Executive Director, Robyn Thomas, on the constitutionality of the proposals endorsed by the president. The memo concludes that “many forms of firearm regulation remain constitutional, including laws to prevent firearm possession by criminals and limitations on the possession of dangerous and unusual weapons. The measures endorsed by President Obama and proposed by Congress are safely within these confines and reflect the sort of reasonable regulation that the Supreme Court endorsed in Heller and has accepted in a host of other constitutional contexts.”
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. READ MORE »
The Law Center’s latest brochure, The Second Amendment Battleground: Victories in the Courts and Why They Matter, examines trends in Second Amendment litigation since the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark District of Columbia v. Heller decision in 2008. Although the Heller Court held that the Second Amendment protects a responsible, law-abiding citizen’s right to possess an operable handgun in the home for self-defense, the vast majority of courts that have heard Second Amendment challenges since that case have rejected them, upholding a wide variety of gun laws as constitutional.
As the publication describes, smart gun laws aren’t just constitutional. They’re also critical to preventing gun violence in our communities.
Heller and the Explosion of Second Amendment Litigation
Four years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court singlehandedly inserted the judicial system into the ongoing national debate over gun laws in America. In a 5-4 decision in 2008’s District of Columbia v. Heller,1 the Court invalidated the District of Columbia’s handgun ban and firearm storage law, stating for the first time that the Second Amendment protects a responsible, law-abiding citizen’s right to possess an operable handgun in the home for self-defense.
Heller was unquestionably a radical decision, overturning the Court’s previous ruling that the Second Amendment was tied to state militia service.2 For almost seventy years, lower federal and state courts nationwide had relied on that pronouncement to reject hundreds of Second Amendment challenges.
The Heller decision immediately drew strong criticism from a wide array of legal scholars, historians, advocates, and legislators, including a particularly scathing rebuke from respected conservative judge Richard Posner, who noted that, “The only certain effect of the Heller decision…will be to increase litigation over gun ownership.”3
In fact, new litigation started almost immediately. The day that Heller was announced, plaintiffs filed a lawsuit challenging the City of Chicago’s handgun ban, with a second suit filed the next day. Other suits emerged soon after, escalating once the Supreme Court confirmed that the Second Amendment also applied to state and local laws in 2010’s McDonald v. City of Chicago decision.4 After that case, the number of lawsuits challenging gun laws nationwide skyrocketed.
Seventh Circuit Judge Richard Posner criticized Justice Scalia’s majority opinion in Heller5
Thankfully, despite the explosion of litigation, courts across the country have rejected the overwhelming majority of Second Amendment challenges initiated since Heller. As discussed here, gun rights advocates and criminal defendants across the country have sought to expand the Second Amendment to invalidate almost every gun law on the books today. In siding with us and the majority of Americans who support sensible gun laws, courts are finding that smart laws aren’t just constitutional – they’re also critical to keeping our communities safe from gun violence.
WHAT HAPPENED? Illinois state law generally prohibits individuals from carrying firearms in public. Several individuals who sought to carry firearms in public filed a lawsuit in federal court arguing that the Illinois law violates the Second Amendment in Moore v. Madigan.
HOW SAFETY WINS
The Illinois judge dismissed the lawsuit, finding that there is no Second Amendment right to possess a firearm outside of the home. The court said that the Illinois law helps promote public safety and does not prohibit a responsible, law-abiding citizen from possessing a firearm in his or her home for self-defense. This decision is particularly important because Illinois has the strongest laws in the country regulating the carrying of firearms in public.
In an appeal before the Nevada Supreme Court, a convicted felon argued that the Nevada law prohibiting felons from possessing firearms violated the Second Amendment in Pohlabel v. Nevada.
HOW SAFETY WINS
The Nevada Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the state law. It explained that convicted felons do not have Second Amendment rights, and therefore, that laws prohibiting felons from possessing firearms do not violate the Second Amendment. This decision is particularly significant for its strong language confirming that felons are entirely excluded from the Second Amendment’s protection.
Under Texas law, an individual must be 21-years-old in order to obtain a permit to legally carry a concealed handgun outside of the home. Several individuals between the ages of 18 and 21 who wanted to carry concealed weapons in Texas filed a lawsuit in federal court arguing that the age restriction violated the Second Amendment in Jennings v. McCraw.
HOW SAFETY WINS
A judge in Texas upheld the challenged law. He found that the Second Amendment is limited to allowing an individual to keep a firearm at home for the purpose of self-defense, and therefore, that the Second Amendment does not guarantee a right to carry a firearm outside of the home, regardless of one’s age. Thus, the judge did not need to consider the appropriateness of the age restriction. The ruling is particularly significant for its strong, definitive language finding that the Second Amendment does not extend outside of the home.
While a majority of states require an individual to meet only minimal requirements to acquire a license to carry a loaded, concealed firearm in public, California and New Jersey both require an individual to show a justifiable need to acquire such a license. Individuals in both states who were denied licenses argued that these requirements violated the Second Amendment in Piszczatoski v. Filkoand Birdt v. Beck.
HOW SAFETY WINS
The federal courts in New Jersey and California found these state laws constitutional, concluding that the use of standards in limiting who may carry concealed handguns helps protect law enforcement officers and members of the public from the dangers posed by guns in public places. As these cases and others have repeatedly shown, the Second Amendment is consistent with a wide variety of sensible gun laws that help protect public safety.
A law student at the University of Idaho challenged a provision in his housing agreement that prohibited him from possessing a firearm in his campus housing unit. He sued the University and the State Board of Education arguing that the prohibition violated his right to bear arms under the Idaho and U.S. constitutions in Tribble v. State Bd. Of Educ.
HOW SAFETY WINS
A state court judge in Idaho ruled that the housing provision did not violate the law student’s right to bear arms. The judge stated that the University’s “important interest of ensuring that the University campus remains a safe educational and learning environment” outweighed the student’s interest in having a gun. This decision is particularly significant in light of the gun lobby’s recent push to introduce bills around the country that would restrict universities from prohibiting guns on their campuses.
Advocates of smart gun laws achieved several big litigation victories recently, as federal district courts issued strong decisions rejecting Second Amendment challenges to state concealed weapons laws in California and New Jersey. While a majority of states require that an applicant only meet minimal requirements to acquire a license to carry a concealed, loaded handgun in public, California and New Jersey both require an applicant to show a justifiable need to carry a weapon in order to acquire a license.
While these decisions are favorable, they aren’t surprising: since the U.S. Supreme Court’s District of Columbia v. Heller decision in 2008, courts nationwide have overwhelming rejected a wide variety of Second Amendment challenges, including a number of suits against laws limiting guns in public places. For more significant victories in legislatures and courts across the country, visit our Success Stories page.
Additionally, a federal district court in the District of Columbia recently upheld the authority of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives to require federally-licensed firearms dealers in California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas to report when they sell multiple semi-automatic rifles to the same person within five consecutive business days. LCPGV submitted written comments in support of the adoption of this requirement, which will help enable law enforcement to combat the trafficking of assault weapons to Mexico.
LCPGV is proud to work with state and local governments across the country to protect important gun laws from legal challenges brought by the gun lobby. For more about these issues, read our latest Post-Heller Litigation Summary.