right to keep and bear arms

Supreme Court Continues Its Gun-Shy Ways

Over a decade ago, James Hamilton was convicted of a felony in Virginia, for which he served no jail time. Since then, the state of Virginia has restored all of his civil rights, including the right to possess firearms. In the years since then, Hamilton has worked as an armed guard, firearms instructor, and protective officer for the Department of Homeland Security. Despite never exhibiting any violent tendencies and leading a stable family, the state of Maryland, where Hamilton now resides, forbids him from possessing firearms because of that decade-old Virginia conviction.

Hamilton challenged Maryland’s absolute prohibition on the possession of firearms by felons as applied to him, arguing that, while there may be reasons for forbidding some felons from owning firearms, the prohibition made no sense when applied to him, a person who committed a non-violent felony over a decade ago. The Fourth Circuit, however, decided that Hamilton was not eligible to bring an as-applied challenge to Maryland’s law, leaving states in the Fourth Circuit wide latitude to abuse the constitutional rights of a huge class of citizens and leaving those citizens with no way to vindicate their rights.

Justice Delayed Is Justice Denied

Four years is too long to wait for a ruling on a constitutional claim. Not for the ultimate vindication of a right that’s been summarily denied, mind you, but a mere ruling in a case asserting this right that has long ago been briefed and argued.

That’s the situation faced by my colleague Tom Palmer and his fellow plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging the District of Columbia’s complete ban on carrying guns for self-defense outside the home. Palmer v. District of Columbia was one of many suits filed in the wake of the Supreme Court’s 2008 ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller, which found that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to keep and bear arms. (Recall that two years ago the Seventh Circuit struck down a similar ban in Chicago, the only other place in the country where there is no legal way to exercise the right to carry – forget places like New York, New Jersey, and Maryland, where it’s possible in theory even if local law enforcement can, and always do, deny requests in practice.)

This case has now been pending for more than four years without a resolution of cross-motions for summary judgment – both parties agreed that the case can be decided by the judge on the law, without fact-finding or a trial. The docket (see pages 37-42 of this document) is one of the weirdest I’ve ever seen for a federal case: Palmer was filed in August 2009 and a hearing was held in January 2010, at which point Judge Henry Kennedy took the case under advisement. In July 2011, Chief Justice John Roberts (!) reassigned the case from Judge Kennedy to Judge Frederick J. Scullin, Jr. of the Northern District of New York. (In other words, Judge Kennedy sat on the case for 18 months and then retired.) There was a status conference soon after, then a motion hearing scheduled for August 2012 (more than a year later), which was rescheduled for October 2012, after which Judge Scullin took the case under advisement, and then… nothing. Plaintiffs’ counsel Alan Gura (my friend and sometime co-author) filed a motion to expedite in August 2013, and then a petition for a writ of mandamus – a request that a higher court command a government official to do something – with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in October 2013.

Even Imaginary Guns Save Lives

Because we care about individual liberty here, we think you should be able to engage in self-defense to protect that liberty (and your life, if it comes to that).  That includes the right to armed self-defense, of course, a right that becomes all the more important when encountering potential assailants who are stronger and/or more numerous than you.

Open Carry Victory

As I previously noted, one of the areas where enforcement of the right to keep and bear arms will impact states and localities is in the carrying of handguns, either open or concealed. Until then, handgun carry proponents will be forced to comply with state laws that mandate open carry where concealed handgun permits are not issued or are only issued to those who happen to have fame, money, or political connections.

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.

Gun Rights Secure, Liberty Less So

This morning the Court heard argument in McDonald v. Chicago, the case asking whether the right to keep and bear arms extends to protecting against actions by state and local governments.  Just as importantly, it asked whether the best way to extend that right would be through the Due Process Clause of Privileges or Immunities Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment (because the Second Amendment doesn’t apply directly to the states).

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