July 23, 2010 2:24PM

Liberty Requires Risk

That’s the message of my recent op‐​ed in the Daily Caller. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s initial reaction to the McDonald v. City of Chicago decision was to say that McDonald would have no impact on government’s ability to keep guns “out of the hands of criminals and terrorists.” This was a reference to legislation that Bloomberg supports that would allow the federal government to bar anyone the Attorney General thinks is a terrorist from purchasing a firearm. Not convicted of a crime in support of terrorism — that would make them a felon and already unable to purchase or own a firearm. No, being suspected of activity in support of or preparation for terrorism means you get the same treatment as if you were a convicted felon or had been involuntarily committed to a mental institution. So much for due process.


While D.C. v. Heller is the relevant decision (the AG’s double secret probation list is a federal, not state action), the premise of this legislation needs to be refuted. The proposition that guns and gun ownership are uniquely dangerous such that the right to keep and bear arms must be treated as a second‐​class provision of the Bill of Rights is willfully blind of the other instances where society accepts risk by safeguarding liberty in the face of foreseeable hazards. Justice Stephen Breyer embraced this misguided concept –– that the right to keep and bear arms is an enumerated, but non‐​fundamental, right that deserves a lesser degree of protection than the rest of the provisions of the Bill of Rights — in his McDonald dissent.


I counter that notion in this podcast:

Related thoughts from Ilya Somin here.

July 14, 2010 10:20PM

Justice Thomas, Pandora, and Stephen Colbert Walk into a Gun Store…

My sometime co‐​author Josh Blackman points out a parallel between Justice Thomas’s fascinating concurrence in McDonald v. Chicago — which extended the right to keep and bear arms to the states — and the “Keeping Pandora’s Box Sealed” article we published earlier this year.


Justice Thomas in McDonald v. Chicago:

With the inquiry appropriately narrowed, I believe this case presents an opportunity to reexamine, and begin the process of restoring, the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment agreed upon by those who ratified it.

Blackman & Shapiro in Pandora’s Box:

The purpose of this article is to provide a roadmap to welcome the Privileges or Immunities Clause back into constitutional jurisprudence. The Slaughter‐​House Cases “sapped the [Privileges or Immunities Clause] of any meaning” but the Supreme Court now has the opportunity correct this mistake. Taking up Justice Thomas’s gauntlet, we “endeavor to understand what the framers of the Fourteenth Amendment thought” the Privileges or Immunities Clause meant, and seek to restore that original meaning.

Relatedly, for my attempt to explain the meaning of the right to keep and bear arms while talking to a crazy character and a humorless gun‐​control advocate, see my recent appearance on the Colbert Report.

June 28, 2010 11:44AM

The Court Restores a Fundamental Right

Today is a big victory for gun rights and a bigger one for liberty. The Supreme Court has correctly decided that state actions violating the right to keep and bear arms are no more valid than those taken by the federal government.


It could not have been otherwise: the Fourteenth Amendment, coming on the heels of the Civil War, says clearly that never again would the Constitution tolerate state oppressions, and that all individuals possess certain fundamental rights. It is equally clear that the right to keep and bear arms is one of those deeply rooted fundamental rights, not least because the Framers thought so highly of it as to enumerate it in the Second Amendment.


Still, Justice Alito’s plurality opinion leaves a lot to be desired, in that his ultimately correct conclusion rests on a dog’s breakfast of Substantive Due Process “incorporation” doctrine that arose only because the Privileges or Immunities Clause was strangled in its crib by an 1870s Supreme Court that refused to reconcile itself to the changes in constitutional structure wrought by the Fourteenth Amendment. Justice Thomas’s response to this tortured attempt to fit a square fundamental right into a round procedural guarantee is the right one: “I cannot accept a theory of constitutional interpretation that rests on such tenuous footing.”


Only Justice Thomas grapples with the original meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment, surveying the rich history of the terms “privileges” and “immunities” to find that the right to defend oneself is part and parcel of the inalienable rights we all possess — and indeed it is “essential to the preservation of liberty.” The Framers of the Fourteenth Amendment — the most important “Framers” in this context — plainly deemed this right “necessary to include in the minimum baseline of federal rights that the Privileges or Immunities Clause established in the wake of the War over slavery.” All arguments to the contrary lack legal, historical and even philosophical basis.


And so it is a very good thing, again for liberty, that the Court needs Thomas’s fifth vote to rule as it does: while the plurality declines to reconsider the old and discredited Privileges or Immunities precedent, Thomas’s clarion call for a libertarian originalism provides a step on which to build in future.


Finally, as we celebrate the belated recognition of a precious right — the one that allows us to protect all the others — we must be shocked and saddened to see four justices (including Sonia Sotomayor, who at her confirmation hearings suggested she would do otherwise) standing for the proposition that states can violate this right at will, checked by nothing more than the political process. This is a nation of laws, not men — a republic, not a pure democracy — and thus it is disconcerting to see, as we do time and time again with this Court, that the only thing separating us from rule by a crude majoritarian impulse is one vote. Thank God that, in this case, that vote was Justice Thomas’s.

March 10, 2010 3:45PM

Gun Control After McDonald

I recently appeared on the Patt Morrison Show in southern California opposite Paul Helmke of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence in a segment that begs the question of what gun control laws will look like if the Supreme Court incorporates the Second Amendment with the McDonald v. Chicago case. The audio of the program is here, but the issue merits a more detailed discussion than I could get into on the radio.


The litigation over the boundaries of the Second Amendment in the District of Columbia previews the kinds of gun laws that will face court scrutiny.


First, certain restrictions on the purchase of firearms will likely be overturned. California maintains a “safe gun roster” of handguns that manufacturers have successfully submitted for safety testing. Following the Heller decision, the District adopted California’s roster. The roster is very specific, and handgun models are certified “safe” right down to the color. The District rejected applications to register two‐​tone guns, discontinued models, and guns not on the California roster. Three plaintiffs filed suit, alleging that this policy violated constitutional protections against irrational administrative regulations. The District relented, expanding its roster to include the “safe handguns” listings for Maryland and Massachusetts.


California courts are likely to reach similar conclusions. The Calguns Foundation has a plaintiff who wants to register a Glock handgun. The state has certified the right‐​handed but not the ambidextrous version, and the Calguns plaintiff was born without a right arm below the elbow. This compelling case, along with others parallel to the DC plaintiffs, will force California to open up its roster.


Second, jurisdictions will be forced to allow some form of handgun carry, either open or concealed. Outright bans on concealed carry cited in cases from the mid-1800’s come from a time when it was assumed that only brigands carried handguns concealed, and it was an unquestioned right of the people to carry arms openly wherever they went. States and localities will not be able to delete the right to bear arms from the right to keep and bear arms.


My colleague Tom Palmer is currently litigating this issue in the District of Columbia (complaint here), and states will have to confront the plain text of the Second Amendment and clear historical recognition of a right to be armed outside the home.


California allows open carry as long as the handgun is unloaded, but Los Angeles and other jurisdictions in the state refuse to issue concealed handgun permits. California will probably opt for concealed carry when push comes to shove. Public views have shifted to an “out of sight, out of mind” mentality, and concealed carry is the rule in most states. A California police officer recently put a comment up on Facebook that proposes intimidating open carriers with violence. “Haha, we had one guy last week try to do it! He got proned out and reminded where he was at and that turds will jack him for his gun in a heartbeat!” Turds indeed.


This brings us back to the Starbucks controversy that prompted the radio segment. Gun control proponents asked Starbucks to ban firearms from their coffee shops, and gun rights activists asked that they continue their current policy of following the law of the jurisdiction where each franchise is located.


The call‐​ins to the radio show expressed a willingness to boycott Starbucks if it keeps its “follow the law” policy, but that’s a rationale to boycott gas stations, grocery stores, and restaurants across the nation. If self‐​defense scares you that much, the best advice is to stay home. Or venture out and be a good victim.


Callers also expressed concerns about off‐​duty cops brandishing guns while intoxicated, and this is something we should take seriously. As I’ve said before, no magical powers accrue to a sworn officer. That’s a great case for barring everyone from carrying and drinking in public, law enforcement officers included. Federal law does this – the Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act allows current and retired law enforcement officers to carry concealed nationwide but requires that they not be under the influence while doing so. The same can’t be said for some state laws that make law enforcement officers a higher class of citizens than everyone else. Virginia allows retired law enforcement officers from any jurisdiction to imbibe while armed, but citizens with concealed handgun permits must transition from concealed carry to open carry when entering an establishment that serves alcohol for on‐​premises consumption. Better to treat permit holders and officers alike, and allow carry in restaurants but bar alcohol consumption while armed.


It’s unclear what the patchwork of gun laws across the nation will look like in ten years, but Eugene Volokh gives a framework for analysis in this article. Cato held an event the day before oral argument of the McDonald case, and our brief is available here. Ilya Shapiro and Josh Blackman discussed the application of the Privileges or Immunities Clause in this excellent article, and provided some post‐​argument commentary.

February 8, 2010 9:13AM

NRA Shoots Itself in the Foot

I previously blogged about the NRA’s misbegotten motion, which the Supreme Court granted, to carve 10 minutes of oral argument time away from the petitioners in McDonald v. Chicago. Essentially, there was no discernable reason for the motion other than to ensure that the NRA could claim some credit for the eventual victory, and thus boost its fundraising.


Well, having argued that petitioners’ counsel Alan Gura insufficiently covered the argument that the Second Amendment should be “incorporated” against the states via the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause, the NRA has now filed a brief that fails even to reference the four biggest cases regarding incorporation and substantive due process. That is, the NRA reply brief contains no mention of Washington v. Glucksberg (1997), Benton v. Maryland (1969), Duncan v. Louisiana (1968), or Palko v. Connecticut (1937). (The NRA did cite those cases in its opening brief.) What is more, it also lacks a discussion of Judge O’Scannlain’s magisterial Ninth Circuit opinion in Nordyke v. King (2009), which the Supreme Court might as well cut and paste regardless of which constitutional provision it uses to extend the right to keep and bear arms to the states!


I should add that the petitioners’ reply brief does cite all of those aforementioned cases (as well as the “Keeping Pandora’s Box Sealed” law review article I co‐​authored with Josh Blackman). I leave it to the reader to determine whether it is Alan Gura or the NRA who is better positioned to argue substantive due process — or any other part of the McDonald case.


For more on the rift between the McDonald petitioners and the NRA, see this story in today’s Washington Post (in which I’m quoted, full disclosure, after a lengthy interview I gave the reporter last week).


(Full disclosure again: Alan Gura is a friend of mine and of Cato, and I suppose I should also say that I’ve participated in NRA‐​sponsored events in the past.)

January 26, 2010 7:53AM

NRA Cares More about NRA Than Gun Rights, Liberty, Professional Courtesy

Yesterday the Supreme Court granted the NRA’s motion for divided argument in McDonald v. Chicago. What this means is that Alan Gura’s 30 minutes of argument time on behalf of Chicagoland gun owners just became 20, with 10 going to former Solicitor General Paul Clement, whom the NRA hired at the last minute to pursue this motion and argument. (Full disclosure: Alan Gura is a friend of mine, and of Cato.)


The NRA’s motion was premised on the idea that Alan had not fully presented the substantive due process argument for selective incorporation of the Second Amendment — presumably out of an outsized concern for the Privileges or Immunities Clause arguments about which I’ve previously blogged and written a law review article. This is a highly unusual argument and is a facial slap at Alan’s abilities as an advocate. Sadly, it’s also typical of how the NRA has behaved throughout this case and before that during the Heller litigation — sabotaging Alan at every turn and showing again and again that, even in the face of winning arguments that fully support its legal positions, the NRA prefers to seek glory for itself rather than presenting the strongest case for its purported constituency of gun owners.


Alan rightfully opposed the NRA’s motion because the group’s participation at argument adds nothing substantive to the case. No one will ever know why the motion was granted, as the Court need not (and did not) provide any reasons. Nonetheless, it’s a safe bet that this is solely a testament to Clement’s talent and reputation (notably, the motion was not filed by any of the NRA’s other excellent attorneys, who briefed and argued their case in the lower courts and in a cert petition and brief before the Supreme Court).


I have great respect for Paul Clement, and have worked with him by filing amicus briefs in two cases he’s already argued this term, but I do take issue with his repeated suggestion that the motion’s purpose — and the reason behind its granting — was so that “all the avenues to incorporation, including the due process clause, are fully explored at the argument.” This kind of comment — again impugning Alan’s litigation strategy — is uncalled for, and renews concerns over the NRA’s conduct.


Throughout this case, Alan has consistently and forcefully advocated for the Second Amendment’s incorporation under the Due Process Clause. That didn’t change when his case was taken up by the Supreme Court. The thing is that the due process arguments are not all that complex, and simply do not merit the same care and attention in the briefs as arguments based on the Constitution’s actual text and history. A first‐​year law student who’s taken constitutional law — let alone a Supreme Court clerk — could write a due process incorporation argument in her sleep! In any event, the oral argument will be driven by the justices’ questions, not by any long soliloquies by counsel. Alan’s — and all attorneys’ — job is to be ready for anything.


If the NRA were concerned about the final outcome of the case, it would be unlikely to attack Alan’s strategy or question his preparation (an odd way to be “helpful” to one’s side). It is not a stretch to predict that this case will be favorably decided at least in part on due process grounds, however, so what we are seeing here is likely an attempt by the NRA to position itself as responsible for such a victory — and that Alan isn’t.


Ultimately, then, the NRA is engaging here in fundraising, not liberty‐​promotion or ethical lawyering.

December 21, 2009 6:52AM

Properly Extending the Right to Keep and Bear Arms to the States

I recently blogged about an interesting op-ed in which Ken Klukowski and Ken Blackwell of the American Civil Rights Union argue that the Supreme Court need not overturn The Slaughter-House Cases while "incorporating" the right to bear arms against the states.  (Josh Blackman fisked the article in more depth here.)   This piece was essentially a distillation of the ACRU's amicus brief in McDonald v. City of Chicago, which ultimately argues, like Cato's brief, that Chicago's gun ban is unconstitutional.

It has come to my attention, however, that I mischaracterized one aspect of the Kens' op-ed (sorry about that): while they are indeed against overturning Slaughter-House, the authors still seek to apply the Second Amendment right through the Privileges or Immunities Clause (like Cato and most libertarians), rather than through the Due Process Clause (like many conservatives and gun rights proponents).  This is the ACRU's main argument, and it is based largely on Ken Klukowski's recent law review article -- indeed, the brief's body cites Klukowski article some 20 times, often for propositions that find no further support in case law or academic literature.  (Josh has also provided a short critique of the ACRU brief/Klukowski article, so I won't do that here.) 

In any event, this clarification gives me an opportunity to name and outline the five possible ways a justice could come down in the McDonald case:

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