In the United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma a District judge has ruled that 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(3) is unconstitutional. If you read A strike against the GCA of 1968 as amended – UPDATED you can read all of § 922(g).
In CR-22-00328-PRW United States of America v. Jared Michael Harrison the district court granted Harrison’s motion to dismiss his indictment.
On May 20, 2022, Harrison was pulled over by an officer of the Lawton Police Department for failing to stop at a red light. When Harrison rolled down his window to speak to the officer, the officer smelled marijuana and questioned Harrison about the source of the smell. Harrison told the officer that he was on his way to work at a medical marijuana dispensary, but that he did not have a state-issued medical-marijuana card.
Harrison is also “known to law enforcement”. At the time of his arrest he was on probation from Texas for aggravated assault.
Because he was wearing an ankle monitor, the cops search the car, found marijuana and “loaded revolver on the driver’s side floorboard”.
The cops arrested him for the pot. About 2 months later a federal grand jury returned an indictment charging Harrison of being in possession of a firearm “with the knowledge that he was an unlawful user of marijuana”.
This indictment came post Bruen which means that any good lawyer facing a weapons charge is going to be looking at the second amendment as a defense.
The defense through “unconstitutionally vague”, “violation of Due Process”, and infringement of his right to possess a firearm, contrary to the guarantee of the second amendment.
The argument of the government was that the second amendment doesn’t apply to Harrison because he is not “a law-abiding citizen” and is “unvirtuous”.
When we look at these cases, we need to pay attention to the how of the government’s argument on why they should be allowed to infringe. For years it was “you aren’t part of the militia, the second amendment doesn’t apply to you.” After Heller it was means-end balancing which said that while the law was infringing, the law was narrowly tailored and in support of a good goal.
Post Bruen the government has been arguing that limiting locations isn’t an actual infringement, that certain weapons are to dangerous to allow the people to possess, that requiring “good moral character” is not an infringement.
In defense of §922(g) they are now arguing that they don’t have to follow Bruen and defend the law on the basis of Text, History and Tradition because this class of person is not part of “The People” because they are not virtuous.
If this argument were to prevail, you can bet that we will see more and more laws passed requiring people to prove they are virtuous and of the different levels of the government passing laws defining actions, traits, or opinions as proof that someone is “unvirtuous”. All of which is bad.
Oh, interesting side note, the GCA of 1968 prohibited a prohibited person from receiving a firearm. In other words, an FFL couldn’t sell to a prohibited person nor could you transfer a firearm to somebody that you knew to be a prohibited person. If that person already possessed firearms, they could continue to possess those firearms.
It was only when § 922(g) was amended in 1986 was the GCA changed to prohibit the possession of a firearm by a prohibited person.
It is pretty clear from this sort of verbiage that in 1968 congress knew that trying to ban somebody from possessing a firearm would be found unconstitutional. Instead they used the interstate commerce clause to justify banning the transfer of firearms to a prohibited person.
On this point, the United States points to Bruen’s description of the plaintiffs in that case as “ordinary, law-abiding, and adult citizens.” Bruen, 142 S. Ct. at 2134. But that description can’t be read as breaking new ground with respect to who make up “the people” protected by the Second Amendment. First, Bruen noted that it was undisputed that the plaintiffs in that case were part of the people protected by the Second Amendment, so at best, the United States is relying on dicta. But even so, the United States is reading too much into the dicta because immediately after describing the plaintiffs, the Bruen Court cited Heller’s holding that “the people” includes “all members of the political community,” not just “an unspecified subset.” Id. (citing Heller, 554 U.S. at 580). Thus, this reference in dicta to “law-abiding citizens” cannot possibly be read as overturning the very holding upon which it relies. See Denezpi v. United States, 142 S. Ct. 1838, 1847–48 (2022) (explaining that stray statements “[r]ead in isolation …. cannot overcome the holdings of our cases, not to mention the text of the Clause”).
This footnote (20) in the opinion is devastating to the gun grabbers normal attack vectors. Historically the gun grabbers have latched onto stray language within an opinion and made that the linchpin of their method of attacking.
In the absence of any evidence tending to show that possession or use of a “shotgun having a barrel of less than eighteen inches in length” at this time has some reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia, we cannot say that the Second Amendment guarantees the right to keep and bear such an instrument. Certainly it is not within judicial notice that this weapon is any part of the ordinary military equipment or that its use could contribute to the common defense.
— United States v. Miller, 307 US 174 – Supreme Court 1939
In this paragraph the court states that the short barreled shotgun had no reasonable relationship to a “well regulated militia”. The gun grabbers used that “stray language” to argue, successfully, that the court actually meant that the entire second amendment only applied to a well regulated militia.
The gun grabbers still make this argument, IIRC, The Hill had an article claiming that the supreme court ignored those three words, “well regulated militia” when they gave their Bruen decision.
This opinion talks about how the first, fourth, and fifth amendment all apply to “the people” and not to just those that are law-abiding.
Prosecutor: Didn’t you kill your wife?
Defendant, on the stand: I take the fifth.
Prosecutor: You are not law-abiding, the fifth doesn’t apply to you!
In this particular case, it feels like the government hung their entire argument on flipping the tables and making Harrison outside of the class of people covered by the second amendment. Because this was their argument and because there really isn’t any historical tradition of banning the possession of firearms by people that were unvirtuous, the government failed as soon as this district court said “the people means all the people.”
Historically we know that drunkards and ne’er do wells were often armed.
The government did give seven different laws that they felt were representative of §922(g)(3). One from 1655 (misses target date by 136 years), and six from 1868-1899, which misses in the other direction by 70 to 100 years. And the Supreme Court specifically stated that laws from the postantiballum time frame could only be used to affirm restrictions from the 1790 period.
Where the seven laws the United States identifies took a scalpel to the right of armed self-defense—narrowly carving out exceptions but leaving most of the right in place—§ 922(g)(3) takes a sledgehammer to the right. Recall that § 922(g)(3) imposes the most severe burden possible: a total prohibition on possessing any firearm, in any place, for any use, in any circumstance—regardless of whether the person is actually intoxicated or under the influence of a controlled substance. It is a complete deprivation of the core right to possess a firearm for self-defense, turning entirely on the fact that an individual is a user of marijuana. Section 922(g)(3)’s “burden on the right of armed self-defense” is thus not “comparable” to the seven historical intoxication laws.
There are so many more great quotes in this opinion, it is worth reading just for the chuckles.
Paraphrase: When the government was asked if the congress could make mowing your lawn a felony and then make all of the new felons prohibited persons, the government responded “yes” Why? Because courts must defer to a legislature’s judgements about what is and is not a felony…
…It’s as if Bruen’s command regarding the inappropriateness of such deference to legislative judgments has been lost in translation. In a sense, one must applaud the United States for its steadfast commitment to its legal position. But “giv[ing] legislatures unreviewable power to manipulate the Second Amendment by choosing a label” is inconsistent with the entire point of constitutionalizing a fundamental right in the first place: to restrain a legislature’s ability to infringe that right through legislation. What would remain of the Second Amendment if the Court were to accept the United States’ view that a legislature could prohibit the exercise of the right it protects simply by declaring anything or everything a felony? Nothing. Maybe that is what the federal government desires, but it is hardly what the Constitution requires.
The government is going to have to decide if they want to appeal this case. Right now this is just a district court’s opinion. It has no official sway in other cases. Other courts in the Tenth Circuit might quote this judge in the future but it does not have the same gravatas as if a Circuit Court had issued the opinion.
The government might just take the loss and move on. It looks like Harrison is going to be jammed up for a bunch of other reasons even without the gun charge.
If the government does decide to appeal, we might find another Circuit court ruling that parts of §922(g) is unconstitutional.
If enough of §922(g) is found unconstitutional this might be the death neal of “background checks.” Or maybe just 4473s. You want to buy a firearm? Hand your official ID over to the FFL, they call it in and ask “Are they prohibited?” No record keeping no muss, no fuss.
We live in exciting times.
2 thoughts on “Another Brick: 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(3) Found Unconstitutional”
Yesterday a few of us expressed chagrin that it seems many of our 2A wins are on behalf of criminals.
I’ve been pondering this, and believe I’m coming to terms with it. A criminal, all else equal, is more likely to be arrested for illegally (according to current law) possessing a gun than a law abiding citizen. So we’re more likely to see those cases, at least right now, start to peck away at long standing infringements.
I think I’m okay with that if it starts dismantling the whole overreach-bureaucrat complex, to mangle a phrase. The laws against theft, murder, etc. still stand so if the prosecutors do their jobs, the guilty can still be put away. (“will” is another question, and another conversation.)
With Boris on this one.
While I would not necessarily want to see the “prohibited person” restriction removed, I think there are a lot of simple ways to get around it within the NICS system. A restraining order, or felony conviction can be recorded with a prohibition on possessing firearms, or not.
I think some non-violent offenders should not be denied ownership of firearms after they served their time. While it demonstrates a massive level of irresponsibility to be arrested and convicted of tax evasion, or embezzlement, it is not a violent crime. And, one must assume they “learned their lesson.”
If this starts undercutting the GCA I am good with it.
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