First, I am not a lawyer. This is my understanding as an outsider that has studied this stuff for way to many years.
We are going to start with a paraphrased incident that happened a number of years ago.
A young man got into an argument with his step-mother. He was very upset. It was the end of the line for him. So he told his parents “I’m out of here”. He packed up and was heading to a friends place that had space for him.
The last thing he did before he left is he transferred his firearms from “safe storage” in the house to the trunk of his car.
He left on a two hour trip, a two hour trip. As he was driving to his new home, he gets a call from the NJ state police. He answers. The officer on the phone is with his step mother. She is very concerned about him. Seems that she is reporting that he is suicidal and that the cop just wants to make sure that everything is OK.
Young man says “yep, I’m on my way to my friends place. Everything is OK, I’m just done with her.”
The young man terminates the conversation.
Cop calls back. Cop will just not let it go and insists that the young man return for a “wellness check”.
Having been convinced that this would just take a few minutes the kid turns around and drives back to his parents place. When he gets there the cop and he have a conversation. Cop is friendly and seems to indicate that everything is fine now that he has had a chance to talk to the kid in person. Then says “Your mother says you have some guns?”
“Yeah, they are in the trunk. I’m not going to leave them here.”
“Can I see them?”
Cop opens the trunk, find the guns, properly stored. Then proceeds to arrest the kid on a firearms violation.
The cop claims the kid is in violation of NJ laws on transporting firearms because he wasn’t going to the range, going hunting, or on his way to his home.
The kid is in a world of hurt. Ends up in prison all because of a wellness check and some fucking unconstitutional laws.
At trial, the kids lawyer claimed that the kid was protected by the 18 U.S. Code § 926A – Interstate transportation of firearms and that the law was unconstitutional.
The court ruled that since it wasn’t interstate transportation it wasn’t protected. They then ruled that since the 2nd amendment only applies to the militia and not to individuals the law was constitutional.
The judge made the ruling regarding constitutionality based on rulings from the 3rd circuit court.
In the US, courts are layered. At the bottom is the district court, above that is the circuit court (appeals court) and above them is the supreme court. The rulings of the supreme court cover all courts. The rulings of a circuit court covers only those courts within that circuit, and a district court’s rulings can only be used as supporting arguments. When using a district court’s rulings, it is better if that court is in the same circuit.
Decisions in other circuit courts make their way into district level decisions all the time.
One of the reasons gun rights kept losing was because of a couple of opinions issued by anti-gun circuit courts.
The circuit courts said that building on United States v. Miller which said:
The Court cannot take judicial notice that a shotgun having a barrel less than 18 inches long has today any reasonable relation to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia, and therefore cannot say that the Second Amendment guarantees to the citizen the right to keep and bear such a weapon.
This wording was taken as mean that the 2nd amendment did not guarantee to the citizen the right to keep and bear any weapon
This case was cited by different courts in the 1960’s and later to deny standing to people. The gist is that if you do not have the right to keep and bear arms, that it only applies to the militia, then you can’t have had your rights infringed, thus you have no standing, case dismissed.
There is a huge difference between “case dismissed” and a ruling being made. You have the right to appeal a ruling, you have no right to appeal the dismissal of your case.
This meant that every law that limited your right to keep and bear firearms was constitutional in the eyes of many many courts. The government worked hard to keep it that way. There were multiple times when the government was willing to take a loss on an individual, district court, case rather than have it move up the appeals process toward the supreme court.
It wasn’t unusual to have a state fight tooth and nail for a decision at the district and circuit court levels and then refuse to appeal to the supreme court, if there was a chance of loosing. Even when the supreme court was stacked to the left, there was always the possibility that the court would decide in favor of our rights over the governments wants.
What this lead to was laws that got that young man. The laws in NJ said it was legal to transport a firearm directly to and from your home. The fact that the kid turned around and drove back to talk to the cop meant that he wasn’t going directly. If the place he returned to was his home, then when he left he was in violation of the law. If his new home was the new place, when he returned he was in violation of the law.
His only option under the state’s law would have been to continue to his new home and leave the guns there. BUT, because of everything else, he could have been found in violation of a number of “you must obey the cops” type laws. They kid was screwed the moment his step mom called the police.
All of this takes us to two interesting cases, for us. The first is a case out of West Virginia. During a traffic stop the police found that Randy Price was in possession of a firearm with an “altered, obliterated or removed” serial number. As a convicted felon he was a prohibited person.
In a criminal trial, the defendant can use a number of defenses. One of those defenses is to claim that the law under which the defendant is charged is a violation of the defendants rights.
This is what Prices lawyers did. Since it was clear from the evidence that Price was in possession of the firearm, and that the firearm had its serial number “altered, obliterated or removed” if the law was constitutional then he was guilt and on his way to prison.
U.S. District Judge Joseph Goodwin ruled that the part of the GCA of 1968 as changed in 1986 was unconstitutional.
The government argued that the requirement that a firearm have a serial number and that it can’t be defaced is a “commercial regulation” and as such does not infringe one ones right to keep and bear arms.
A firearm without a serial number in 1791 was certainly not considered dangerous or unusual compared to other firearms because serial numbers were not required or even commonly used at that time. While I recognize there is an argument,
not made by the Government here, that firearms with an obliterated serial number are likely to be used in violent crime and therefore a prohibition on their possession is desirable, that argument is the exact type of means-end reasoning the Supreme
Court has forbidden me from considering. And the founders addressed the “societal problem” of non-law-abiding citizens possessing firearms through “materially different means”—felon disarmament laws like Section 922(g)(1). Bruen, 142 S. Ct.
at 2131. Under Bruen, this is “evidence that [the] modern regulation is unconstitutional.” Id.
The burden falls on the Government to “affirmatively prove that its firearms regulation is part of the [or analogous to a] historical tradition that delimits the outer bounds of the right to keep and bear arms.” Id. at 2127. The Government has not done so here, and I have no choice but to find 18 U.S.C. § 922(k) unconstitutional.
— Judge Joseph Goodwin
This case does not directly affect any of us. We are not Mr Price so it does not bear on us. It doesn’t even bear on people in the same circuit court. This is because district court rulings are not binding on any other case or court.
The government could appeal this, they will not. They will not because if this case is heard at the circuit court level and the circuit court agrees with the district court, then 18 U.S.C. § 922(k) become unenforceable for all states within that circuit court.
Normally we would say “it would become unconstitutional” That is not the language I choose to use because I agree with Judge Goodwin, the law is unconstitutional and is thus no longer law.
This little case is a first step in the dismantling of the GCA of 1968, the changes made in 1986, the crime bill of 1990 and the NFA of 1934.
We are highly likely to see this same reasoning in other courts.
Of note, Judge Goodwin was appointed by Clinton.
The second case we are watching is the CCI case(s) in NY state. The reason why this case is so important is that all of the possible loopholes in the Bruen decision are in this infringement. Every single thing that we were worried about, “sensitive places”, “good moral character”, “training requirements”, “in person interviews” and a host of other requirements are in this pile of steaming bullshit.
Unfortunately for the state of NY, the suit has been filed against them, it is not a criminal case against a single (or group) of people. If it was a criminal case, the state could fight tooth and nail and then not appeal if they lost. This would allow them to keep the law in place and every person would have to fight it individually. Because it is a suit against the state they have to fight. If they lose, they CCI will no longer be law. If they appeal they could get a win which would be appealed to the supreme court. There is a high likelihood that the court would grant certiorari, vacate and remand the case right back to the circuit court.
There really isn’t a winning path for the state of NY in the CCI. Their only hope is to delay the process as long as possible.
These cases in states where we don’t live do have ramifications for us. These are the sorts of cases that lead to bigger outcomes than we expect. These are the sorts of cases that lead to removal of all permitting requirements. Or national repreprocity, or the NFA being overturned.
We live in a good time and place for gun rights.