Friday, May 10, 2024

Split Ninth Circuit panel declares federal felon-in-possession criminal law unconstitutional as applied to non-violent offenders after Bruen

Yesterday, a split Ninth Circuit panel handed down a major Second Amendment ruling in US v. Duarte, No. 22-50048 (9th Cir. May 9, 2024) (available here), to become the second circuit to find that the Supreme Court's Bruen ruling renders unconstitutional federal law's criminal prohibition in on gun possession by nonviolent felons.   The 60-page opinion for the court was authored by Judge Bea, and here is part of how it starts:

18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1) makes it a crime for any person to possess a firearm if he has been convicted of an offense “punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year.”  Steven Duarte, who has five prior non-violent state criminal convictions — all punishable for more than a year — was charged and convicted under § 922(g)(1) after police saw him toss a handgun out of the window of a moving car.  Duarte now challenges the constitutionality of his conviction.  He argues that, under the Supreme Court’s recent decision in New York State Rifle & Pistol Ass’n v. Bruen, 597 U.S. 1 (2022), § 922(g)(1) violates the Second Amendment as applied to him, a non-violent offender who has served his time in prison and reentered society.  We agree.

We reject the Government’s position that our pre-Bruen decision in United States v. Vongxay, 594 F.3d 1111 (9th Cir. 2010), forecloses Duarte’s Second Amendment challenge.  Vongxay is clearly irreconcilable with Bruen and therefore no longer controls because Vongxay held that § 922(g)(1) comported with the Second Amendment without applying the mode of analysis that Bruen later established and now requires courts to perform.  Bruen instructs us to assess all Second Amendment challenges through the dual lenses of text and history....

At step one of Bruen, we easily conclude that Duarte’s weapon, a handgun, is an “arm” within the meaning of the Second Amendment’s text and that Duarte’s “proposed course of conduct — carrying [a] handgun[] publicly for selfdefense”— falls within the Second Amendment’s plain language, two points the Government never disputes. Bruen, 597 U.S. at 32.  The Government argues only that “the people” in the Second Amendment excludes felons like Duarte because they are not members of the “virtuous” citizenry.  We do not share that view.  Bruen and Heller foreclose that argument because both recognized the “strong presumption” that the text of the Second Amendment confers an individual right to keep and bear arms that belongs to “all Americans,” not an “unspecified subset.” Bruen, 597 U.S. at 70 (quoting District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570, 581 (2008)). Our own analysis of the Second Amendment’s publicly understood meaning also confirms that the right to keep and bear arms was every citizen’s fundamental right....

At Bruen’s second step, we conclude that the Government has failed to prove that § 922(g)(1)’s categorical prohibition, as applied to Duarte, “is part of the historical tradition that delimits the outer bounds of the” Second Amendment right. Bruen, 597 U.S. at 19. The Government put forward no “well-established and representative historical analogue” that “impose[d] a comparable burden on the right of armed self-defense” that was “comparably justified” as compared to § 922(g)(1)’s sweeping, no-exception, lifelong ban. Id. at 29, 30. We therefore vacate Duarte’s conviction and reverse the district court’s judgment entering the same. 

The 10-page dissent authored by Judge Milan Smith concludes this way:

The majority reads Bruen, a Supreme Court decision reviewing New York’s gun licensing regime, as an invitation to uproot a longstanding prohibition on the possession of firearms by felons. Bruen extends no such invitation.  As Justice Alito cautioned, Bruen decides “nothing about who may lawfully possess a firearm.” Bruen, 597 U.S. at 72 (emphasis added).

One day — likely sooner, rather than later — the Supreme Court will address the constitutionality of § 922(g)(1) or otherwise provide clearer guidance on whether felons are protected by the Second Amendment. But it is not our role as circuit judges to anticipate how the Supreme Court will decide future cases.... Until we receive contrary definitive guidance from the Supreme Court, or from a panel of our court sitting en banc, we are bound by our decision in Vongxay.

I respectfully dissent and express the hope that our court will rehear this case en banc to correct the majority’s misapplication of Bruen.

The location and timing of this ruling is almost as interesting as its substance.  Many hundreds of § 922(g)(1) cases are prosecuted in this big circuit each year, so the echo effects of this ruling could prove profound (though I would guess not that many involve persons with only nonviolent priors).  And, we are likely only weeks away from the Supreme Court finally handing down an opinion in the Rahimi case to address the application of Bruen to a different section of § 922(g). 

Most folks reasonably expect the Rahimi ruling to provide more guidance on how the Bruen Second Amdndment test is to be applied to broad federal criminal gun control laws.  I would expect coming Rahimi opinion will lead to the Ninth Circuit reviewing this important Duarte ruling in some way, though whether that is in the form of en banc review or panel reconsideration might turn on what Rahimi actually says.

May 10, 2024 in Gun policy and sentencing, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Second Amendment issues, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (6)

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Is Rahimi an "easy case" for any true originalist to rule for the criminal defendant and against the prosecution?

I have not written much recently about US v. Rahimi, in part because there is not much to write about while we wait to see how the Supreme Court chooses to apply its (new originalist) Second Amendment test to the federal criminal firearm prohibition of gun possession by persons subject to domestic violence restraining orders, 18 USC § 922(g)(8).  Moreover, based on the November Rahimi SCOTUS oral argument, it seemed like a majority of the Justices were quite disinclined to agree with the Fifth Circuit's view that a criminal bar on gun posession by those subject to domestic violence restraining orders is unconstituional. 

But Nelson Lund has this notable new New York Times opinion piece, headlined "The Fidelity of ‘Originalist’ Justices Is About to Be Tested," which prompted the quesiton in the title of this post.  Here are excerpts from the piece:

Under Bruen’s originalist test, Rahimi should be an easy case. The government has not informed the Supreme Court of a single pre-20th-century law that punished American citizens, even those who had been convicted of a violent crime, for possessing a gun in their own homes. Not one.

The subject of the case, Zackey Rahimi, however, is an unsympathetic defendant.  His ex-girlfriend obtained a protective order against him on the ground that he had assaulted her, and he has been charged with several crimes involving the misuse of firearms.  Although he apparently had not been convicted of any offenses when the restraining order was issued, that order immediately and automatically criminalized his possession of a firearm under federal law.

If the court pretends that a historical tradition of such laws existed, it will not be faithful either to Bruen’s holding or to the court’s repeated insistence that the right to keep and bear arms is not “a second-class right, subject to an entirely different body of rules than the other Bill of Rights guarantees.”

Imagine that an overwrought woman called her ex-boyfriend and threatened to scratch his eyes out.  If a state court ordered her to refrain from making such calls and from physically attacking him, the federal statute at issue in Rahimi would automatically make her a felon if she kept a gun in her own home.  And that would be true even if she had good reason to fear a violent attack from the ex-boyfriend or his criminal associates.  But no court would uphold a statute that made this restraining order a sufficient basis on which to criminalize her possession of a telephone.  We will soon find out whether the Supreme Court takes the Second Amendment as seriously as the First.

I generally do not find the analogy between guns and telephones (and between the Second and First Amendments) to be all that apt.  But I do find quite notable the suggestion that any true originalists should find it "easy" to determine the unconstitutionality of any laws that threaten to punish criminally any "American citizens, even those who had been convicted of a violent crime, for possessing a gun in their own homes."  In the votes and voices of a number of Justices (and others), I sometimes notice that affinity for originalism starts running out of steam when the outcomes start running in concerning directions.  Rahimi may prove to be another data point on that front in the coming months.

April 10, 2024 in Gun policy and sentencing, Second Amendment issues, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

"Reevaluating Felon-in-Possession Laws After Bruen and the War on Drugs"

The title of this post is the title of this new article now available via SSRN authored by Laura Ginsberg Abelson.  Here is its abstract:

The legal landscape surrounding firearm possession is evolving rapidly.  In 2022, the Supreme Court accelerated its expansion of the individual right to bear arms under the Second Amendment in New York Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen.  Since Bruen, courts around the country have struck down nearly all types of firearm regulations, with one notable exception: felon-in-possession laws.  This paper examines the implications of a legal landscape where those who have prior felony convictions, and especially prior drug convictions, are punished harshly for the same behavior, possession of a firearm, that is constitutionally protected for everyone else.

I argue that as the Second Amendment expands to protect more and more firearm possession, a dichotomy has arisen in which those who live in the communities most heavily targeted by the war on drugs of the 1980s and 1990s are increasingly becoming virtually the only Americans for whom firearm possession is illegal.  I examine the history and development of felon-in-possession statutes to show that they were not enacted with a clear purpose, and are not narrowly tailored to criminalize the most dangerous behavior. Further, I show how existing federal enforcement priorities and the structure of the United States Sentencing Guidelines compound the harms of the war on drugs by punishing individuals with prior drug offenses most harshly, even when there is limited evidence to suggest that they pose the greatest danger from firearm possession.

The Supreme Court is currently considering how to assess the question of danger in relation to the Second Amendment in United States v. Rahimi.  I argue that as Second Amendment jurisprudence evolves, prosecutors and legislators must be cognizant of the lasting effects of the war on drugs, and question the assumption that a prior felony conviction is an accurate proxy for dangerousness.

February 27, 2024 in Collateral consequences, Drug Offense Sentencing, Gun policy and sentencing, Second Amendment issues | Permalink | Comments (30)

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

"Going Federal, Staying Stateside: Felons, Firearms, and the ‘Federalization’ of Crime"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper authored by Jonathan Abel now available via SSRN.  Here is its abstract:

Scholars have long debated the federalization of crime. Proponents assert that federal prosecutions are more likely than state prosecutions to result in convictions and severe punishments, and thus more likely to deter crime. Opponents argue that federalization leads to the arbitrary, and even racist, punishment of a few unlucky defendants plucked from a sea of similarly situated peers.  Everyone seems to agree about one thing, though: the federal system outstrips the state system in effectiveness and severity.  Yet, no one has obtained the state-court data needed to substantiate these comparisons.  This Article fills that gap with an examination of the crime of being a felon in possession of a firearm, an offense that now accounts for nearly 10% of the federal criminal docket.

The Article makes three main contributions to the literature.  First, it shows how the literature’s claims about the superiority of federal prosecutions (compared to state ones) are rarely substantiated by data about actual state court prosecutions.  In essence, the literature considers only the cases that went federal, not the far more numerous cases that could have gone federal yet stayed in state court.  Second, using a novel case study of all the federal and state felon-in-possession prosecutions in one of the nation’s largest counties — Alameda County, California — the Article tests several bedrock claims about federalization.  The testing leads to surprising results regarding conviction rates, sentencing severity, and racial disparities in charging practices.  Finally, the Article connects these findings to the larger problem of academia’s fixation on all things federal — a fixation that comes at the expense of state and local topics.

February 21, 2024 in Gun policy and sentencing, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, February 07, 2024

"One Year Post-Bruen: An Empirical Assessment"

The title of this post is the title of this new article authored by Eric Ruben, Rosanna Smart and Ali Rowhani-Rahbar just published in the Virginia Law Review Online. Here is its abstract:

In the year after New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, a steady stream of highly publicized opinions struck down a wide range of previously upheld gun restrictions.  Courts declared unconstitutional policies ranging from assault weapon bans to domestic abuser prohibitions to various limits on publicly carrying handguns.  Those opinions can frequently be paired with others reaching the opposite conclusion.  The extent to which Bruen shook up the Second Amendment landscape and has caused widespread confusion in the courts is starting to come into focus.

This Essay measures Bruen’s aftereffects by statistically analyzing a year’s worth of Second Amendment opinions.  We coded more than 450 challenges for dozens of variables including both case and judge characteristics, resulting in a comprehensive post-Bruen Second Amendment dataset.  The findings of our analysis provide an objective basis for assessing the upheaval wrought by Bruen and highlight both unanswered questions and immense challenges for Second Amendment doctrine in the coming years.

February 7, 2024 in Gun policy and sentencing, Second Amendment issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

"Refining the Dangerousness Standard in Felon Disarmament"

The title of this post is the title of this essay recently posted to SSRN and authored by Jamie G. McWilliam. Here is its abstract:

For a regulation of the Second Amendment right to be upheld, Bruen requires a showing of historically analogous laws.  In the context of felon disarmament, the primary group of laws that the government has put forward involve disarming classes that the government deemed dangerous, such as Loyalists, Catholics, and Blacks.  While the theme of dangerousness within these laws is strong, their prejudicial nature is concerning.  How can a court rely on them without implicitly importing a prejudicial analysis?

This essay argues that the takeaway from these historical analogues should be a broad theme of dangerousness, rather than the particular conceptions embodied therein.  Instead, to determine the scope of the dangerousness standard, courts should look to the principles embodies by the Second Amendment itself — in particular, defense against immediate personal violence.  Ultimately, this essay suggests that only those who have actually created the kind of danger that the amendment was meant to protect against — i.e., who have perpetrated physical violence — should be disarmed.  This standard may defend against potentially prejudicial discretion, while simultaneously upholding Second Amendment rights and protecting our community.

January 16, 2024 in Collateral consequences, Gun policy and sentencing, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Second Amendment issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, December 07, 2023

"Firearms Carceralism"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new article authored by Jacob Charles and now available via SSRN. Here is its abstract:

Gun violence is a pressing national concern.  And it has been for decades.  Throughout nearly all that time, the primary tool lawmakers have deployed to staunch the violence has been the machinery of the criminal law.  Increased policing, intrusive surveillance, vigorous prosecution, and punitive penalties are showered on gun offenders.  This Article spotlights and specifies this approach — what it calls “firearms carceralism” — and details how a decades-long bipartisan consensus generated a set of state-centered solutions to gun violence that has not meaningfully impacted the problem.  Instead, those policies have exacerbated racial inequity and compounded civic and community harms.

The Article traces the escalating punitive measures visited on gun offenders over the past half century.  It first peers down into one microcosmic exemplar of firearms carceralism etched into federal mandatory minimum provisions and Supreme Court case law magnifying those penalties.  It describes how criminal justice reforms have traditionally excluded those whose offenses are categorized as violent, and specifically and emphatically those who offend with guns by their side.  It then draws out promising hints of a path to including gun offenders in efforts to reform the criminal legal system.  Most fundamentally, however, the Article wages a sustained critique of the system of firearms carceralism that fronts aggressive law enforcement and draconian terms of incarceration.  It describes the unjustifiable breadth and depth of these practices and the harmful, racialized, and exclusionary values they simultaneously draw from and reinscribe.

Finally, the Article argues in favor of three alternative paths for equitable peace and safety.  First, it outlines private sector steps to, for example, dampen illicit firearms supply.  Second, it highlights civil legal interventions like red flag laws and tort lawsuits against irresponsible gun sellers.  Third, and most prominently, it underscores the promise of community violence intervention and restorative justice programs to bring meaningful safety apart from the carceral tools of coercive control.

December 7, 2023 in Gun policy and sentencing, Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Offense Characteristics, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 27, 2023

Some division in headlines covering SCOTUS divisions in ACCA drug priors cases

I flagged here yesterday the Supreme Court's oral arguments scheduled for today in the ACCA cases of Brown and Jackson.  Like so many ACCA cases, the task here of sorting out what prior drug offenses trigger ACCA's 15-year mandatory minimum prison term for illegal gun possession is not for the faint of heart.  The full 85 minutes of argument can be accessed here, and I welcome thoughts about where the Court may seem headed.  The press accounts of the argument, partially linked below, seem to highlight the Justices' division though also suggest that the defense seem perhaps more likely to prevail:

From Bloomberg Law, "Justices Back Criminal Defendants in Firearm Sentencing Rule"

From Courthouse News Service, "Justices split over longer sentences for defunct drug charges"

From Law360, "Justices Hear Dueling Rules In ACCA Drug Definition Case"

From the New York Times, "Justices Search for Middle Ground on Mandatory Sentences for Gun Crimes"

From the Washington Examiner, "Supreme Court divided on how firearm sentencing law applies to criminal drug offenders"

November 27, 2023 in Drug Offense Sentencing, Gun policy and sentencing, Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (2)

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Federal court rules Second Amendment precludes felon-in-possession prosecution for defendant facing 15-year ACCA mandatory minimum

I have not sought to keep track of all the on-going litigation in district courts over whether federal felon-in-possession prosecutions under 18 USC § 922(g)(1) are still constitutional after Bruen.  But this new story in the Chicago Tribune, headlined "Chicago judge rules federal statute barring felons from possessing guns is unconstitutional but says it’s a ‘close question’," seemed notable because it appears that a federal district judge in Chicago has concluded that it violated the Second Amendment to prosecute for gun possession someone who would qualify for the Armed Career Criminal Act's 15-year mandatory minimum federal prison term.  Here are some of the reported details:

As a five-time convicted felon, Glen Prince was facing a mandatory minimum 15 years behind bars when he was charged in federal court with being a felon in possession of a handgun stemming from an armed robbery on CTA train in 2021. Instead, Prince’s case was tossed out earlier this month by a federal judge who ruled the statute barring felons from possessing handguns is unconstitutional in light of a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman is the first of its kind to come down in Chicago’s federal court and joins a host of other similar cases that have thrown the decades-old law into a sort of legal limbo as the issue works its way back to the high court. The implications are particularly large in Chicago, where there are hundreds of pending felon-with-firearm cases stemming largely from the U.S. attorney’s office efforts to throw federal law enforcement resources into the fight against the city’s relentless gun violence.

Gettleman’s Nov. 2 ruling in Prince’s case was immediately appealed by the U.S. attorney’s office. The 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals has set a Dec. 19 deadline for prosecutors to file a brief, court records show. It contradicts a handful of recent rulings by other district judges here upholding the felon-with-firearm law, saying that Second Amendment protections on gun possession have traditionally applied only to “law-abiding citizens.”

On the national level, the U.S. Justice Department last month urged the Supreme Court to overturn a lower-court ruling in Philadelphia that the law violated the constitutional rights of a man who possessed a weapon after pleading guilty years earlier to food-stamp fraud. The Biden Administration argued in its petition that the ruling conflicts decisions from two other appeals courts upholding the ban and “opened the courthouse doors to an untold number of future challenges by other felons.”...

In his opinion throwing out the charge against Prince, Gettleman wrote that while the government has historically prohibited certain people from possessing guns, prosecutors had not met their burden “to prove that felons are excluded from ‘the people’ whose firearm possession is presumptively protected by the plain text of the Second Amendment.”

Gettleman said the blanket ban on felons having guns “imposes a far greater burden” on gun rights than other historical categorical exclusions, such as one during the Revolutionary War when “individuals who refused to declare a loyalty oath to the emerging government” were barred from having firearms. The judge also wrote the fact that modern guns are more deadly and violence is more prevalent in today’s society doesn’t “justify a different result.”

“This nation’s gun violence problem is devastating, but does not change this result under Bruen, which this court finds rests on the severity of (the felon-with-firearm law) rather than its categorical prohibition.” Gettleman did, however, note the issue was a “close question” in his mind, as “violence plagues our communities and that allowing those who potentially pose a threat to the orderly functioning of society to be armed is a dangerous precedent.”

Prince, 37, was ordered released from the Metropolitan Correctional Center the day after Gettleman’s decision — but he didn’t walk free, records show. Court records show Chicago police arrested him at the jail at 71 W. Van Buren St. on new charges filed in Cook County accusing him of being an armed habitual criminal. He’s now being held without bond in the Cook County Jail.

According to the charges filed in federal court, Prince was a suspect in the armed robbery of three men on a CTA train in September 2021. After following the usage of a Ventra card stolen during the robbery, police arrested Prince on Sept. 12, 2021, on a CTA train platform in the 200 block of South State Street. He was allegedly carrying a loaded 9mm Smith and Wesson handgun as well as a fully loaded magazine, cocaine, and the victims’ Ventra card. He was originally charged in Cook County with aggravated unlawful use of a weapon by a felon, but those charges were dropped by state prosecutors after the federal indictment was filed last year, records show.

Prince’s criminal history includes three other armed robbery convictions as well as 2014 conviction for aggravated battery to a police officer, court records show.... Prince’s federal case was among more than 600 similar cases filed by the U.S. attorney’s office over the past five years where investigations by Chicago police and other local law enforcement are later removed to U.S. District Court. At least 50 people have been charged in 2023 alone with violating the felon-with-firearm ban, court records show.

The reasons to charge a defendant in federal court vary, but prosecutors generally promote it as a tool to get the city’s most violent, repeat offenders off the street instead of putting them back into the Cook County justice system. The potential penalties also are typically much tougher. Not only does the federal charge of unlawful possession of a weapon by a felon carry a maximum 10-year prison sentence, defendants must serve 85% of their sentence, instead of being eligible for day-for-day credit in the state system. If a defendant, such as Prince, has previously been convicted of three or more violent felonies, federal prosecutors can seek an enhanced, mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years behind bars, or up to life.

UPDATE: The 22-page opinion in US v. Prince, No. 1:22-cr-00240 (N.D. Ill Nov. 02, 2023), is available at this link.

November 15, 2023 in Gun policy and sentencing, Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Second Amendment issues, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (4)

Tuesday, November 07, 2023

Some press pieces reviewing SCOTUS argument in Rahimi Second Amendment case

As previewed in this post, the Supreme Court today heard oral argument in US v. Rahimi to consider how its (new originalist) Second Amendment test applies to the federal criminal firearm prohibition of gun possession by persons subject to domestic violence restraining orders, 18 USC § 922(g)(8).  The 90+ minute oral argument (and its transcript) is available at this link.  As highlighted by the press coverage, most SCOTUS watchers expect the Court to uphold the federal law against a Second Amendment challenge:

From CBS News, "Supreme Court wary of striking down 1994 law protecting domestic violence victims in high-stakes gun case"

From Reuters, "US Supreme Court leans toward allowing domestic-violence gun curbs"

From Vox, "The Supreme Court appears poised to rein in its worst decision on guns"

From The Washington Post, "Court seems likely to allow gun bans for those under protective orders"

Upon listening to the oral argument, I share the view that there seems to be a majority of Justices (and perhaps even all the Justices) who are prepared to rework the Bruen originalist approach to the Second Amendment to uphold the federal criminal firearm prohibition in Rahimi.  But I still found the entire oral argument quite interesting, and I was especially struck by the claim by Rahimi's lawyer that there were no complete criminal bans on the possession of guns by certain people until 1968.  If originalism as a mode of constitutional interpretation really cared about history, that would seem to be a quite significant bit of history for resolving this case.  We shall see in a few months if history and originalism really matters in this context.

November 7, 2023 in Gun policy and sentencing, Second Amendment issues, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (6)

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

"A Comprehensive Analysis of the Effect of Crime-Control Policies on Murder"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper authored by Carlisle Moody recently posted on SSRN.  Here is its abstract:

This study investigates the effects of most of the major firearm and crime control policies on murder.  We use two-way fixed-effects models based on state-level panel data from 1970-2018.  We include a comprehensive list of relevant policy variables to control for their influence in determining the effect of each.  We do a specification search using four commonly used econometric methods to estimate three models of the crime equation.  A Bonferroni correction is used to control for false rejections. A robustness check using new difference-in-differences estimators confirms the results.  We find that, with the possible exception of constitutional carry laws, no firearm policy can be shown to have a significant long-run effect on murder.  However, we find that the traditional policies of prison incarceration and police presence significantly reduce murder in the long run.  We also find that executions have no significant long-run effect on murder.  Finally, there is considerable evidence that three-strikes laws increase murder in the long run.

October 18, 2023 in Data on sentencing, Gun policy and sentencing, National and State Crime Data, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

New CAP report asserts "Cities in Blue States Experiencing Larger Declines in Gun Violence in 2023"

Yesterday, the Center for American Progress Action Fund released this new report which it claims "shows that, on average, cities in blue states have lower rates of gun homicides and shooting incidents than comparably sized cities in red states and are seeing larger single-year decreases in gun violence rates in 2023."  Here is the report's "Introduction and Summary" (with footnotes removed):

Gun violence anywhere is unacceptable. Yet increasingly, Americans are forced to grieve the unimaginable horrors of school and hate-motivated shootings in innocent communities, in addition to the daily occurrence of gun violence across the United States.  It is no wonder that Americans see gun violence as a top issue for Congress.  To stop gun violence in this country, every lawmaker at every level of government must come together to pass commonsense gun laws and stop violence before it happens.  Unfortunately, this has not been the case.

Even though gun violence is an epidemic — touching the lives of Americans everywhere — instead of passing stronger gun laws, Republican leaders are choosing to weaponize the issue for political gain by using misinformation to stoke fears of “Democrat-controlled” cities.  In 2022, for example, after a shooter took the lives of 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX) claimed that gun violence in the cities of New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago is evidence that tougher gun laws are “not a real solution.”  Similarly, despite evidence that New York City actually has relatively low rates of gun violence when controlling for its size, in April 2023, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) used his powers as the House Judiciary Committee chair to hold a field hearing on violent crime in Manhattan to disrepute Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg after Bragg brought charges against former President Donald Trump.  These examples demonstrate a larger coordinated effort by conservatives to make violent crime a “Democrat” issue while at the same time diverting attention from their own public safety failures to address gun violence, including neglecting to make it harder for individuals with violent intentions to obtain a gun.

However, despite the millions of dollars spent on this misinformation campaign, the data on gun violence homicides in America paint an entirely different picture. Original analysis conducted by the Center for American Progress Action Fund on the 300 most populous U.S. cities comparing gun homicide rates from January 2015 to August 2023 finds that, after controlling for population size:

  • Cities in blue states, based on how a state voted in the 2020 presidential election, are consistently safer from guns than cities in red states, regardless of which party is represented in city leadership.
  • From 2018 to 2021, red-state cities experienced larger increases in gun violence rates than blue-state cities.
  • In 2023, blue-state cities are experiencing larger declines in gun violence rates than red-state cities.

Not only do blue-state cities on average experience lower rates of gun violence in each year of the study, but now, gun violence rates appear to be decreasing faster on average in these cities than in red-state cities.  Put simply, the data do not back up the blame-game politics of Republican lawmakers such as Texas Gov. Abbott and Rep. Jordan.

October 17, 2023 in Elections and sentencing issues in political debates, Gun policy and sentencing, National and State Crime Data, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (14)

Thursday, October 05, 2023

Notable defender amicus briefs submitted in support of Second Amendment claims in Rahimi

This week brought the final submission of the main merits and amicus briefs in the Supreme Court for the case of US v. Rahimi, which will address (at least) one aspect of how the landmark Bruen Second Amendment case applies to federal firearm possession criminalization.  In this post a couple of year ago, I flagged this notable amicus brief filed by various defender offices in support of expanding Second Amendment rights in Bruen.  Looking over the recent amicus filings, I noticed at least three different defense submission on behalf of the defendant in Rahimi.  A quick scan of some of these briefs reveals a number of notable passages, and I thought the very start of this brief from some California public defender groups highlighted some of the dimensions of this latest notable high-profile Second Amendment litigation:

The State of California aggressively criminalizes the possession of firearms.  We have seen that this disproportionately affects people of color, particularly Black people.  Since New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc. v. Bruen, 142 S. Ct. 2111 (2022), we have litigated hundreds of motions seeking to bring California’s expansive gun regulations in line with the Second Amendment.  And we have found the difference between punishment and freedom often depends on how our courts interpret “law-abiding responsible citizens.”  We have also seen our clients in California face criminal prosecution for violating civil disarmament orders that sweep far beyond domestic violence.

As to the particular statute at issue in this case, 18 U.S.C. Section 922(g)(8), we acknowledge the need to protect people from domestic violence.  Many of our clients are themselves victims of domestic violence.  But we also have first-hand experience fighting the rote issuance of civil protective orders that deny our clients their Second Amendment rights and lead to unjust, unequal criminal prosecutions.

A few prior related posts:

October 5, 2023 in Gun policy and sentencing, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Race, Class, and Gender, Second Amendment issues | Permalink | Comments (6)

Sunday, September 17, 2023

Tenth Circuit panel rejects new challenge to federal felon-in-possession gun prohibition after Bruen

The Tenth Circuit handed down a panel ruling on Friday in Vincent v. Garland, No. 21-4121 (10th Cir. Sept. 15, 2023) (available here), which deepens the still-developing divides surrounding federal criminal gun prohibitions after the Supreme Court's Bruen ruling last year.  Here is how the court's opinion in Vincent starts:

Roughly 50 years ago, Congress banned the possession of firearms by convicted felons.  Gun Control Act of 1968, § 922(h)(1), Pub. L. No. 90 618, 82 Stat. 1213, 1220 (codified as amended at 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1)).  After Congress enacted this ban, the Supreme Court held that the Second Amendment guarantees a personal right to possess firearms. District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570, 595 (2008).  Based on the Court’s language, we upheld the constitutionality of the ban on convicted felons’ possession of firearms.  United States v. McCane, 573 F.3d 1037, 1047 (10th Cir. 2009).

The Supreme Court has recently created a new test for the scope of the right to possess firearms.  N.Y. State Rifle & Pistol Ass’n, Inc. v. Bruen, 142 S. Ct. 2111, 2129–30 (2022).  Based on the Supreme Court’s creation of a new test, the plaintiff challenges the constitutionality of the ban when applied to individuals convicted of nonviolent felonies.  To resolve this challenge, we must consider whether the Supreme Court’s new test overruled our precedent.  We conclude that our precedent has not been overruled.

A few (of many) prior recent related posts:

September 17, 2023 in Gun policy and sentencing, Second Amendment issues | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, September 14, 2023

Hunter Biden formally indicted on three federal charges related to his 2018 gun purchase

As reported in this Fox News piece, "Hunter Biden was indicted Thursday on federal gun charges out of Special Counsel David Weiss' investigation." Here is more:

Biden was charged with making a false statement in the purchase of a firearm; making a false statement related to information required to be kept by a federal firearms licensed dealer; and one count of possession of a firearm by a person who is an unlawful user of or addicted to a controlled substance....

These are the first charges Weiss has brought against the first son since being granted special counsel status.

Fox News first reported in 2021 that police had responded to an incident in 2018, when a gun owned by Hunter Biden was thrown into a trash can outside a market in Delaware....

The charges come after an original plea agreement collapsed in July. Hunter Biden was expected to plead guilty in July to two misdemeanor tax counts of willful failure to pay federal income tax as part of a plea deal to avoid jail time on a felony gun charge. Hunter Biden was forced to plead not guilty to two misdemeanor tax charges and one felony gun charge.

The full four-page indictment is available in the Fox News piece.

Prior related posts:

September 14, 2023 in Celebrity sentencings, Gun policy and sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (14)

Thursday, August 31, 2023

Dissenting from denial of en banc review, Eighth Circuit judges make case that blanket felon disarmament violates the Second Amendment

Yesterday in this lengthy dissent from the denial of rehearing en banc in US v. Jackson, Eighth Circuit Judge Stras make a full-throated case that the broad criminal prohibition under federal law precluding persons with felony records from possessing a gun is constitutionally suspect after Bruen.   This opinion, which is joined by Judges Erickson, Grasz, and Kobes, starts this way:

By cutting off as-applied challenges to the federal felon-in-possession statute, see 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1), Jackson and Cunningham give “second-class” treatment to the Second Amendment. N.Y. State Rifle & Pistol Ass’n v. Bruen, 142 S. Ct. 2111, 2156 (2022) (quoting McDonald v. City of Chicago, 561 U.S. 742, 780 (2010) (plurality opinion)).  Even worse, they create a group of second-class citizens: felons who, for the rest of their lives, cannot touch a firearm, no matter the crime they committed or how long ago it happened. See United States v. Cunningham, 70 F.4th 502, 506 (8th Cir. 2023); United States v. Jackson, 69 F.4th 495, 501–02 (8th Cir. 2023). I dissent from the decision to deny rehearing en banc.

The full opinion is a must-read for anyone following Second Amendment jurisprudence, and here is a flavor of the opinion:

Practices shortly after the Founding are consistent with the dangerousness rationale. See Bruen, 142 S. Ct. at 2136–37 (discussing the concept of “liquidation”). Of the states that protected the right to keep and bear arms, none disarmed non-dangerous felons. Cf. Handbook on the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws and Proceedings of the Thirty-Fifth Annual Meeting 862–63 (1925) (cataloging the earliest felon-in-possession laws in the states). You read that right, none.

Even violent felons, as a class, were not disarmed until the early 20th century, nearly 150 years later. See Federal Firearms Act, ch. 850, §§ 1(6), 2(e), 2(f), 52 Stat. 1250, 1250–51 (1938). And it was only in 1961, just 62 years ago, that the federal government finally abandoned dangerousness as the litmus test for disarmament in enacting § 922(g)(1)’s predecessor. See An Act to Strengthen the Federal Firearms Act, Pub. L. No. 87-342, 75 Stat. 757 (1961); see also Range, 69 F.4th at 104. There is nothing about felon-dispossession laws that is longstanding, unless six decades is long enough to establish a “historical tradition” of the type contemplated by Bruen. Spoiler alert: it is not. See Bruen, 142 S. Ct. at 2156 (holding unconstitutional a century-old licensing regime).

In sum, the decades surrounding the ratification of the Second Amendment showed a steady and consistent practice. People considered dangerous lost their arms. But being a criminal had little to do with it....

Disarmament is about dangerousness, not virtue. We know that because colonial and post-ratification gun laws targeted rebellion and insurrection, not criminality. There have always been criminals, but there is no suggestion in any “historical analogue” that criminality alone, unaccompanied by dangerousness, was reason enough to disarm someone. Bruen, 142 S. Ct. at 2133 (emphasis omitted). And history certainly does not support Jackson’s unbending rule that felons can never win an as-applied challenge, no matter how non-violent their crimes may be or how long ago they happened.

August 31, 2023 in Collateral consequences, Gun policy and sentencing, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Second Amendment issues, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (5)

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Split Fourth Circuit panel reverses denial of sentence reduction motion and orders 20-year reduction based on stacked § 924(c)

A helpful reader made sure that I did not miss a notable Fourth Circuit ruling today in US v. Brown, No. 21-7752 (4th Cir. Aug. 16, 2023) (available here). The majority opinion for the court begins this way:

On July 30, 2014, a jury convicted Kelvin Brown on seven counts, including two counts of possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c). At the time of Brown’s sentencing, his two § 924(c) convictions carried a five- and twenty-five-year mandatory minimum sentence, respectively. The district court thus sentenced Brown to thirty years in prison for his § 924(c) convictions, and, together with his other five convictions, to fifty-seven years’ imprisonment total.

In July 2020, Brown moved for compassionate release pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A). Brown primarily argued that his release was warranted because he was at risk of serious illness from COVID-19 and because, under the First Step Act’s amendment to § 924(c) sentencing, he would only be subject to a combined ten-year mandatory minimum for his two § 924(c) convictions if sentenced today.  The district court twice denied Brown’s motion, each time without addressing the disparity between his § 924(c) sentence and the much shorter mandatory minimums the First Step Act now prescribes.

We hold that the district court abused its discretion by denying Brown’s motion because his disparate sentence creates an “extraordinary and compelling reason” for his early release, and the § 3553(a) sentencing factors overwhelmingly favor a sentence reduction.  We therefore reverse and remand with instructions to rectify that disparity and reduce Brown’s prison sentence by twenty years.

The majority opinion concludes with some explanation for why it orders a 20-year sentence reduction rather than another remand:

“Ordinarily, we understand that district courts wield broad discretion in deciding compassionate release motions.” Malone, 57 F.4th at 177.  So, in a different case, we might remedy the district court’s error by remanding for the district court to consider Brown’s disparate sentence in the first instance.  Yet the district court here has already had two opportunities to review Brown’s compassionate release motion: its initial denial of Brown’s motion in July 2020, and its second denial in December 2021 after we remanded Brown’s case for further consideration.  Each time, the district court neglected to address Brown’s disparate sentence. That neglect persisted despite our express recognition in our previous remand order that McCoy — and its holding that disparate § 924(c) sentences can constitute “extraordinary and compelling reasons” for release — “is relevant to this case.” Brown, 2021 WL 4461607, at *2 n.4.

The dissent, authored by Judge Quattlebaum, starts this way:

In an extraordinary and, in my view, regrettable decision, the majority reverses the district court’s order denying Brown’s motion for compassionate release.  It does so only by imposing a standard for explaining decisions that is more demanding than what the Supreme Court recently established. Concepcion v. United States, 142 S. Ct. 2389, 2405 (2022) (“All that is required is for a district court to demonstrate that it has considered the arguments before it.”).  But the majority does not stop there. It then usurps the district court’s assigned responsibility by stepping in to re-weigh the sentencing factors, substitute its judgment for that of the district court and order a 20-year sentence reduction.  The majority may well be troubled by the length of Brown’s original sentence.  But our ordered system of justice requires that appellate courts apply standards set forth by the Supreme Court. And it requires that discretionary sentencing decisions be made by district court judges.  The majority today does neither.  I dissent.

August 16, 2023 in FIRST STEP Act and its implementation, Gun policy and sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (20)

Thursday, August 10, 2023

Fifth Circuit panel declares unconstitutional federal prohibition on gun possession by “unlawful user” of controlled substances

In a post last summer right after the Supreme Court's landmark Second Amendment ruling, I wondered "Are broad drug user gun dispossession statutes now constitutionally suspect after Bruen?".  A handful of district courts have concluded that federal law prohibiting dug possession by unlawful drug user violates the Second Amendment, and now a circuit court has joined these ranks.  Specifically, in US v. Daniels, No. 22-60596 (5th Cir. Aug. 9, 2023) (available here), a Fifth Circuit panel has decided the federal prohibition on firearm possession for “unlawful user” of a controlled substance is unconstitutional.  Here is how the opinion for the court in Daniels gets started:

Title 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(3) bars an individual from possessing a firearm if he is an “unlawful user” of a controlled substance. Patrick Daniels is one such “unlawful user” — he admitted to smoking marihuana multiple days per month. But the government presented no evidence that he was intoxicated at the time of arrest, nor did it identify when he last had used marihuana. Still, based on his confession to regular usage, a jury convicted Daniels of violating § 922(g)(3).

The question is whether Daniels’s conviction violates his right to bear arms.  The answer depends on whether § 922(g)(3) is consistent with our nation’s “historical tradition of firearm regulation.” N.Y. State Rifle & Pistol Ass’n v. Bruen, 142 S. Ct. 2111, 2126 (2022). It is a close and deeply challenging question.

Throughout American history, laws have regulated the combination of guns and intoxicating substances.  But at no point in the 18th or 19th century did the government disarm individuals who used drugs or alcohol at one time from possessing guns at another.  A few states banned carrying a weapon while actively under the influence, but those statutes did not emerge until well after the Civil War.  Section 922(g)(3) — the first federal law of its kind — was not enacted until 1968, nearly two centuries after the Second Amendment was adopted.

In short, our history and tradition may support some limits on an intoxicated person’s right to carry a weapon, but it does not justify disarming a sober citizen based exclusively on his past drug usage.  Nor do more generalized traditions of disarming dangerous persons support this restriction on nonviolent drug users.  As applied to Daniels, then, § 922(g)(3) violates the Second Amendment.  We reverse the judgment of conviction and render a dismissal of the indictment.

August 10, 2023 in Drug Offense Sentencing, Gun policy and sentencing, Second Amendment issues | Permalink | Comments (4)

Friday, July 14, 2023

Are many district courts ordering Second Amendment briefing in felon-in-possession cases (and are charges and sentencings being impacted)?

The question in the title of this post came to mind upon seeing this new order in US v. Sims, a federal case from Illinois in which the district judge has set a briefing schedule to address an elaborate set of questions in response to a defendant's motion to dismiss a federal firearms charge.  These questions were prompted and framed by the Seventh Circuit's recent remand ruling in Atkinson v. Garland, No. 22-1557 (7th Cir. June 20, 2023) (available here).  I discussed Atkinson in this post last month, noting that the dissenting opinion in that case expressed great concern with "saddling [a district court] with a Ph.D.-level historical inquiry" in order to address a Bruen-based Second Amendment challenge to 18 USC § 922(g)(1), the federal criminal prohibition on felons possessing firearms.

As discussed in a few recent posts here and here, the Supreme Court next year will be addressing a Second Amendment challenge to a different section of federal firearm possession criminalization in US v. Rahimi.  But, according to this 2022 US Sentencing Commission report about federal firearm prosecutions and sentencings, it seems that maybe only a few hundred federal criminal  prosecutions are brought each year under § 922(g)(8), the provision at issue in Rahimi, whereas perhaps more than 6000 federal criminal  prosecutions are brought each year under § 922(g)(1).  We likely will need to wait nearly a year for a SCOTUS decision in Rahimi, and there is no certainty that such a decision will conclusively resolve federal challenges to the broad federal felon-in-possession prohibition.  Federal district courts, which historically have sentenced hundreds of felon-in-possession cases each and every month, likely cannot readily defer resolution of Second Amendment challenges until getting additional guidance from SCOTUS.

Of course, at least one circuit (the Eighth) has seemingly categorically rejected broad constitutional challenges to § 922(g)(1), while another circuit (the Third) has held that some applications of § 922(g)(1) are unconstitutional.  This leads me to assume district courts in the Eight Circuit can readily dismiss any Second Amendment challenge to 18 USC § 922(g)(1), while district courts in the Third Circuit surely need to carefully sort through such claims.  As the Sims order reveals, district courts in the Seventh Circuit may feel obligated to seek elaborate briefing.  And there is been at least one high-profile ruling from a district court in the Fifth Circuit (where Rahimi came from) which declares § 922(g)(1) unconstitutional.

In addition to wondering what district courts around the country are doing, I also wonder whether and how federal prosecutorial charging and bargaining practices are being impacted by all the constitutional uncertainty produced by Bruen.  Are federal prosecutors, at least in some districts, now less likely to bring § 922(g)(1) charges (at least in cases involving nonviolent priors)?  Are federal prosecutors, at least in some districts, now more likely to provide more favorable plea terms in these cases because of the constitutional uncertainty?  (I have speculated that Hunter Biden's plea deal may have been influenced by post-Bruen questions about yet another provision of 922(g).)

Speaking of plea deals, I especially wonder if there maybe be (significant?) sentencing echoes from all this constitutional churn.  Notably, felon-in-possession cases are the hook for the severe 15-year mandatory minimum prison term of the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA).  Might some prosecutors agree not to seek ACCA's severe term in exchange for a defendant's waiving of constitutional challenges?  In less aggravated cases, might prosecutors agree to recommend a less severe prison term in order to avoid a Bruen brouhaha?  

I could go on and on speculating about all the federal criminal ripples from Bruen, but I am hoping that in the comments some practitioners might be able to report on what's actually going on in district courts these days with respect to thousands of pending felon-in-possession cases.

Some (of many) prior recent related posts:

July 14, 2023 in Gun policy and sentencing, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Second Amendment issues, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (3)

Thursday, July 06, 2023

Some early commentary on SCOTUS Second Amendment review of federal gun prohibition in Rahimi

In this post, I noted that the Supreme Court in its final order list granted cert review in US v. Rahimi to address (at least) one aspect of how the landmark Bruen Second Amendment case applies to federal firearm possession criminalization.  Since that grant, I have seen some new comment on the case, and here is a smattering of those pieces:

From HuffPost, "This Man Is A Suspect In Multiple Shootings. His Case May Decide The Future Of Gun Rights."

From the Independent, "Should domestic abusers have the right to be armed? The Supreme Court could upend protections for survivors"

From Mother Jones, "A Federal Gun Law Has Protected Domestic Violence Survivors for 30 Years. Now SCOTUS Will Decide Its Fate."

From Slate, "The Supreme Court’s YOLO Approach to Guns Is About to Face a Major Test"

Some (of many) prior recent related posts:

July 6, 2023 in Gun policy and sentencing, Offense Characteristics, Second Amendment issues, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (10)

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

"Subtracting 420 from 922: Marijuana Legalization and the Gun Control Act After Bruen"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper authored by Nicholas Goldrosen now available via SSRN. Here is its abstract:

Numerous states have legalized marijuana for medical and recreational use.  Nonetheless, federal law prohibits users of marijuana, which remains illegal federally, from possessing firearms.  I interrogate this legal tension from two angles. First, this paper brings empirical evidence to this conversation: Does legalizing marijuana lead to more gun deaths?

It doesn’t.  This article analyzes the effect of recreational and medical marijuana legalization on gun homicides, suicides, and deaths as well as on gun prevalence, gun purchasing, and federal gun prosecutions.  I combine administrative data from the National Vital Statistics System, National Instant Criminal Background Check System, and United States Sentencing Commission for the period from 2010 through 2020.  To estimate a causal effect, I employ a difference-in-differences method with staggered treatment timing from Callaway and Sant’Anna (2021) to compare states that have legalized marijuana to those that have not yet legalized marijuana but will during the study period. There is no evidence of a statistically significant treatment effect of either recreational or medical marijuana legalization on firearms deaths, homicides, or suicides.  Additionally, there is no evidence that legalization causes greater firearms sales or prevalence, or that the federal gun prohibition for marijuana users deters gun killings post-legalization.

Secondly, this regulation has received new scrutiny after the Supreme Court’s recent ruling in NYSRPA v. Bruen, under which firearms regulations must be justified by consistency with “this Nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation.”  Courts have come to conflicting answers on whether the prohibition on gun ownership by marijuana users accords with the Second Amendment under Bruen.  I therefore survey three potential legal paths for resolving the conflict between state legalization of marijuana and federal gun laws.  First, legislators might directly amend the Gun Control Act to allow for gun possession by some or all marijuana users.  Second, legislators might reform marijuana’s status within the Controlled Substances Act more broadly.  Finally, an uncertain future for the controlled-substance-user prohibition exists in the courts post-Bruen.  The Bruen decision’s unworkable tests do not clearly support either upholding or striking down this ban. If anything, the interpretation of the federal ban on gun possession by marijuana users under Bruen highlights the impracticability of its test.  Amongst these solutions, I argue that broader Controlled Substances Act reform is the likeliest to provide consistency while not harming public safety.

June 28, 2023 in Gun policy and sentencing, Marijuana Legalization in the States, National and State Crime Data, Pot Prohibition Issues, Second Amendment issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, June 18, 2023

With Bruen follow-up cases making their way to SCOTUS, round-ups of federal Second Amendment litigation

Just shy of a year ago, the Supreme Court handed down its landmark Second Amendment decision in Bruen, and at the time I suggested in a series of posts (some linked below) that a number of broad federal criminal firearm prohibitions might be subject to new constitutional challenges. In fact, Bruen has lead to an extraordinary amount of litigation surrounding many federal gun restrictions in 18 U.S.C. § 922, and constitutional challenges are now splitting federal circuit courts and making their way to the Supreme Court. This past week, I have noted a number of notable new press pieces and commentary on these fronts. Here is a round up of some of these Second Amendment round ups:

From Reason, "Second Amendment Roundup: Third Circuit Rules Felon Ban Invalid as Applied: Range would be the best § 922(g) case for the Supreme Court to resolve.

From Reason, "Originalism in the Lower Courts: Fifth Circuit Panel Invites Amicus Briefs on Second Amendment: 'Of particular interest are historical gun regulations applicable to intoxicated or impaired individuals'."

From NBC News, "Supreme Court considers recoil from landmark gun rights ruling: After lower court rulings struck down longstanding gun restrictions, the Biden administration asks justices to uphold restrictions on people with domestic violence restraining orders."

From the New York Times, "Do People Subject to Domestic Abuse Orders Have the Right to Be Armed?: The Supreme Court will soon consider whether to hear an appeal of a ruling striking down a domestic-violence law under the Second Amendment."

From the Washington Examiner, "Starting pistol: 'Tidal wave' of gun laws struck down a year after Supreme Court Bruen ruling"

Some (of many) prior recent related posts:

June 18, 2023 in Gun policy and sentencing, Second Amendment issues, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Ninth Circuit panel rejects claim that Bruen precludes guideline sentence enhancement for gun possession

I already have blogged a bit about various ways the Supreme Court's landmark Second Amendment ruling in Bruen raises all sort of new and challenging questions about the enforcement of various federal criminal statutory provision (and I expect to be blogging more and more on these topics as the issues divide appeals courts).  But yesterday, a Ninth Circuit panel directly considered (and quickly rejected) a claim that Bruen precludes application of a federal sentencing enhancement under the guidelines for possessing a firearm in conjunction with a federal drug offense. Here is how the ruling in US v. Alaniz, No. 22-30141 (9th Cir. June 13, 2023) (available here), gets started:

This case requires us to consider whether United States Sentencing Guidelines (“U.S.S.G.”) § 2D1.1(b)(1), which provides for an enhancement of the Guidelines calculation if a defendant possessed a dangerous weapon at the time of a felony drug offense, is constitutional under the Second Amendment following New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc. v. Bruen, 142 S. Ct. 2111 (2022).  We conclude that, in light of a well-established historical tradition of regulation, Miguel Michael Alaniz did not have the right to “keep and bear arms” during and in close proximity to his criminal activities.

And here is part of the substance of the opinion (with footnoted omittes):

The government offers on appeal a number of founding-era statutes to prove a historical tradition of sentencing enhancements tied to firearm possession.  We conclude that this historical tradition is well-established.  Notably, several States enacted laws throughout the 1800s that increased the severity of punishment for certain felonies when weapons were possessed, but not necessarily used, during the commission of the crime.  See, e.g., Commonwealth v. Hope, 39 Mass. (22 Pick.) 1, 9–10 (1839) (analyzing an 1805 statute that aggravated burglary to the first degree when a defendant possessed a weapon); People v. Fellinger, 24 How. Pr. 341, 342 (N.Y. Gen. Term 1862) (same); State v. Tutt, 63 Mo. 595, 599 (1876) (same); United States v. Bernard, 24 F. Cas. 1131, 1131 (C.C.D.N.J. 1819) (discussing a New Jersey statute that punished the possession and exhibition of a firearm during the robbery of a postal worker). Indeed, Bruen itself confirms that the right to keep and bear arms was understood at the Founding to be limited where there was a likelihood of a breach of peace.  See 142 S. Ct. at 2144–46 (citing Simpson v. State, 13 Tenn. 356, 358–61 (1833); State v. Huntly, 25 N.C. 418, 421–23 (1843) (per curiam); O’Neil v. State, 16 Ala. 65, 67 (1849)).
Alaniz argues that the government cannot satisfy the step two inquiry because its analogues are not sufficiently similar to U.S.S.G. § 2D1.1(b)(1).  He asserts that in the government’s examples, possession was an element of the offense and therefore required proof beyond a reasonable doubt. He also contends that felony drug trafficking presents the same “perceived societal problem,” as did smuggling crimes in the founding era, thus, in his view, requiring the government to present a “distinctly similar” historical analogue. Id. at 2131.
Alaniz’s argument, however, is divorced from both reality and the law. Illegal drug trafficking is a largely modern crime. It is animated by unprecedented contemporary concerns regarding drug abuse and is not closely analogous to founding-era smuggling crimes, which primarily focused on punishing importers who evaded customs duties.  See Gonzales v. Raich, 545 U.S. 1, 10–13 (2005); see also Margarita Mercado Echegaray, Note, Drug Prohibition in America: Federal Drug Policy and Its Consequences, 75 Rev. Jur. U. P.R. 1215, 1219 (2006); Aaron T. Knapp, From Empire to Law: Customs Collection in the American Founding, 43 Law & Soc. Inquiry 554, 56566 (2018) (describing the Collection Act of 1789 that created “a customs collection regime” that aimed to “prevent fraud and evasion” through “punishing wrongdoing”).  And Bruen expressly recognized that “cases implicating unprecedented societal concerns,” like the one here, “may require a more nuanced approach.” 142 S. Ct. at 2132.

June 14, 2023 in Gun policy and sentencing, Second Amendment issues, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (5)

Thursday, June 08, 2023

Arguing that Second Amendment rulings are serving "as a tool of progressive constitutionalism"

This new Slate commentary by Mark Joseph Stern, headlined "Progressive Judges May Have Found a Use for Clarence Thomas’ Terrible Guns Ruling," notes the alignment of judges in the recent en banc Third Circuit ruling in Range (discussed here) and makes some notable claims developing about Second Amendment jurisprudence.  Here are excerpts:

Will progressive judges ever find use for the Supreme Court’s recently expanded and disastrous interpretation of the Second Amendment? A major ruling on Tuesday suggests that they already are.  By an 11–4 vote, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit held that some people convicted of felonies retain their right to bear arms. The decision drew support from judges across the ideological spectrum, uniting the court’s most conservative and liberal judges despite — or perhaps because of—its potentially revolutionary implications. This consensus suggests that we may be entering a new era of Second Amendment litigation, one in which left-leaning judges reluctantly embrace gun rights as a tool of progressive constitutionalism....

What’s behind the cross-ideological support for Range?  Probably not a deep certainty that Hardiman’s cursory historical overview and logic were correct, at least on the left flank of the court: In her exhaustive dissent, Judge Cheryl Ann Krause, an Obama appointee, eviscerated the majority’s historical analysis with a mountain of evidence proving that “legislatures have historically possessed the authority to disarm entire groups, like felons, whose conduct evinces disrespect for the rule of law.” (Krause also pointed out that Range’s conduct would have been a capital offense in 1791, and it’s difficult to see how a crime could be punishable by execution but not disarmament.) In Bruen, though, Justice Thomas simply ignored or discredited any evidence that did not fit his preferred narrative, tacitly inviting lower courts to do the same.  We are long past the point of pretending that the actual historical record matters to judges who are eager to bulldoze gun safety laws.

What’s a progressive judge to do?  Public defenders have already offered an answer: employ the Second Amendment in furtherance of progressive constitutional values like equal protection and the rights of criminal defendants.  Because so many high-profile gun cases are manufactured by conservative activists — including this one — it’s easy to forget who’s really on the front lines of the Second Amendment revolution: criminal defense attorneys representing indigent clients charged with firearm offenses.  (It’s telling that one Biden appointee who joined the majority in Range, Arianna Freeman, spent her entire legal career as a federal public defender.)  Public defenders have a Sixth Amendment obligation to provide their clients with a zealous defense, which increasingly includes constitutional challenges to gun restrictions.

That’s why New York City’s public defenders filed a brief in Bruen urging the Supreme Court to strike down nearly all limitations on public carry.  And it’s why the 3rd Circuit’s top public defenders — Freeman’s former colleagues — filed a similar brief in Range attacking the federal felon-in-possession ban.  The Supreme Court’s Second Amendment decisions all envision “law-abiding, responsible citizens” who seek to protect themselves and their families from violence.  But in the real world, the people who have the most to gain from these rulings are criminal defendants facing down years or decades in prison.  Recent decisions establishing a right to scratch out a gun’s serial number and purchase a firearm while under indictment or restraining order all arose out of criminal prosecutions, not NRA-backed test cases.

Like a growing number of public defenders, liberal judges like Freeman, Ambro, Greenaway, and Montgomery-Reeves may think that the Second Amendment can be repurposed as a weapon against over-policing and mass incarceration.  If upheld by the Supreme Court, Range will certainly be a boon to the criminal defense bar, as well as a source of immense confusion for prosecutors.  The majority’s standard is extraordinarily vague: It acknowledges that some people may be disarmed for committing a felony, but a person “like Range” could not.  How can judges tell when someone falls on Range’s side of the line?  The majority didn’t say.  In 2019, then-Judge Amy Coney Barrett took a stab at a clearer standard, asserting that only “dangerous” and “violent felons” may be disarmed.  But which crimes count as “violent”?  Is selling or using cocaine “violent”?  How about possessing child pornography?  Drunk driving?  Burglary? Harassment?  In a 2015 decision, the Supreme Court found it impossible to give the term “violent felony” a “principled and objective” standard.  Why should courts have any more luck today?

This uncertainty would force prosecutors to think twice before bringing felon-in-possession charges, asking first whether they could persuade a court that the defendant is sufficiently “dangerous” or “violent” or “non-law-abiding” to justify disarmament.  And from a criminal justice reform perspective, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  Plenty of left-leaning commentators have argued that the felon-in-possession ban is disproportionately enforced against people of color, contributing to mass incarceration and persecution of minority communities.  For many progressives, these problems raise concerns about equal protection, unlawful policing, and unconstitutional sentences.  But this Supreme Court doesn’t see them that way; it cares far more about gun rights than traditional civil rights, such as basic civic equality of Black Americans.  So progressive judges may instead seek to use the Second Amendment as a stand-in for constitutional principles that SCOTUS has abandoned.

If that’s the strategy, it carries real risks.  Most obviously, this approach risks legitimizing a sweeping and lethal interpretation of the Second Amendment during an epidemic of gun violence in America.  Liberal support for an expansive right to bear arms could entrench decisions like Bruen, contributing to their status as “settled” precedent that will be harder to overturn in the future.  In 2023, though, progressive judges must take their wins wherever they can find them.  Only they can decide whether the trade-offs are worth it.

A few prior related posts:

June 8, 2023 in Gun policy and sentencing, Second Amendment issues, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, June 06, 2023

En banc Third Circuit rules, based on Bruen, that federal felon-in-possession law is unconstitutional when applied to nonviolent, nondangerous offender

Creating a circuit split concerning the lawfulness of a frequently-applied federal gun control provision, the full en banc Third Circuit today found unconstitutional the application of federal felon-in-possession law to a person with a false statement conviction. The majority opinion in Range v. Attorney General, No. 21-2835 (3d Cir. 2023) (available here), runs less than 20 pages, but it is followed by 80+ pages of concurring and dissenting opinions.  (The vote for Range was 11-4.)  Here is how the majority opinion authored by Judge Hardiman concludes:

Our decision today is a narrow one. Bryan Range challenged the constitutionality of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1) only as applied to him given his violation of 62 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 481(a).  Range remains one of “the people” protected by the Second Amendment, and his eligibility to lawfully purchase a rifle and a shotgun is protected by his right to keep and bear arms.  Because the Government has not shown that our Republic has a longstanding history and tradition of depriving people like Range of their firearms, § 922(g)(1) cannot constitutionally strip him of his Second Amendment rights.  We will reverse the judgment of the District Court and remand so the Court can enter a declaratory judgment in favor of Range, enjoin enforcement of § 922(g)(1) against him, and conduct any further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

The longest dissent was is authored by Judge Krause, and here are a few paragraphs of its introduction (with footnotes omitted):

Section 922(g)(1) of the U.S. Code, Title 18, embodies this delicate equilibrium and comports with traditional principles that have guided centuries of legislative judgments as to who can possess firearms.  As Justice Alito has observed, § 922(g) “is no minor provision.  It probably does more to combat gun violence than any other federal law.” And as a “longstanding” and widely accepted aspect of our national gun culture, the federal felon-possession ban — carefully crafted to respect the laws of the states — is the keystone of our national background check system, and has repeatedly been characterized by the Supreme Court as “presumptively lawful.”  Where, as here, the legislature has made a reasonable and considered judgment to disarm those who show disrespect for the law, it is not the place of unelected judges to substitute that judgment with their own.

Yet today’s majority brushes aside these realities and the seismic effect of its ruling.  It is telling that, although it describes itself as limited “to Range’s situation,” today’s opinion is not designated non-precedential as appropriate for a unique individual case, but has precedential status, necessarily reaching beyond the particular facts presented.  It is also telling that it tracks precisely the Fifth Circuit’s deeply disturbing opinion in United States v. Rahimi, which, finding no precise historical analogue, struck down as unconstitutional the ban on gun possession by domestic abusers.  And in the process, the majority creates a circuit split with the Eighth Circuit’s recent opinion in United States v. Jackson, which rejected the notion of “felony-by-felony litigation” and recognized that “Congress acted within the historical tradition when it enacted § 922(g)(1) and the prohibition on possession of firearms by felons.”

Though the federal government would normally seek certiorari review of this kind of ruling, I wonder if the feds might seek to urge the Supreme Court to take up a different case raising the same issue.  Bryan Range's case seems particularly sympathetic, as he was only convicted nearly three decades ago of making a false statement to obtain food stamps in violation of Pennsylvania law.  But, whatever the vehicle, the constitutionality of Section 922(g)(1) is clearly one (of a number of) post-Bruen Second Amendment issues the Supreme Court is going to have to confront.

June 6, 2023 in Collateral consequences, Gun policy and sentencing, Second Amendment issues | Permalink | Comments (15)

Friday, June 02, 2023

Eighth Circuit panel rejects constitutional challenge to federal felon-in-possession prohibition

An Eighth Circuit panel today issued a significant ruling rejecting a federal criminal defendant's claim that "he had a constitutional right under the Second Amendment to possess a firearm as a convicted felon."  The ruling in US v. Jackson, No. 22-2870 (8th Cir. June 2, 2023) (available here), should be read in full by anyone following post-Bruen jurisprudence closely.  Here are some excepts from the opinion: 

ackson also appeals the district court’s denial of his motion to dismiss the indictment.  He argues that § 922(g)(1) is unconstitutional as applied to him, because his drug offenses were “non-violent” and do not show that he is more dangerous than the typical law-abiding citizen.

We conclude that the district court was correct that § 922(g)(1) is not unconstitutional as applied to Jackson based on his particular felony convictions.  The Supreme Court has said that nothing in District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008), which recognized an individual right to keep and bear arms, “should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons.” Id. at 626; see McDonald v. City of Chicago, 561 U.S. 742, 786 (2010) (plurality opinion).  The decision in Bruen, which reaffirmed that the right is “subject to certain reasonable, well-defined restrictions,” 142 S. Ct. at 2156, did not disturb those statements or cast doubt on the prohibitions. See id. at 2157 (Alito, J., concurring); id. at 2162 (Kavanaugh, J., concurring, joined by Roberts, C.J.); id. at 2189 (Breyer, J., dissenting, joined by Sotomayor and Kagan, JJ.).  Given these assurances by the Supreme Court, and the history that supports them, we conclude that there is no need for felony-by-felony litigation regarding the constitutionality of § 922(g)(1).

History shows that the right to keep and bear arms was subject to restrictions that included prohibitions on possession by certain groups of people.  There appear to be two schools of thought on the basis for these regulations.  A panel of the Third Circuit recently surveyed the history in light of Bruen and concluded that legislatures have longstanding authority and discretion to disarm citizens who are not “lawabiding” — i.e., those who are “unwilling to obey the government and its laws, whether or not they had demonstrated a propensity for violence.” Range v. Att’y Gen., 53 F.4th 262, 269 (3d Cir. 2022) (per curiam), vacated, reh’g en banc granted, 56 F.4th 992 (3d Cir. 2023).  Jackson contends that a legislature’s traditional authority is narrower and limited to prohibiting possession of firearms by those who are deemed more dangerous than a typical law-abiding citizen.  While the better interpretation of the history may be debatable, we conclude that either reading supports the constitutionality of § 922(g)(1) as applied to Jackson and other convicted felons, because the law “is consistent with the Nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation.” Bruen, 142 S. Ct. at 2130....

In sum, we conclude that legislatures traditionally employed status-based restrictions to disqualify categories of persons from possessing firearms.  Whether those actions are best characterized as restrictions on persons who deviated from legal norms or persons who presented an unacceptable risk of dangerousness, Congress acted within the historical tradition when it enacted § 922(g)(1) and the prohibition on possession of firearms by felons.  Consistent with the Supreme Court’s assurances that recent decisions on the Second Amendment cast no doubt on the constitutionality of laws prohibiting the possession of firearms by felons, we conclude that the statute is constitutional as applied to Jackson.  The district court properly denied the motion to dismiss the indictment.

June 2, 2023 in Gun policy and sentencing, Second Amendment issues | Permalink | Comments (19)

Monday, May 15, 2023

SCOTUS grants cert in ACCA cases to address prior drug convictions as predicates for 15-year mandatory minimum

As predicted in this recent post, the Supreme Court today in this morning's SCOTUS order list granted cert in a pair of cases (which were consolidated) raising another question regarding the application of the Armed Career Criminal Act's mandatory minimum 15-year prison term for illegal gun possession.  The cases are Brown v. US, No. 22-6389 and Jackson v. US, No. 22-6640, and here are links to the Brown cert petition and the Jackson cert petition.  Here is the "Question Presented" from the Brown petition:

The Armed Career Criminal Act provides that felons who possess a firearm are normally subject to a maximum 10-year sentence.  But if the felon already has at least three “serious drug offense” convictions, then the minimum sentence is fifteen years. 

Courts decide whether a prior state conviction counts as a serious drug offense using the categorical approach. That requires determining whether the elements of a state drug offense are the same as, or narrower than those of its federal counterpart.  If so, the state conviction qualifies as an ACCA predicate.

But federal drug law often changes — as here, where Congress decriminalized hemp, narrowing the federal definition of marijuana.  If state law doesn’t follow suit, sentencing courts face a categorical conundrum.  Under an earlier version of federal law, the state and federal offenses match — and the state offense is an ACCA predicate.  Under the amended version, the offenses do not match — and the state offense is not an ACCA predicate.  So the version of federal law that the court chooses to consult dictates the difference between serving a 10-year maximum or a 15-year minimum.

The question presented is:

Which version of federal law should a sentencing court consult under ACCA’s categorical approach?

UPDATE: A helpful reader made sure I did not overlook the fact that a different drug is at issue in the Jackson case.  At issue in that case is the status of a conviction that came before 2015 when "the federal government removed ioflupane I123 from the federal drug schedules."  

May 15, 2023 in Gun policy and sentencing, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (3)

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

Another federal judge finds Second Amendment violation in federal law criminalizing marijuana users from gun possession

Tihs new Marijuana Moment piece, headlined "Another Federal Court Rules That Banning Marijuana Consumers From Possessing Guns Is Unconstitutional," reports on another notable new post-Bruen ruling finding a provision of federal criminal gun control laws to be unconstitutional.  Here are the basics:

Another federal court has ruled that banning people who use marijuana from possessing firearms is unconstitutional—and it said that the same legal principle also applies to the sale and transfer of guns, too.

The Justice Department has recently found itself in several courts attempting to defend the cannabis firearms ban, and its arguments have faced increased scrutiny in light of broader precedent-setting Second Amendment cases that generally make it more difficult to impose gun restrictions.

Now the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas has weighed in, delivering a win to Paola Connelly, an El Paso resident who was convicted of separate charges for possessing and transferring a firearm in 2021 while admitting to being a cannabis consumer.

Judge Kathleen Cardone granted a motion for reconsideration of the case and ultimately dismissed the charges last week. While the court previously issued the conviction, it said that a more recent ruling in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit warranted a reevaluation. That case relied on U.S. Supreme Court precedent finding that any firearm restrictions must be consistent with the historical context of the Second Amendment’s original 1791 ratification.

The Supreme Court ruling has been central to several challenges against the gun ban for cannabis consumers. For this latest federal district court case, the Bush-appointed judge disputed the Justice Department’s attempts to assert historical analogues to the marijuana ban, including comparisons to laws against using guns while intoxicated from alcohol and possession by people deemed “unvirtuous.”

Further, the court said that because simple cannabis possession would only rise to a misdemeanor under federal law, “any historical tradition of disarming ‘unlawful’ individuals does not support disarming Connelly for her alleged marijuana use.” Notably, the judge also cited the fact that President Joe Biden issued a mass pardon last year for people who’ve committed federal marijuana possession offenses.

The full 32-page opinion in US v. Connelly, No. EP-22-CR-229(2)-KC (W.D. Tex. April 6, 2023), is available at this link.   Footnote 8 of the opinion highlights the split of authority within the Fifith Circuit on this topic:

District courts in the Fifth Circuit have upheld § 922(g)(3) against Second Amendment challenges post-Bruen, largely employing these broader traditions. See United States v. Black, --- F. Supp. 3d ----, 2023 WL 122920, at *34 (W.D. La. Jan. 6, 2023); United States v. Sanchez, --- F. Supp. 3d ----, 2022 WL 17815116, at *3 (W.D. Tex. Dec. 19, 2022); United States v. Daniels, 610 F. Supp. 3d 892, 89597 (S.D. Miss. 2022). The Court respectfully disagrees with these cases for the reasons detailed below.  Further, the Court notes that all three of these cases predated the Fifth Circuit's deciison in Rahimi, which cast doubt on the applicability of these broader historical traditions to § 922(g)(3).  See 61 F.4th at 45051, 453. 

Some (of many) prior recent related posts:

April 11, 2023 in Gun policy and sentencing, Second Amendment issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 20, 2023

With DOJ asking, will SCOTUS quickly take up a post-Bruen case on gun possession by those subject to DV orders?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by the interesting news that the feds have now filed a cert petition seeking review of the Fifth Circuit panel ruling in US v. Rahimi (first discussed here). The Rahimi opinion declared unconstitutional 18 USC § 922(g)(8)'s prohibition on gun possession by those subject to certain domestic-violence protective orders.

Notably, the government could have sought en banc review, but decided to seek cert. And within the petition, the government explains that, due to "the significant disruptive consequences of the Fifth Circuit’s decision, the government is filing this petition for a writ of certiorari on a highly expedited schedule — a little more than two weeks after the issuance of the Fifth Circuit’s final amended opinion — in order to allow the Court to consider the petition before it recesses for the summer."  This Hill article provides some details:

The government argued in the petition that the Fifth Circuit “overlooked the strong historical evidence supporting the general principle that the government may disarm dangerous individuals,” instead dismissing each historical example on the grounds that it differed from the law “in some way.”

“Although courts interpreting the Second Amendment must consider text, history, and tradition, they should not focus on whether the law at issue has ‘a historical twin,’” the DOJ said. “To the contrary, this Court emphasized that ‘even if a modern-day regulation is not a dead ringer for historical precursors, it still may be analogous enough to pass constitutional muster.’”

The Justice Department's full cert petition is available at this link.  It should be quite interesting to see if SCOTUS decides to take up the case on an expedited basis even before there is a direct circuit split.  Notably, as discussed in this prior post, the Supreme Court's landmark Bruen decision has already created considerable legal uncertainty for a variety of federal gun control laws.  As suggested before, because numerous lower-court rulings are striking down numerous federal criminal laws, I suspect the Justices will get back to these Second Amendment matters pretty soon.   But "pretty soon" in Supreme Court timelines does not really mean "soon," so I would be eager to hear reader thoughts about when Rahimi or perhaps other cases may end up on the SCOTUS docket.

Some (of many) prior recent related posts:

March 20, 2023 in Gun policy and sentencing, Second Amendment issues, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (29)

Monday, February 20, 2023

How long until the Supreme Court takes up another Second Amendment case after Bruen?

As detailed in a number of prior posts, the Supreme Court's landmark Bruen Second Amendment decision has created considerable legal uncertainty, especially for various federal gun control laws.   And, as two recent press pieces highlight, it seems like only a matter of time, given the lower-court churn over application of Bruen, before the Justices are going to have to engage with all the post-Bruen jurisprudence.

From the AP, "Turmoil in courts on gun laws in wake of justices’ ruling."  An excerpt:

Courts in recent months have declared unconstitutional federal laws designed to keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers, felony defendants and people who use marijuana.  Judges have shot down a federal ban on possessing guns with serial numbers removed and gun restrictions for young adults in Texas and have blocked the enforcement of Delaware’s ban on the possession of homemade “ghost guns.”

In several instances, judges looking at the same laws have come down on opposite sides on whether they are constitutional in the wake of the conservative Supreme Court majority’s ruling.  The legal turmoil caused by the first major gun ruling in a decade will likely force the Supreme Court to step in again soon to provide more guidance for judges.

From USA Today, "As nation reels from Michigan State shooting, courts wrestle with access to guns."  An excerpt:

The Supreme Court has said a lot recently about what the Second Amendment means. The next question for the justices may be: Who does it not apply to?

A series of criminal cases percolating in lower federal courts are striking at a question about when the government may deny someone -- such as a person convicted of a nonviolent felony -- access to a gun.  Experts on both sides of the gun debate say the question is likely to make its way to the Supreme Court soon.

For various reasons, I suspect the Justices will be inclined to avoid taking up these matters for as long as possible.  It was, after all, a dozen years between the the last major Second Amendment ruling (McDonald) and Bruen.  But, in part because numerous lower-court rulings are striking down numerous federal criminal laws, I suspect the Justices will have to get back to these matters pretty soon. 

"Pretty soon" in Supreme Court timelines likely still means a year or two, perhaps even longer. But I welcome in the comments any and all predictions as to when, and what kind of, a case ultimately serves as the vehicle for SCOTUS to clarify just where Bruen will take Second Amendment jurisprudence.

February 20, 2023 in Gun policy and sentencing, Second Amendment issues, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (25)

Wednesday, February 08, 2023

After recent wave of notable rulings, a wave of new Second Amendment commentary

When the Supreme Court's landmark ruling in Bruen recast the Second Amendment entirely around "the Nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation," I had an inkling that a new originalist jurisprudence might prove quite disruptive to a number of federal criminal laws (see post-Bruen posts here and here).  With recent notable rulings finding unconstitutional the gun possession prohibitions in § 922(g)(3) and § 922(g)(8), I have seen a number of new commentaries discussing Second Amendment jurisprudence after Bruen:

From Law & Liberty, "Implementing Bruen"

From Salon, "Phony constitutional 'originalism' is likely to kill women after Second Amendment decision"

From Slate, "Brett Kavanaugh May Have Quietly Sabotaged Clarence Thomas’ Extreme Gun Ruling"

From The Trace, "Bruen Takes Gun Law Back to a Time Before ‘Domestic Violence’"

From the Washington Examiner, "Reefer madness: Second Amendment gun rights shouldn’t go to pot"

Also, the latest episode of one of my favorite the legal podcasts, Advisory Opinions, takes a deep dive into modern Second Amendment jurisprudence in this pod titled "The Problem With 'History and Tradition'."

February 8, 2023 in Gun policy and sentencing, Second Amendment issues, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, February 05, 2023

Federal judge declares federal law criminalizing marijuana users from gun possession violates Second Amendment

In a post last summer right after the Supreme Court's landmark Second Amendment ruling, I wondered "Are broad drug user gun dispossession statutes now constitutionally suspect after Bruen?".  In that post, I flagged the notably broad provision of federal firearms law, 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(3), which categorically criminalizes any gun possession by anyone who is an "unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance."  I also noted that, in an era in which marijuana use is legal for medical or recreational use in the vast majority of states but still is federal prohibited, this broad federal criminal "unlawful user" gun dispossession statute could function to criminalize the behaviors of tens of millions of gun-owning Americans.

As detailed in this Reuters article, at least one federal judge had decided that the answer to my query is yes, § 922(g)(3) is constitutionally problematic.  Here is how the article describes the ruling: 

A federal law prohibiting marijuana users from possessing firearms is unconstitutional, a federal judge in Oklahoma has concluded, citing last year's U.S. Supreme Court ruling that significantly expanded gun rights.  U.S. District Judge Patrick Wyrick, an appointee of former Republican President Donald Trump in Oklahoma City, on Friday dismissed an indictment against a man charged in August with violating that ban, saying it infringed his right to bear arms under the U.S. Constitution's Second Amendment.

Wyrick said that while the government can protect the public from dangerous people possessing guns, it could not argue Jared Harrison's "mere status as a user of marijuana justifies stripping him of his fundamental right to possess a firearm."  He said using marijuana was "not in and of itself a violent, forceful, or threatening act," and noted that Oklahoma is one of a number of states where the drug, still illegal under federal law, can be legally bought for medical uses.

"The mere use of marijuana carries none of the characteristics that the Nation's history and tradition of firearms regulation supports," Wyrick wrote. Laura Deskin, a public defender representing Harrison, said the ruling was a "step in the right direction for a large number of Americans who deserve the right to bear arms and protect their homes just like any other American."

The full opinion in this case from Judge Wyrick, which runs 54 pages with nearly 200 footnotes, is available at this link.  I am inclined to expect that the US Justice Department will plan to appeal this decision to the Tenth Circuit, and Judge Wyrick's thorough opinion will surely give litigants on any appeal and perhaps elsewhere in the country a lot of chew on.

Some (of many) prior recent related posts:

February 5, 2023 in Gun policy and sentencing, Second Amendment issues | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, February 02, 2023

Fifth Circuit panel declares unconstitutional federal prohibition on firearm possession for someone subject to domestic violence restraining order

A Fifth Circuit panel handed down today another big post-Bruen ruling declaring that the Second Amendment renders unconstitutional a federal prohibition on firearm possession for certain disfavored individuals.  The ruling today in US v. Rahimi, No. 21-11001 (5th Cir. Feb. 2, 2023) (available here), gets started this way:

The question presented in this case is not whether prohibiting the possession of firearms by someone subject to a domestic violence restraining order is a laudable policy goal.  The question is whether 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(8), a specific statute that does so, is constitutional under the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution.  In the light of N.Y. State Rifle & Pistol Ass’n, Inc. v. Bruen, 142 S. Ct. 2111 (2022), it is not.

Zackey Rahimi levies a facial challenge to § 922(g)(8). The district court and a prior panel upheld the statute, applying this court’s pre-Bruen precedent. See United States v. Rahimi, No. 21-11011, 2022 WL 2070392 at *1 n.1 (5th Cir. June 8, 2022).  Rahimi filed a petition for rehearing en banc; while the petition was pending, the Supreme Court decided Bruen.  The prior panel withdrew its opinion and requested supplemental briefing on the impact of that case on this one.  Considering the issue afresh, we conclude that Bruen requires us to re-evaluate our Second Amendment jurisprudence and that under Bruen, § 922(g)(8) fails to pass constitutional muster. We therefore reverse the district court’s ruling to the contrary and vacate Rahimi’s conviction.

Here are a few of many notable passages from the opinion:

Under the Government’s reading, Congress could remove “unordinary” or “irresponsible” or “nonlaw abiding” people — however expediently defined — from the scope of the Second Amendment. Could speeders be stripped of their right to keep and bear arms? Political nonconformists? People who do not recycle or drive an electric vehicle? One easily gets the point: Neither Heller nor Bruen countenances such a malleable scope of the Second Amendment’s protections; to the contrary, the Supreme Court has made clear that “the Second Amendment right is exercised individually and belongs to all Americans,” Heller, 554 U.S. at 581.  Rahimi, while hardly a model citizen, is nonetheless part of the political community entitled to the Second Amendment’s guarantees, all other things equal....

The Government fails to demonstrate that § 922(g)(8)’s restriction of the Second Amendment right fits within our Nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation.  The Government’s proffered analogues falter under one or both of the metrics the Supreme Court articulated in Bruen as the baseline for measuring “relevantly similar” analogues: “how and why the regulations burden a law-abiding citizen’s right to armed self-defense.” Id.  As a result, § 922(g)(8) falls outside the class of firearm regulations countenanced by the Second Amendment.

Some (of many) prior recent related posts:

UPDATE: This AP article about the Rahimi ruling provides a bit more context concerning the decision and also includes an official reaction from US Attorney General:

The U.S. Justice Department Thursday night issued the following statement from Attorney General Merrick B. Garland following the decision: “Nearly 30 years ago, Congress determined that a person who is subject to a court order that restrains him or her from threatening an intimate partner or child cannot lawfully possess a firearm.  Whether analyzed through the lens of Supreme Court precedent, or of the text, history, and tradition of the Second Amendment, that statute is constitutional.  Accordingly, the Department will seek further review of the Fifth Circuit’s contrary decision.”

Seeking "further review," I suspect, will involve the Department of Justice first requesting en banc consideration of this panel decision in the Fifth Circuit.  If that does not happen, I would expect DOJ would then seek Supreme Court review.  Interestingly, were SCOTUS to take up this case (or any similar ones) anytime in 2023, we could reasonably expect another major Second Amendment ruling in the run up to the 2024 election.

February 2, 2023 in Gun policy and sentencing, Offense Characteristics, Second Amendment issues, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (32)

Monday, January 16, 2023

Another look at some of the post-Bruen Second Amendment uncertainty

Folks who follow Second Amendment jurisprudence know that the Supreme Court's landmark ruling in Bruen last summer has created  lots of notable new questions and constitutional uncertainty concerning an array of gun control measures.  And folks who follow this blog know that I find especially interesting the legal debates over the constitutionality of various laws criminalizing gun posession by persons with certain prior convictions or other criminal-justice involvement.  So I wanted to flag some notable recent press coverage of these issues:

From ABC News, "Supreme Court decision creates confusion over which firearm restrictions are constitutional"

From the Brunswick News, "Should nonviolent crimes cost a man his 2nd Amendment rights?"

From Reuters, "Federal public defenders seek end to several gun restrictions"

I think it might only be a matter or when, not if, the Supreme Court has to take up the issue of th constitutionality of at least some felon-in-possession bans.  But when might be many years from now. 

Some (of many) prior recent related posts:

January 16, 2023 in Gun policy and sentencing, Second Amendment issues, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (2)

Monday, January 09, 2023

En banc Third Circuit to reconsider constitutionality of § 922(g)(1)'s felon-in-possession gun prohibition after Bruen

In this post two months ago, I noted the lengthy per curiam Third Circuit panel opinion in Range v. Garland, No. 21-2835 (3d Cir. Nov. 16, 2022) (available here), which concluded that a person convicted of state welfare fraud was "outside the class of people traditionally entitled to Second Amendment rights" and upheld felon disarmament under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1) against a Second Amendment challenge.  This Range opinion was the first big circuit opinion addressing felon gun dispossession under federal law after the landmark Supreme Court Bruen ruling changes Second Amendment jurisprudence. 

But Second Amendment law is Range free: via this order entered this past Friday, the full Third Circuit decided that this panel opinion in Range is to be vacated as the case will be reheard en banc (with oral argument scheduled for February 15, 2023).  I do not know enough about the particulars of all the Third Circuit judges to make confident predictions about how Range will be resolved after en banc reconsideration.  But, generally speaking, full circuits do not take up issues en banc when most of the judges are generally content with the panel outcome.  Consequently, I can confidently predict this case is one worth watching closely and one that might make for some notable new Second Amendment law.

Some (of many) prior recent related posts:

January 9, 2023 in Collateral consequences, Gun policy and sentencing, Second Amendment issues, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (3)

Monday, December 05, 2022

Some news and commentary amid the continuing Bruen brouhaha over the Second Amendment

Regular readers likely recall my series of posts right after the Supreme Court's big Second Amendment decision Bruen (basics here) in which I suggested that a number of broad federal criminal firearm prohibitions might be subject to new constitutional challenges (see posts here are here).  We are not quite at the six months mark since Bruen, but I have already chronicled in a number of subsequent posts a number of notable rulings applying Bruen to strike down a number of gun control measures.  Not surprisingly, many folks are also taking note of these developments, and just this past week has brought plenty of notable news and commentary on this front that seemed worth rounding up:

From The Conversation, "A judge in Texas is using a recent Supreme Court ruling to say domestic abusers can keep their guns"

From The Hill, "Is the Supreme Court turning the Constitution into a homicide pact?"

From Syracuse.com, "Can you bring a gun to the zoo?  On a bus?  Syracuse judge eagerly rewrites NY firearms law"

From the Wall Street Journal, "States Advancing Gun-Control Proposals Face Legal Uncertainty: Questions remain for lawmakers, courts on forbidding the carrying of firearms in ‘sensitive places’"

December 5, 2022 in Gun policy and sentencing, Second Amendment issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Third Circuit panel upholds constitutionality § 922(g)(1)'s felon-in-possession gun prohibition after Bruen

A Third Circuit panel today issued the first major circuit ruling upholding the constitutionality of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1), federal laws categorical prohibition on felons possession of firearms or ammunition since the SUpreme Court's landmark Second Amendment ruling in Bruen. Here is how the 50-page, per curiam panel opinion in Range v. Garland, No. 21-2835 (3d Cir. Nov. 16, 2022) (available here), starts and concludes:

In District of Columbia v. Heller, the Supreme Court held that “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms,” enshrined in the Second Amendment, is an individual right. 554 U.S. 570, 595 (2008). While the precise contours of that individual right are still being defined, the Court has repeatedly stated that it did not question the “longstanding prohibition[] on the possession of firearms by felons.” Id. at 626.

Appellant Bryan Range falls in that category, having pleaded guilty to the felony-equivalent charge of welfare fraud under 62 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 481(a).  He now brings an as-applied challenge to 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1), contending that his disarmament is inconsistent with the text and history of the Second Amendment and is therefore unconstitutional under New York State Rifle & Pistol Ass’n, Inc. v. Bruen, 142 S. Ct. 2111 (2022).  We disagree.  Based on history and tradition, we conclude that “the people” constitutionally entitled to bear arms are the “law-abiding, responsible citizens” of the polity, id. at 2131, a category that properly excludes those who have demonstrated disregard for the rule of law through the commission of felony and felony-equivalent offenses, whether or not those crimes are violent. Additionally, we conclude that even if Range falls within “the people,” the Government has met its burden to demonstrate that its prohibition is consistent with historical tradition.  Accordingly, because Range’s felony-equivalent conviction places him outside the class of people traditionally entitled to Second Amendment rights, and because the Government has shown the at-issue prohibition is consistent with historical tradition, we will affirm the District Court’s summary judgment in favor of the Government....

We have conducted a historical review as required by Bruen and we conclude that Range, by illicitly taking welfare money through fraudulent misrepresentation of his income, has demonstrated a rejection of the interests of the state and of the community.  He has committed an offense evincing disrespect for the rule of law.  As such, his disarmament under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1) is consistent with the Nation’s history and tradition of firearm regulation.

Some prior recent related posts:

November 16, 2022 in Collateral consequences, Gun policy and sentencing, Second Amendment issues | Permalink | Comments (15)

Another district court finds § 922(n), which criminalizes a person under indictment from receiving a firearm, to be unconstitutional

In this post from a couple of months ago, I noted the notable 25-page ruling in US v. Quiroz, No. PE:22-CR-00104-DC (W.D. Tex. Sept. 19, 2022) (available here), in which a federal district court in Texas decided that Bruen renders § 922(n) unconstitutional.  As of earlier this week, another federal district court, this one in Oklahoma, formally agreed.  Here is the start and conclusion of the 12-page opinion in US v. Stambaugh, No. CR-22-00218-PRW-2 (W.D. Ok. Nov. 14, 2022) (available here):

Before the Court is Defendant Stolynn Shane Stambaugh’s Motion to Dismiss Count 3 of the Indictment as Unconstitutional (Dkt. 31) and the United States’ Response in Opposition (Dkt. 38). Stambaugh seeks to dismiss Count 3 — Receipt of a Firearm by a Person Under Indictment, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(n) — on grounds that § 922(n), as applied to him, violates the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution.  The motion has been briefed and heard. For the reasons explained below, the Court GRANTS Stambaugh’s motion (Dkt. 31)....

A historical analogue to support constitutional applications of § 922(n) might well exist, but the United States hasn’t pointed to it.  And because it is the United States’ burden to demonstrate that laws like § 922(n) are “part of the historical tradition that delimits the outer bounds of the right to keep and bear arms,” that failure is fatal.  While the United States needed not find a “historical twin,” surety laws and § 922(n) are simply not “analogous enough to pass constitutional muster,” particularly not in a case like this, where there is nothing in the record to support the United States’ contention that Stambaugh is categorically a “dangerous person” merely because he was indicted for larceny. Accordingly, the Court finds that § 922(n) is unconstitutional as applied to Stambaugh and therefore GRANTS his motion to dismiss Count 3 of the Indictment.

Some prior recent related posts:

November 16, 2022 in Gun policy and sentencing, Second Amendment issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, November 12, 2022

New district court opinion "holds that § 922(g)(8) is unconstitutional under Bruen's framework"

A few months ago, in a series of posts right after the Supreme Court's big Second Amendment decision Bruen (basics here), I suggested that a number of broad federal criminal firearm prohibitions might be subject to new constitutional challenges (see posts here are here).  I focused on how the Bruen court's recasting of Second Amendment analysis might impact the federal felon-in-possession statute, 18 USC § 922(g)(1) and the federal drug-user-in-possession statute, 18 USC § 922(g)(3).  Interestingly, as detailed in prior posts here and here, a few district courts have already declared other parts of § 922 unconstitutional.  And this past week a new opinion adds § 922(g)(8) to the post-Bruen carnage.

Title 18 USC § 922(g)(8) makes it a federal crime for any person to possess a firearm while subject to a domstic violence restraining order.  In his opinion in US v. Perez-Gallan, No. PE:22-CR-00427-DC (SD Texas Nov. 10, 2022) (available here), US District Judge David Counts works through Bruen analysis to conclude "that § 922(g)(8) is unconstitutional under Bruen's framework." The opinion is 30+ pages long, and it starts and ends this way:

Before Bruen, the Second Amendment looked like an abandoned cabin in the woods.  A knot of vines, weeds, and roots, left unkempt for decades, crawling up the cabin’s sides as if pulling it under the earth.  Firearm regulations are that overgrowth.  Starting with the Federal Firearms Act in 1938, laws were passed with little — if any — consideration given to their constitutionality.  That is, until the Supreme Court intervened in Bruen.

No longer can lower courts account for public policy interests, historical analysis being the only tool.  But after growing unchecked for almost 100 years, today’s tangle of gun laws has left lower courts with a gordian knot.  And after engaging with this Nation’s tradition of firearm regulations several times already, the Court’s unanswered question is whether Bruen demands lower courts manicure the Second Amendment’s landscape by scalpel or chainsaw....

How strictly or flexibly a court reads Bruen impacts its conclusion.  Bruen’s mandate is that a gun regulation’s constitutionality hinge solely on the historical inquiry.  According to Bruen, that can be this Court’s only consideration. The Court concedes, therefore, that a court reading Bruen strictly could have arguably stopped after Section IV of this Opinion.

That said, this Court embraces Bruen’s charge.  Thus, after sifting through the history above, this Court finds that the Government did not prove that § 922(g)(8) aligns with this Nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation and declines the Government’s invitation to insert its own public policy concerns rather than following Bruen.  As a result, the Court holds that § 922(g)(8) is unconstitutional under Bruen’s framework.

Some prior recent related posts:

November 12, 2022 in Gun policy and sentencing, Second Amendment issues, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (8)

Monday, October 31, 2022

"Guns, Mass Incarceration, and Bipartisan Reform: Beyond Vicious Circle and Social Polarization"

The title of this post is the the title of this new paper authored by Mugambi Jouet now available via SSRN.  Here is its abstract:

Gun violence in modern America persists in the face of irreconcilable views on gun control and the right to bear arms.  Yet one area of agreement between Democrats and Republicans has received insufficient attention: punitiveness as a means of gun control.  The United States has gravitated toward a peculiar social model combining extremely loose regulations on guns and extremely harsh penalties on gun crime.  If someone possesses a gun illegally or carries one when committing another crime, such as burglary or drug dealing, draconian mandatory minimums can apply.  These circumstances exemplify root causes of mass incarceration: overreliance on prisons in reaction to social problems and unforgiving punishments for those labeled as “violent” criminals.  Contrary to widespread misconceptions, mass incarceration does not primarily stem from locking up petty, nonviolent offenders caught in the “War on Drugs.”  Most prisoners are serving time for violent offenses.  Steep sentence enhancements for crimes involving guns illustrate how American justice revolves around counterproductive, costly practices that disproportionately impact minorities.

This multidisciplinary Article envisions future reforms with the capacity to transcend America’s bitter polarization.  A precondition to change is not for conservatives and liberals to wholeheartedly agree on issues like systemic racism or the right to bear arms.  Rather, possibilities for penal reform are likelier when each side can come to the negotiating table for its own reasons.  A paradigm shift in conservative America may prove especially indispensable, as Republicans tend to be more supportive of harsh punishments and Democrats are unlikely to achieve reform nationwide on party-line votes.  This shift has already occurred to an extent given the rise of penal reform in red states.  But both conservatives and liberals have failed to significantly reduce mass incarceration by recurrently excluding “violent” offenders from reform initiatives.

The Article explores how conservatives and liberals could gradually converge toward sentencing reform on gun crime.  This could ultimately have a ripple effect on American sentencing norms, leading them closer to those of Western democracies with more effective and humane penal systems.  Such bipartisanship is less elusive than it might seem.  A rehabilitative approach toward gun crime fits with the evolution of American conservatism, which believes that guns should not be vilified since they are part of the nation’s identity.  Similarly, the rehabilitation of people convicted of gun crime is consistent with cornerstones of modern American liberalism, namely stricter gun control and opposition to mass incarceration as an unjust, racist system.  As opposite sides will probably retain much of their worldview even if their perspectives evolve to a degree, new ways of thinking could help bring reformers together.  These social transformations cannot be predicted but should be theorized.

October 31, 2022 in Elections and sentencing issues in political debates, Gun policy and sentencing, Second Amendment issues, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 13, 2022

Notable new district court opinion strikes down federal serial number law but upholds felon possession ban applying Bruen

A helpful reader sent me this morning an interesting new federal district court opinion concerning Second Amendment limits on a couple of federal criminal laws.  Here is how the opinion in US v. Price, No. 2:22-cr-00097 (SD WV Oct. 12, 2022) (available here), gets started:

The question before the court is whether 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1), which prohibits felons from possessing firearms, and 18 U.S.C. § 922(k), which prohibits possession of a firearm with an altered, obliterated, or removed serial number, are constitutional after the Supreme Court’s recent decision in New York State Rifle & Pistol Ass’n v. Bruen, 142 S. Ct. 2111 (2022). After considering the arguments presented here, I find that Section 922(g)(1) is constitutional, but I find that Section 922(k) is not.  For the following reasons, Mr. Price’s motion to dismiss the indictment against him is GRANTED as to Count Two and DENIED as to Count One.

Based on my first quick read of this opinion, I am not sure I am wholly convinced by the analysis driving either part of the ruling.  But I am neither a Second Amendment expert nor a historian, so what do I know about such matter (other than Bruen continues to provide a basis for a lot of new arguments against a lot of federal criminal laws).

Of course, the rejection of a Bruen-based attacks on felon-in-possession prohibition is already become quite common.  As the Price opinion notes "Relying on the same ['law-abiding'] dicta in the wake of Bruen, at least nine federal district courts have rejected constitutional challenges to Section 922(g)(1)."  What still seems notable here is that the author of this opinion, District Judge Joseph Goodwin, reads Bruen to require him to strike down another part of 18 U.S.C. § 922 while making this point: "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."  Price, Slip op. at 14. 

October 13, 2022 in Gun policy and sentencing, Second Amendment issues | Permalink | Comments (24)

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

District Court declares § 922(n), which criminalizes a person under indictment from receiving a firearm, to be unconstitutional

A few months ago, in a series of posts right after the Supreme Court's big Second Amendment decision Bruen (basics here), I suggested that a number of broad federal criminal firearm prohibitions might be subject to new constitutional challenges.  Specifically, I focused on how the Bruen court's recasting of Second Amendment analysis might impact the federal felon-in-possession statute, 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1) and the federal drug-user-in-possession statute, 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(3) (see posts linked below).  Interestingly, I did not even think about how Bruen might impact another federal firearm prohibition provision, 18 U.S.C. § 922(n), which criminalizes a person under indictment from receiving a firearm. Yesterday, as detailed in this AP article, a federal district court in Texas decided that Bruen renders § 922(n) unconstitutional:

A U.S. law banning those under felony indictments from buying guns is unconstitutional, a federal judge in West Texas ruled Monday.  U.S. District Judge David Counts, whom then-President Donald Trump appointed to the federal bench, dismissed a federal indictment against Jose Gomez Quiroz that had charged him under the federal ban....

In a 25-page opinion filed in Pecos, Texas, Counts acknowledged “this case’s real-world consequences — certainly valid public policy and safety concerns exist.”  However, he said a Supreme Court ruling this summer in a challenge brought by the New York Rifle & Pistol Association “framed those concerns solely as a historical analysis.”

“Although not exhaustive, the Court’s historical survey finds little evidence that ... (the federal ban) — which prohibits those under felony indictment from obtaining a firearm — aligns with this Nation’s historical tradition.”

Hence, he ruled the ban unconstitutional as the “Second Amendment is not a ’second class right,” as noted in a 2008 Supreme Court ruling.  ”No longer can courts balance away a constitutional right,” Counts wrote.  After the New York case, “the Government must prove that laws regulating conduct covered by the Second Amendment’s plain text align with this Nation’s historical tradition.  The Government does not meet that burden.”

The full 25-page ruling in US v. Quiroz, PE:22-CR-00104-DC (W.D. Tex. Sept. 19, 2022), is available at this link.  The full opinion is worth a full read, in part for a bits of west Texas flair such as this line: "Some feel that a grand jury could indict a [burrito] if asked to do so." 

Some prior related posts:

September 20, 2022 in Collateral consequences, Gun policy and sentencing, Second Amendment issues | Permalink | Comments (15)

Thursday, August 04, 2022

Will SCOTUS ruling in Bruen function to "defund the police" in order to fund government gun-law lawyers?

The question in the title of this post was my reaction to a particular quote by a gun control advocate in this notable new AP article about all the litigation following the Supreme Court's big Second Amendment ruling in Bruen earlier this summer.  The AP piece is headlined "After Supreme Court ruling, it’s open season on US gun laws," and here are excerpts (with the quote highlighted):

The Supreme Court ruling expanding gun rights threatens to upend firearms restrictions across the country as activists wage court battles over everything from bans on AR-15-style guns to age limits.....  “The gun rights movement has been given a weapon of mass destruction, and it will annihilate approximately 75% of the gun laws eventually,” said Evan Nappen, a New Jersey gun rights attorney.

The court battles come as the Biden administration and police departments across the U.S. struggle to combat a surge in violent crime and mass shootings, including several high-profile killings carried out by suspects who purchased their guns legally. And given the sheer number of cases now working through the courts, a lot more time will be spent in courtrooms no matter who wins.   “We will see a lot of tax dollars and government resources that should be used to stop gun crime being used to defend gun laws that are lifesaving and wildly popular,” said Jonathan Lowry, chief counsel and vice president at Brady, the gun control group....

In its New York ruling, the high court’s conservative majority also changed a test lower courts had used for evaluating challenges to gun laws.  Judges should no longer consider whether the law serves public interests like enhancing public safety, the opinion authored by Justice Clarence Thomas said. Instead, they should only weigh whether the law is “consistent with the Second Amendment’s text and historical understanding.”

“Basically, the Supreme Court has given an invitation for the gun lobby to file lawsuits against virtually every gun law in America,” Lowry said....

The ruling also has come up in challenges to restrictions on gun possession for 18- to 20-year-olds in Texas and Pennsylvania. And it has been cited in a case challenging a federal ban on gun possession for people convicted of nonviolent crimes punishable by more than a year behind bars, as well as a prohibition on concealed guns on the subway in Washington, D.C.  In addition, a gun rights group is suing Colorado over the state’s 2013 ban on magazines that hold more than 15 rounds, saying the high court ruling reinforces the group’s argument that it infringes on Second Amendment rights. And the ruling has public defenders in New York City asking judges to drop gun possession cases.

Not all those lawsuits will necessarily be successful. The Texas attorney general, for example, argues the Supreme Court ruling doesn’t affect the state’s age limit law, and more state and local governments can certainly defend their gun laws as being in line with U.S. history.  Adam Skaggs, chief counsel and policy director at the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, predicted that when the dust settles, only laws “along the margins” will eventually be struck down. “Most judges are going to see these for what they are, which is overreaching and lacking in any merit,” he said.

Just as we saw after prior big Second Amendment rulings in Heller and McDonald, it seems most likely that most existing gun control laws will eventually be upheld by lower courts (even though I think the Bruen majority opinion ought to be read as a strong signal that many more broad  gun laws ought to be deemed constitutionally suspect).  But this AP article highlights the reality that Bruen is sure to lead to a whole lot more time and money being spent on a whole lot more court challenges to a whole lot more existing gun laws and regulations.  I seriously doubt that the resources to be spent on all this Second Amendment litigation will come directly from the budgets for police, but I do think it sensible to expect that more time spent by government lawyers and others trying to defend the constitutionality of various laws likely means, as a practical matter, somewhat less time spent by by government lawyers and others vigorously enforcing these and other laws.

(On a somewhat related front, Damon Root at Reason.com has this notable post fully titled "The New York Times Is Surprised To Find Public Defenders Championing the Second Amendment: Yet the civil rights movement has long had a gun rights component.")

 Prior recent related posts:

August 4, 2022 in Gun policy and sentencing, Second Amendment issues, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 28, 2022

Latest CCJ accounting of crime trends shows good news and bad news for first half of 2022

The Council on Criminal Justice (CCJ) is continuing to do important and timely work on modern crime trends through an on-going series of reports under the heading "Pandemic, Social Unrest, and Crime in U.S. Cities."  The latest version of this report, titled "Pandemic, Social Unrest, and Crime in U.S. Cities: Mid-End 2021 Update," was just released this week and is flagged in this new CCJ press release.  Here is an excerpt:

Murders and gun assaults in major American cities fell slightly during the first half of 2022, while robberies and some property offenses posted double-digit increases, according to a new analysis of crime trends released today by the Council on Criminal Justice (CCJ).

Examining homicides in 23 cities that make data readily available, the study found that the number of murders in the first half of the year dipped by 2% compared to the first half of 2021 (a decrease of 54 homicides in those cities). Gun assaults also fell, by 6%, during the first six months of this year compared to the same timeframe last year, while overall aggravated assault counts rose 4%. Robbery jumped by 19%....

In other findings, trends in most property crimes reversed from the first two years of the pandemic.  Residential burglaries (+6%), nonresidential burglaries (+8%), and larcenies (+20%) all rose in the first half of 2022.  Motor vehicle thefts increased (+15%) but that trend began during the early months of the pandemic.  The number of drug offenses fell in the first half of 2022 (-7%), continuing earlier pandemic patterns.

This CCJ webpage provides a link to the full report and a bit full overview of the report's methodology and key findings.  One can find plenty of heartening and disheartening data in the graphs and other information in this full report.  The recent decline in homicides and gun assaults still leave us a long way from the lower pre-pandemic rates of these harmful crime.  But the recent uptick in various property crimes still leave us well below the higher pre-pandemic rates of these crimes.  And there is still an extraordinary diversity of of crime patterns in cities large and small throughout the US.

July 28, 2022 in Gun policy and sentencing, National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 18, 2022

Spotlighting notable (and constitutionally suspect?) aspects of federal firearm prohibition enforcement

I noted in this post last week the new report from the US Sentencing Commission titled "What Do Federal Firearms Offenses Really Look Like?".  Following up on that report, Jacob Sullum has this interesting post at Reason.com headlined "A New Report Casts Doubt on the Assumption That Gun Law Violators Are a Public Menace: The vast majority of federal firearm offenses involve illegal possession, often without aggravating conduct or a history of violence."  I recommend that post in full, and here are excerpts (with links from the original):

new report on federal firearm offenses shows that the vast majority involve illegal possession, often without aggravating circumstances or a history of violence. The data undermine the assumption that people who violate gun laws are predatory criminals who pose a serious threat to public safety. They also highlight the racially disproportionate impact of such laws, which is especially troubling given their excessive breadth....

[T]he federal prohibition of gun possession by people with felony records (technically, people convicted of crimes punishable by more than a year of incarceration) is a lifetime ban except in rare cases where people manage to have their Second Amendment rights restored.

That policy, which threatens violators with up to 10 years in prison, is hard to justify unless you assume that people convicted of violent crimes cannot be rehabilitated and do not change their ways as they mature.  That assumption does not seem reasonable in light of research indicating that recidivism declines sharply with age.  Yet federal law is based on the premise that, say, a man convicted of assault in his early 20s can never be trusted with a gun, even if he stays out of trouble for decades.  Because of that youthful crime, he forever loses the right to armed self-defense.

Furthermore, the USSC's numbers indicate that two-fifths of firearm offenders had never been convicted of a violent crime.  Many prior convictions involved drug trafficking (31.6 percent) or previous weapon offenses (44.2 percent). Five percent of the defendants were disqualified from owning a gun because they were illegal drug users.  If a decades-old assault conviction seems like a thin pretext for permanently depriving someone of his constitutional rights, a decades-old drug conviction, involving conduct that violated no one's rights, seems even thinner.

The irrationality and injustice of this policy look even worse when you consider the demographics of federal firearm offenders. In FY 2021, 55 percent of them were black. A similar racial disparity is apparent at the state level. According to FBI data, African Americans, who represent about 14 percent of the U.S. population, accounted for 42 percent of arrests for weapon offenses in 2019....  If those restrictions made sense, you might dismiss the disparities, citing cross-racial differences in crime rates.  But those restrictions do not make sense, since they apply to millions of people who either are not currently dangerous or never were.

Importantly, as I have noted in some prior posts linked below, whether or not one agrees with Sullum's policy criticisms of broad federal firearm prohibitions, the constitutionality of some aspects of federal enforcement must be subject to new questions in the wake of the Supreme Court's recent Second Amendment ruling in Bruen.  As I noted in those posts, Bruen makes clear that to "justify its [gun] regulation, the government may not simply posit that the regulation promotes an important interest. Rather, the government must demonstrate that the regulation is consistent with this Nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation."  And the historical record, as I have seen it, seems to make quite debatable whether broad bans on gun possession by non-violent offenders or drug users is "consistent with this Nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation."

Prior recent related posts:

July 18, 2022 in Gun policy and sentencing, Second Amendment issues | Permalink | Comments (19)

Thursday, July 14, 2022

"What Do Federal Firearms Offenses Really Look Like?"

Cover_2022-firearmsThe title of this post is the title of this notable new US Sentencing Commission report. This relatively short report (only 46 pages) is summarized via this USSC webpage providing an "Overview" and a bunch of "Key Findings." Here is that overview and some of the key findings:

This report provides in-depth information on federal firearms offenders sentenced under the primary firearms guideline, §2K2.1. The Commission has published reports on various aspects of firearms offenses, including reports on armed career criminals, mandatory minimum penalties, and firearms offenders’ recidivism rates. The Commission’s prior research shows that firearms offenders are generally younger, have more extensive criminal history, and are more likely to commit a new crime than other offenders. The Commission’s previous research also shows that firearms offenders are more likely than other offenders to engage in violent criminal behavior. This publication continues the Commission’s work and provides detailed information about offenders sentenced under §2K2.1.

July 14, 2022 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Gun policy and sentencing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Is the Bruen Second Amendment ruling really "an important step to ending mass incarceration"?

As highlighted by prior posts here and here, I am intrigued by what Supreme Court's big Bruen ruling (basics here) will mean from Second Amendment jurisprudence and a variety of gun prohibitions.  But the question in the title of this post is prompted by this  Washington Post opinion piece by Aimee Carlisle, Christopher Smith and Michael Alexander Thomas which seems to have particular grand expectations about what Bruen could bring.  Here are excerpts:

As public defenders in New York City who represent people charged with illegal gun possession — people who, according to the New York City Police Department’s own data, are almost invariably Black and Brown — we see the majority’s decision in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen as an important step to ending mass incarceration.  That’s why we joined other public defenders in filing an amicus brief in the case asking the court to abandon its ivory tower and consider the law’s impact on those people who bear the brunt of New York’s gun laws — our clients....

Because possession of an unlicensed, loaded firearm is a “violent felony” under New York law, people with no criminal record who are convicted face a mandatory minimum sentence of 3½ years in prison; the maximum is 15 years.  They can lose their jobs, their housing, their children and, if they are not citizens, their right to live in the United States. All for carrying a gun without ever threatening anyone or pulling the trigger — conduct that in many states is not a crime at all....

Now, following the landmark ruling in Bruen, New York can no longer impose hurdles that render the Second Amendment a fiction.... The solution to gun violence is not imprisoning people simply for carrying a gun — and burdening them with the lifelong consequences that follow.  The only acceptable solution must reject racist intent and impact at every stage.  We must break our addiction to mass incarceration.

The next steps are clear.  Now that the Supreme Court has spoken, prosecutors must dismiss all gun cases that punish people for engaging in constitutionally protected activity and free them from jail.  As state lawmakers weigh their legislative response to the decision, we hope they will finally safeguard New Yorkers’ right to keep and bear arms and create a system free of racism.

I always eager to see our laws move away, in any and every possible way, from unnecessary and excessive incarceration.  And I am hopeful that any and all persons now incarcerated based on criminal laws that Bruen makes constitutional will swiftly get justice pursuant to their constitutional rights.  But there is a long history of legislators, prosecutors and others often working quite hard to restrict which defendants get retroactive relief from major Supreme Court ruling and to find new ways to criminalize a broad swatch of disfavored conduct.  Though Bruen may end up having lots of echoes, I am not certainly expecting it to make a real dent in our nation's incarceration levels.  

Prior recent related posts:

June 29, 2022 in Gun policy and sentencing, Race, Class, and Gender, Scope of Imprisonment, Second Amendment issues, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 27, 2022

Lots of GVRs based on Taylor limiting "crime of violence" for applying 924(c) sentence enhancement

As night follows day, it regularly follows after a significant new Supreme Court decision limiting the reach of a federal criminal statute that a subsequent Supreme Court order list grants, vacates and remands (GVRs) a number of cases "for further consideration in light of" the new decision.  In this morning's order list, the Supreme Court's 7-2 decision last week in US v. Taylor, No. 20–1459 (S. Ct. June 21, 2022) (available here), provides the basis for twenty GVRs.

Because Taylor limited the reach of what serves as a "crime of violence" under 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(3)(A), a statute which impacts whether and when an "individual may face a second felony conviction and years or decades" of additional mandatory imprisonment for having a gun involved in the commission of certain offenses (basics here), I suspect there will be future Taylor GVRs and likely lots of other echoes from the decision.  

Especially in the wake of the Supreme Court's high-profile ruling in Bruen changing the jurisprudence of the Second Amendment (basics here, questions here and here), it is interesting to note that two big wins for criminal defendants this SCOTUS Term came in cases limiting the reach of federal criminal statutes imposing severe mandatory punishments for gun-related offenses.  Though Taylor and Wooden (basics here, analysis here) will not get nearly as much attention as Bruen, for certain folks they will prove even more important.

June 27, 2022 in Gun policy and sentencing, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 24, 2022

Are broad drug user gun dispossession statutes now constitutionally suspect after Bruen?

In this post yesterday, I wondered "Are all broad felon-in-possession criminal gun statutes now constitutionally suspect after Bruen?"  That question was prompted by the fact that the majority opinion in the Supreme Court's big Second Amendment case, Bruen (basics here), seemed to reject lots of recent lower court rulings and jurisprudence regarding the application of the Second Amendment.  Lower courts have, prior to Bruen, generally rejected Second Amendment attacks on federal law's broad criminalization of any felons possessing any guns.  But Bruen makes clear that to "justify its [gun] regulation, the government may not simply posit that the regulation promotes an important interest. Rather, the government must demonstrate that the regulation is consistent with this Nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation."

Because the broad federal felon-in-possession statute, 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1), is applied many thousands of times each year, I am expecting a robust new round of litigation on that issue as to whether and when felon dispossession is "consistent with this Nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation."  But here I want to flag another notably broad provision of federal firearms law, though one probably unlikely to get nearly the same attention.  Specifically, 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(3), categorically criminalizes any gun possession by anyone who is an "unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance."  In an era in which marijuana use is legal for medical or recreational use in the vast majority of states but still is federal prohibited, this broad federal criminal "unlawful user" gun dispossession statute technically applies to dispossess tens of millions of Americans.  As a matter of policy and practice, I sense very few people get actually federally prosecuted and sentenced under just 922(g)(3) even for very serious and dangerous drug use, but it certainly happens sometimes.

Notably, more than a few states also have laws criminalizing gun possession by those his drug use history, and some even extend to users of legal drugs (including alcohol).  As one notable example, my state of Ohio, via Ohio Revised Code § 2923.13, prohibits knowingly having any firearm if one "is drug dependent, in danger of drug dependence, or a chronic alcoholic."  Arguably, anyone prescribed and using Oxycotin is "in danger of drug dependence," though again I do not think these kinds of laws in Ohio (or in other states) tend to be broadly enforced.  Still, these laws probably do get used as a basis refuse to issues some firearm licenses (see generally "Blowing Smoke at the Second Amendment"). 

Whatever the policy or practical virtues or vices of broad drug user gun dispossession laws, their constitutional status would seem subject to new questions thanks to Bruen.  The federal firearm prohibition for anyone who is an "unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance" has been upheld through various balancing tests in lower courts stressing the important government interest in restricting gun access to potentially dangerous individuals.  But, now, thanks to Bruen, such a regulation's "important interest" is not what is key for Second Amendment interpretation, "rather, the government must demonstrate that the regulation is consistent with this Nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation."

I am not legal historian, but I know enough about drug law history to know that there were very few criminal prohibitions on drug use at the time of the ratification of the Second Amendment.  Notably, there were some localities and even a state (Maine) embracing alcohol prohibition before and into the Civil War era, but I have no sense of how various early temperance laws may have interacted with gun regulations at that time.  I do surmise, from reading then-Judge Amy Coney Barrett's dissent in Kanter v. Barr, 919 F.3d 437 (7th Cir. 2019), that history suggests "founding-era legislatures categorically disarmed groups whom they judged to be a threat to the public safety."  Perhaps broad drug user gun dispossession statutes could be justified on that ground, but I have a very hard time viewing modern users of medical marijuana consistent with state law as analogous to those groups considered categorically dangerous in the founding era.

As suggested before, I expect to see a lot more litigation over broad felon-in-possession criminal laws than over broad drug user gun dispossession statutes.  Nevertheless, I think this is another interesting area of Second Amendment law that seemed reasonably settled before Bruen and now may be up for new (historical) debate.

Prior recent related posts:

June 24, 2022 in Gun policy and sentencing, Offense Characteristics, Second Amendment issues, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (6)

Thursday, June 23, 2022

Are all broad felon-in-possession criminal gun statutes now constitutionally suspect after Bruen?

I am still working my way through the Supreme Court's various opinions in today's big Second Amendment case, Bruen (basics here). And, because I am not a Second Amendment expert, my first-cut reactions to Bruen may not be worth much.  But, since the majority opinion in Bruen seems to reject lots of recent lower court rulings regarding the application of the Second Amendment, I cannot help but start wondering now if all broad felon-in-possession criminal statutes are constitutionally suspect.

Lower courts have largely upheld felon-in-possession criminal prohibitions even since Heller decided the Second Amendment provided for an individual right. But I read Part II of the Court's opinion in Bruen as rejecting much lower-court jurisprudence since Heller and creating a new textual and historical approach for the consideration of Second Amendment claims:

In keeping with Heller, we hold that when the Second Amendment’s plain text covers an individual’s conduct, the Constitution presumptively protects that conduct.  To justify its regulation, the government may not simply posit that the regulation promotes an important interest. Rather, the government must demonstrate that the regulation is consistent with this Nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation.  Only if a firearm regulation is consistent with this Nation’s historical tradition may a court conclude that the individual’s conduct falls outside the Second Amendment’s “unqualified command.”...

Heller and McDonald do not support applying means-end scrutiny in the Second Amendment context. Instead, the government must affirmatively prove that its firearms regulation is part of the historical tradition that delimits the outer bounds of the right to keep and bear arms....

We reiterate that the standard for applying the Second Amendment is as follows: When the Second Amendment’s plain text covers an individual’s conduct, the Constitution presumptively protects that conduct. The government must then justify its regulation by demonstrating that it is consistent with the Nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation. Only then may a court conclude that the individual’s conduct falls outside the Second Amendment’s “unqualified command.”  

American citizens with felony records are surely part of "the people" covered by the plain text of the Second Amendment, and so their conduct in possessing a firearms would seem presumptively protected.  Turning then to "the Nation’s historical tradition," I surmise from various academic articles (see here and here; see also here) that only dangerous and violent people, not all felons, were historically disallowed to have firearms.  As one of these articles puts it: "there is no historical justification for completely and forever depriving peaceable citizens — even nonviolent felons — of the right to keep and bear arms." 

 But one need not take an academic's word for this notion that there is not historical tradition for dispossessing all felons. Then-Judge, now Justice Amy Coney Barrett made this point quite effectively when dissenting in Kanter v. Barr, 919 F.3d 437 (7th Cir. 2019). Here is the start of her lengthy dissent in a case upholding application of the federal felon-in-possession ban to a nonviolent felon:

History is consistent with common sense: it demonstrates that legislatures have the power to prohibit dangerous people from possessing guns.  But that power extends only to people who are dangerous.  Founding-era legislatures did not strip felons of the right to bear arms simply because of their status as felons.  Nor have the parties introduced any evidence that founding-era legislatures imposed virtue-based restrictions on the right; such restrictions applied to civic rights like voting and jury service, not to individual rights like the right to possess a gun.  In 1791 — and for well more than a century afterward — legislatures disqualified categories of people from the right to bear arms only when they judged that doing so was necessary to protect the public safety.

Notably, the Bruen opinion for the Court makes repeated reference to the petitioners as "law-abiding" individuals. But I am not sure that dicta alone could or should undermine what Second Amendment's plain text and historical tradition now seem to suggest, namely that governments are on very shaky constitutional ground if and whenever they seek to criminalize gun possession by nonviolent (or "non-dangerous") persons with criminal records.

June 23, 2022 in Gun policy and sentencing, Second Amendment issues, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (38)