City of Weston et al. v. Florida Governor et al.: Opposing Extreme Preemption in Florida

Update — On July 26, 2019, the trial court struck down all the penalty provisions in Florida’s extreme preemption law, siding with the position Giffords Law Center argued for in our amicus brief.

Case information: City of Weston et al. v. Hon. Richard “Rick” Scott et al., Case No. 2018 CA 000699 (Leon County Circuit Court, filed March 4, 2019).

At Issue: This case involves a Florida preemption law that limits local regulation in the field of firearms and purports to impose harsh penalties, including fines and removal from office, on local officials found to violate the law. Officials from the City of Weston, the City of Coral Springs, and Broward County filed separate lawsuits (now consolidated before the same judge) against the Governor and the State of Florida to overturn the preemption law. The cities and county argue that the court should strike down Florida’s preemption law because it impermissibly expands the Governor’s authority to remove elected officials from office, contravenes municipal governments’ authority to enact laws without fear of legal penalties, and is an unconstitutional restriction of local democracy.

Giffords Law Center’s Brief: Our brief in support of the plaintiff cities and county explains that under Florida’s dangerous law, local legislators can be personally punished if they vote for a local ordinance that impinges upon the field of firearms regulation. We argue that this unprecedented approach to enforcing a preemption law, since followed by other states, is unconstitutional because it deprives legislators of constitutionally-guaranteed immunity from civil liability for their legislative activities. Further, we argue that fining and removing legislators from office for voting will discourage people from seeking elected office in Florida, chill democratic participation, and deter enactment of non-preempted laws.

Read the full text of our brief here.

Rupp v. Becerra: Defending California’s Assault Weapon Restrictions

Update — On July 22, 2019, the district court issued a favorable decision rejecting the NRA’s challenge to California’s assault weapon regulations, siding with the position Giffords Law Center argued for in our amicus brief.

Case information: Rupp et al. v. Becerra et al., No. 18:17-cv-00746-JLS-JDE (C.D. Cal. brief filed April 1, 2019)

At issue: In 2017 the California state affiliate of the NRA and several individual plaintiffs filed a lawsuit raising Second Amendment and other constitutional challenges to California’s Assault Weapon Control Act (“the Act”). Plaintiffs claim that the Act violates the Second Amendment because they have a constitutional right to possess military-style semiautomatic assault rifles like those used to carry out the Newtown, Orlando, Las Vegas, and Parkland mass shootings (and many more).

Giffords Law Center’s Brief: Our brief argues that the California legislature acted constitutionally by prohibiting a subset of semiautomatic rifles whose add-on military features make these weapons uniquely dangerous and facilitate criminal use and mass killings. We further argue that the Second Amendment, as interpreted by the Supreme Court and other courts, does not protect a right to own weapons that were designed for a battlefield, not responsible self-defense in the home. Indeed, every court to have considered challenges to laws banning assault weapons since the Supreme Court’s decisions in Heller and McDonald has upheld those laws.

Read the full text of our amicus brief here.

Duncan v. Becerra: Urging the Ninth Circuit to Reverse a Dangerous, Outlier Ruling on LCMs

Case Information: Duncan et al. v. Becerra et al., No. 19-55376 (9th Cir. amicus brief filed July 22, 2019)

At Issue: For nearly 20 years, California has prohibited the manufacture and sale of large capacity magazines (LCMs) that can hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition. In November 2016, California voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition 63, a package of gun safety laws drafted by Giffords Law Center attorneys in partnership with then-Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom. One of Prop. 63’s provisions strengthened the state’s LCM laws by prohibiting the possession of LCMs like those used in the San Bernardino and Thousand Oaks mass shootings. Before Prop. 63 took effect, the state affiliate of the NRA brought a Second Amendment challenge to the law, and persuaded a federal district judge to issue an extreme ruling blocking implementation of the law’s LCM provisions and enjoin California’s longstanding restrictions on LCMs. The judge’s unprecedented ruling was a radical departure from settled Second Amendment law, and is now on appeal before the Ninth Circuit.

Giffords Law Center’s Brief: Our brief argues that the district court overstepped in disregarding the State’s concerns about mass shootings in favor of the court’s own view of what problems a successful gun-violence-prevention policy should prioritize. In this case, the district court attacked evidence and expert witnesses the State reasonably relied on, while engaging in its own flawed fact-finding to reach a verdict. The lower court acted contrary to Ninth Circuit precedent by failing to defer to the State’s legitimate policy judgments, which were supported by evidence showing that restricting large-capacity magazines would protect the public and reduce mass shooting deaths and injuries. Our brief urges the Ninth Circuit to reverse the decision of the district court and protect the State’s authority to identify and prevent harm to its citizens.

Read the full text of our amicus brief here.

Protecting Strong Gun Laws: The Supreme Court Leaves Lower Court Victories Untouched

supremecourttwilight

In the last ten years, the U.S. Supreme Court has declined to grant review in over 150 Second Amendment cases, including numerous cases where lower courts upheld critical gun safety laws. Among the many cases in which the Court has denied review are a number of gun lobby-backed lawsuits advocating for a dangerously unlimited interpretation of the Second Amendment — one that ignores the careful safeguards expressed in the Supreme Court’s landmark Second Amendment case, District of Columbia v. Heller. By repeatedly declining to review lower court decisions that upheld federal, state, and local gun laws, the Supreme Court has reconfirmed that the Amendment is not an obstacle to the laws that keep our communities safe from gun violence.

Since the Court’s 2008 decision in the Heller case, lower courts across the country have been inundated with costly and time-consuming challenges to state and local gun laws.  However, lower courts have consistently upheld these laws, noting that the challenged gun safety measures have been successful at protecting people from gun violence and keeping guns out of the hands of criminals while still allowing law-abiding citizens to keep guns in their homes for self defense.  Since 2008, there have been over 1,370 Second Amendment cases challenging gun laws nationwide, but in most cases the gun safety law or criminal conviction at issue has been upheld.

Many of these Second Amendment challenges to gun laws make their way to the Supreme Court.  However, the Court has generally refused to hear these cases,1 leaving lower court decisions upholding the laws intact and keeping strong gun laws on the books.  For example, the Supreme Court has refused to hear cases that:

Notes
  1. In 2010, the Court decided McDonald v. City of Chicago, which held that the right recognized in Heller extends to state and local governments. That case involved a Chicago law nearly identical to the one struck down in Heller and did not expand the substantive scope of the Second Amendment. The only other Second Amendment case the Supreme Court has weighed in on since 2010 is Caetano v. Massachusetts, involving a Massachusetts law that prohibits private possession of stun guns. In a short, unsigned opinion—see Caetano v. Massachusetts, 136 S. Ct. 1027 (2016) (per curiam)—the Court did not break any new legal ground or rule that stun guns are protected by the Second Amendment. Instead, the Court’s decision in Caetano simply vacated and remanded the Massachusetts Supreme Court’s decision upholding the constitutionality of the state’s stun gun ban, and directed the state court to apply Heller. ⤴︎

NYSRPA v. City of New York: The Supreme Court Must Protect Rights and Public Safety

Case Information: New York State Rifle & Pistol Ass’n v. City of New York, No. 18-280 (Supreme Court brief filed May 14, 2019)

At Issue: On January 22, the Supreme Court agreed to review a Second Amendment challenge brought by the New York state affiliate of the National Rifle Association, marking the first time in nearly a decade that the justices will hear argument in a Second Amendment case. The NRA and individual plaintiffs filed suit against a unique New York City gun possession licensing law that restricts the ability of gun owners who do not have concealed carry permits to transport handguns outside their homes or other licensed premises. The challengers, who are seeking to take guns licensed for the home to ranges outside New York City and to second homes in the state, claim these licensing restrictions violate the Second Amendment and other constitutional rights. Going beyond the immediate facts of the case, the challengers also urge the Court to ignore public safety justifications for gun regulations challenged under the Second Amendment, suggesting the Court should recognize a broad right to carry guns whenever desirable for self-defense without regard to the dangers this creates for others.

Giffords Law Center’s Brief: We filed an amicus brief in support of neither party in order to oppose the gun lobby’s attempt to use a narrow legal challenge to advance a radical interpretation of the Second Amendment and broadly attack gun safety laws that have repeatedly been found to be constitutional. Since the Supreme Court decided District of Columbia v. Heller in 2008, courts have consistently upheld strong firearm regulations, following Heller‘s instruction that the Second Amendment is “not unlimited” but allows for lifesaving gun safety laws like concealed carry regulations, laws prohibiting dangerous people from accessing guns, and safe storage requirements. Our brief argues that the Supreme Court shouldn’t use this case to disturb Heller’s endorsement of settled gun safety laws and that if the justices do announce a Second Amendment methodology, the Court should treat the Second Amendment like other constitutional rights and recognize reasonable regulations that further public safety. We also argue that the radical approach suggested by the NRA is unworkable and would threaten critically important laws like those that restrict gun access by domestic abusers.

Read the full text of our amicus brief here.

People v. Brown: Fighting for Firearm Licensing and Background Check Laws

Case Information: People of the State of Illinois v. Brown, No. 124100 (Ill. S. Ct. brief filed April 26, 2019)

At Issue: As part of the Illinois Firearm Owners Identification Card Act (FOID Card Act), Illinois requires individuals to obtain a license to possess firearms, called a Firearm Owner Identification Card (FOID). The licensing law is how Illinois conducts background checks on firearm purchasers and enforces other important gun regulations. In 2017, the defendant in this case was charged with possessing a firearm without a FOID, and in 2018 an Illinois trial court dismissed the charges on the grounds that the FOID Card Act violates the Second Amendment. That ruling, which is an extreme outlier among federal and state courts, is now on appeal before the Illinois Supreme Court.

Giffords Law Center’s Brief: Our brief argues that the lower court’s decision flies in the face of repeated decisions from the Illinois Supreme Court, the Illinois appellate courts, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, which have all upheld the constitutionality of the FOID Card Act and its background check and other requirements. We further argue that even if the court were to review the FOID Card Act anew, it easily withstands intermediate scrutiny because it serves an important government interest in reducing violence and protecting public safety. To support this argument, we cite empirical research that found that firearm licensing laws significantly reduce gun homicides and suicides and limit criminals’ ability to gain access to firearms.

Read the full text of our amicus brief here.

N.Y. Rifle & Pistol v. Beach: Supporting Strong Licensing Standards for Concealed Carry

Case InformationN.Y. State Rifle & Pistol Ass’n v. Beach, No.  (2d Cir. brief filed May 1, 2019).

At Issue: This case involves a Second Amendment challenge to the state of New York’s concealed carry licensing standards. The challenged regulations require applicants to demonstrate “proper cause” to carry concealed guns in public in order to receive a concealed carry permit. Plaintiffs filed a lawsuit claiming that this good and substantial reason standard violates the Second Amendment.

Giffords Law Center’s Brief: Our brief argues that New York’s concealed carry regulations survive intermediate scrutiny because the proper cause requirement, carefully designed to protect the safety of New York’s communities, serves compelling public safety interests. The latest reputable research on the connection between carrying guns in public and crime overwhelmingly shows that relaxing concealed carry laws leads to increased violent crime and homicide. Research has also found that guns are rarely used successfully in self-defense in public spaces, and that carrying a gun escalates everyday disputes (like “road rage” incidents) and may actually increase one’s chance of being shot in an assault.

Read the full text of our amicus brief here.

Worman v. Healey: Defending Massachusetts’ Assault Weapons and Magazine Restrictions

Update — On April 26, 2019, the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit issued a favorable decision rejecting the plaintiffs’ challenge to Massachusetts’ assault weapon and magazine regulations, siding with the position Giffords Law Center argued for in our amicus brief.

Case information: Worman et al. v. Healey et al. (1st Cir. brief filed Sept 28, 2018).

At Issue: The state of Massachusetts has prohibited the sale, transfer or possession of assault weapons and large capacity magazines (“LCMs”) since 1998. Its law restricts civilian access to weapons of military origin that are ill-suited for self defense and frequently employed in mass shootings and attacks on law enforcement officers. Plaintiffs in this case bring Second Amendment and other constitutional challenges to Massachusetts’ law. The district court rejected their challenge and upheld the law on the grounds that neither assault weapons nor LCMs are protected by the Second Amendment. The case is now on appeal before the First Circuit.

Giffords Law Center’s Brief: Our brief argues that the challenged law regulates conduct that falls outside the scope of the Second Amendment because assault weapons and LCMs are “most useful in military service, dangerous, not typically possessed for lawful purposes, and not in ‘common use.’” We also argue that, in the alternative, even if this law does implicate the Second Amendment, it easily passes constitutional review under intermediate scrutiny (the appropriate level of review in this context).

Read the full text of our amicus brief here.

Hirschfeld v. ATF: Defending the Minimum Age to Buy a Handgun from a Licensed Dealer

Case Information: Hirschfeld et al. v. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives et al. (W.D. Va. amicus brief filed April 17, 2019).

At Issue: Over 50 years ago, after finding that minors under the age of 21 were disproportionately responsible for “serious crimes of violence,” and that licensed dealers were a major source of their weapons, Congress adopted a federal law barring minors under the age of 21 from buying handguns from federally licensed firearm dealers (FFLs). Other courts have upheld the law as constitutional, but two plaintiffs recently filed a new legal challenge alleging that it impermissibly burdens the Second Amendment rights of 18-to-20-year-olds. Our brief argues that plaintiffs’ challenge must fail because the minimum age regulation falls outside of the Second Amendment’s protection, and that even if it implicates the Second Amendment, it passes constitutional muster under intermediate scrutiny, the highest appropriate level of review.

Giffords Law Center’s Brief: First, our amicus brief surveys social science research about impulsivity in minors ages 18 to 20 as well as FBI crime data showing that firearm homicides and violent crimes disproportionately involve individuals under 21. We also acknowledge that minors attempt suicide at disproportionately high rates and access to firearms increases the likelihood and lethality of these attempts. We then argue that the challenged federal restriction falls outside the protection of the Second Amendment because it is consistent with longstanding historical limitations on the right to keep and bear arms that were explicitly recognized as legitimate in the Heller decision. Finally, we argue that even if the court were to apply heightened scrutiny, because there is a reasonable fit between the challenged regulation and the ‘substantial governmental objective’ of protecting public safety, this regulation passes intermediate scrutiny.

Read the full text of our amicus brief here.

Maryland Shall Issue v. Hogan: Protecting Strong Trigger Activator Restrictions

Case InformationMaryland Shall Issue Inc. v. Hogan (4th Cir. amicus brief filed April 19, 2019).

At Issue: On October 1, 2017, a gunman armed with AR-15 assault rifles modified with “bump stocks” unleashed a torrent of gunfire on a crowd of concert-goers in Las Vegas, Nevada, killing 58 people, hitting 422 with gunshots, and injuring a total of 851 people. This horrifying event, the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history, was enabled by the shooter’s use of bump stocks to evade federal restrictions on automatic weapons. After the federal government failed to act quickly enough to close this loophole, Maryland prohibited the possession and sale of bump stocks and other rapid fire trigger activators that let shooters mimic automatic fire with semiautomatic rifles. Following the enactment of this lifesaving legislation, plaintiffs filed this lawsuit arguing that Maryland’s rapid fire trigger activator ban constitutes a government “taking” of their property in violation of the Takings Clause of the Constitution.

Giffords Law Center’s Brief: Our amicus brief argues, first, that plaintiffs’ challenge to Maryland’s law is now moot to the extent they are challenging restrictions on bump stocks that have since been adopted at the federal level by the ATF. Second, to the extent plaintiffs seek to challenge Maryland’s restrictions on other dangerous trigger activators, including trigger cranks and hellfire triggers, we argue that plaintiffs’ unsupported Takings Clause argument is foreclosed by Supreme Court precedent demonstrating that governments may use their police powers to restrict the possession and use of dangerous products. By regulating rapid fire trigger activators, Maryland has not engaged in an unlawful “taking,” but has simply closed a loophole which allowed for a contravention of legitimate restrictions on automatic firearms, which are historically longstanding and have been repeatedly upheld as constitutional. Therefore, Maryland’s exercise of its police power in restricting the possession and use of rapid fire trigger activators does not implicate the Takings Clause at all.

Read the full text of our amicus brief here.