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 facts of the case, the challengers also urge the Court to ignore safety justifications for gun regulations challenged under the Second Amendment, and argue that the Court should recognize an absolute right to carry guns in public when desirable for self-defense regardless of dangers posed to 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” and 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 common-sense measures and that if the justices do decide to 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 public safety measures, like restrictions on 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.

Culp v. Madigan: Defending Firearm Carry Permit Standards and Public Safety in Illinois

Update — On April 12, 2019, the Seventh Circuit issued a favorable decision rejecting the challenges to Illinois’s concealed carry permit regulations for non-residents, siding with the position Giffords Law Center argued for in our amicus brief.

Case Information: Culp v. Madigan, No. 17-2998 (7th Cir. brief filed April 16, 2018)

At Issue: Illinois bars non-residents from applying for an Illinois concealed carry permit unless the applicant’s home state’s laws are substantially similar to Illinois’. Since many states have lax laws and keep deficient records for permit applicants, this requirement is necessary to ensure that Illinois is able to adequately verify criminal records and mental health history before issuing a carry permit to a non-resident. The non-resident plaintiffs in this case contend that these sensible limitations violate the Second Amendment, and claim an absolute right to apply for a concealed carry permit in Illinois even though they don’t reside there.

Giffords Law Center’s Brief: Our amicus brief argues that the Second Amendment allows states to impose licensing and record-verification requirements on people seeking to carry loaded, concealed weapons in public. The challenged Illinois laws place only a modest burden on plaintiffs’ asserted right to carry a concealed weapon because none of the plaintiffs live in Illinois. Further, our brief refutes plaintiffs’ unsupported claim that restricting non-resident permit applications has no public safety benefit. There are documented lethal flaws with the lax concealed carry permitting systems in place in many states, which have resulted in permits being improperly issued to people with violent criminal histories.

Read the full text of our amicus brief here.

Nicholson v. Lee: Confronting the Tragic Consequences of Negligent Gun Storage

Case information: Nicholson v. Lee, No. 18A-CT-1949 (Indiana Supreme Court Brief, filed April 1, 2019)

At issue: In July 2016, Christopher Lee parked his truck in a public area and left it unattended and unlocked with a loaded handgun on the seat. A 15-year-old took the handgun from the truck. Later, when he was showing the gun to his friend Matthew Kendall, the gun fired, killing Kendall. Nicholson v. Lee is a wrongful death lawsuit in which Kendall’s mother Shelly Nicholson sued Lee, alleging that his negligent storage of his handgun proximately caused her son’s death. The district and appeals courts have both found that Lee is immune from liability for this negligent storage under Indiana Code 34-30-20-1. Our brief argues that this section of the Indiana Code does not confer immunity for tort claims arising from negligent storage of firearms.

Giffords Law Center’s Brief:  We joined Indiana University Bloomington Maurer School of Law Professor Jody L. Madeira in filing this brief, which argues that the previous courts misinterpreted the statute that was used to find Lee immune from liability. First, we argue that Indiana Code 34-30-20-1 immunizes people only from acts or omissions related to their use of a firearm, not acts related to storage. We further argue that Indiana Code 34-30-20-1 specifically excludes negligent storage from immunity because early versions of the bill included immunity for acts or omissions related to the “storage or monitoring of a firearm that is used by a third party in commission of a crime” — language which was removed by the legislature before the bill was enacted.

Read the full text of our amicus brief here.

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

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.

Guedes v. ATF: Fighting for the Federal Bump Stock Ban

Update — On April 1, 2019, the D.C. Circuit rejected all challenges to the federal bump stock ban and allowed it to fully take effect, as argued for in our amicus brief.

Case Information: Guedes et al. v Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms et al., Case No. 19-5042 (D.C. Cir. brief filed March 13, 2019).

At Issue: This case presents constitutional and other legal challenges to the federal bump stock rule finalized in December 2018 by the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives (ATF). The rule states that bump stocks — devices designed to convert semiautomatic rifles to fire fully automatically — are “machineguns” as defined by federal law, and are thus illegal. The plaintiffs-appellants filed suit against ATF, arguing that this rule contradicts the previous federal definition of machinegun and is arbitrary and capricious, among other legal claims.

Giffords Law Center’s Brief: Our brief argues that the plain meaning of “machinegun” includes devices that convert a firearm to a machinegun and thus encompasses bump stocks because bump stocks allow for automatic fire by a single function of the trigger. Our brief further argues that the ATF rule is not arbitrary or capricious, both because political concern over rulemaking does not render a rule arbitrary and capricious, and because the rule is rationally connected to the grave safety risks posed by bump stocks and consistent with the National Firearm Act’s purpose in banning machineguns.

Read the full text of our amicus brief here.