The 4th Circuit Takes on the 2nd Amendment

The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, the circuit responsible for hearing appeals from Federal District Courts in the Virginias, the Carolinas, and Maryland, just ruled on a case involving the regulation of semi-automatic assault weapons. The Court sided with the state of Maryland, upholding its ban on such weapons, “reasoning”:

that the banned assault weapons and large-capacity magazines are not protected by the Second Amendment. That is, we are convinced that the banned assault weapons and large-capacity magazines are among those arms that are “like” “M-16 rifles” — “weapons that are most useful in military service” — which the Heller Court singled out as being beyond the Second Amendment’s reach. See 554 U.S. at 627 (rejecting the notion that the Second Amendment safeguards “M-16 rifles and the like”). Put simply, we have no power to extend Second Amendment protection to the weapons of war that the Heller decision explicitly excluded from such coverage.

As Charles W. Cooke, writing in National Review, argues,

As Judge Traxler’s dissent pointedly establishes, the majority achieved this transformation by contriving “a heretofore unknown ‘test,’ which is whether the firearm in question is ‘most useful in military service.’” In effect, this “test” is designed to permit judges to determine that any weapon they might dislike is unprotected by the Second Amendment and can therefore be prohibited with impunity. Forget that Heller contains its own explicit tests. Forget the “common use” standard. Forget “dangerous and unusual.” There’s a new kid in town, and he’s coming for your rifles.

What counts as “most useful in military service” under this rubric? Well . . . everything, theoretically. “Under the majority’s analysis,” the dissenters contend, “a settler’s musket, the only weapon he would likely own and bring to militia service, would be most useful in military service — undoubtedly a weapon of war — and therefore not protected by the Second Amendment.” Indeed, “the ‘most useful in military service’ rubric would remove nearly all firearms from Second Amendment protection as nearly all firearms can be useful in military service.” A standard semi-automatic handgun is plausibly “most useful in military service.” So, too, is a hunting rifle. So is a sword. Perhaps the Fourth Circuit would like to strip the constitutional protection from those weapons, too?

We’ll see if this opinion stands once Judge Gorsuch takes his seat on the Supreme Court. (One only has to remember Ted Kennedy haranguing Judge Bork to realize that, qualified as he is, Gorsuch’s path to that seat is fraught with more haranguing.)

The Sounds of Silencers

In case you haven’t noticed, Washington D.C. is a sieve on a sinking ship whose life rafts have holes in them. And I’m not talking about Donald Trump. No, it’s the ATF, also known as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explsives, aka BATFE. But they’re going with ATF, and so are we.

On January 20, 2017–the day the Donald was inaugurated–Ronald Turk, Associate Deputy Director (Chief Operating Officer), issued a white paper, titled “Options to Reduce or Modify Firearms Regulations.” Right there on the coversheet, immediately below the words White Paper is the following warning: (Not for public distribution).

For those from another planet, those words mean “Not for public distribution.”

Anyway, here we are two weeks and three days later, and you’re reading about the white paper on my blog. Now you’re going to get to read a few actual paragraphs from the paper. But first I should quote the following, again, from the paper:

Note: The opinions expressed within this white paper are not those of the ATF; they are merely the ideas and opinions of this writer. They are provided for internal use within ATF and DOJ and not intended to be public. They are also general thoughts that cannot be taken as exacting language regarding policy or quotable specifics. Additional specific details can be provided to further these general discussions.

The men and women of ATF are overwhelmingly a fantastic group of hard working civil servants who look to reduce violent crime and ensure public safety. The focus on combating gun violence is key. Fairly regulating the firearms and explosives industries is also important. As the firearms conversations take place over the next few months and years, this paper is offered to provide informal insight on potential productive ways to limit regulation and continue to protect our Second Amendment freedoms, while focusing on ATF’s mission to protect our nation. (Italics and bolding in the original)

As Mr. Turk makes even clearer in the paper’s Executive Summary:

ATF is the only Federal law enforcement agency with a primary mission that directly involves an Amendment to the United States Constitution. Thus, our actions and policies are appropriately subjected to intense review and scrutiny. This paper serves to provide the new Administration and the Bureau multiple options to consider and discuss regarding firearms regulations specific to ATF. These general thoughts provide potential ways to reduce or modify regulations, or suggest changes that promote commerce and defend the Second Amendment without significant negative impact on ATF’s mission to fight violent firearms crime and regulate the firearms industry. This white paper is intended to provide ideas and provoke conversation; it is not guidance or policy of any kind.

ATF’s enforcement and regulatory efforts are focused on reducing violence and increasing public safety. Positive steps to further reduce gun violence through enforcement or regulation are extremely important but are not the focus of this paper. (Emphasis supplied)

Mr. Turk proceeds to list and discuss 16 items he feels  are worth looking at with the intent of possibly making some changes to the way the ATF fulfills its mission. For purposes of this post, item or paragraph #8 is the most interesting. I’ll quote it in full here:

Silencers: Current Federal law requires ATF to regulate silencers under the NFA. This requires a Federal tax payment of $200 for transfers, ATF approval, and entry of the silencer into a national NFA database. In the past several years, opinions about silencers have changed across the United States. Their use to reduce noise at shooting ranges and applications within the sporting and hunting industry are now well recognized. At present, 42 states generally allow silencers to be used for sporting purposes. The wide acceptance of silencers and corresponding changes in state laws have created substantial demand across the country. This surge in demand has caused ATF to have a significant backlog on silencer applications. ATF’s processing time is now approximately 8 months. ATF has devoted substantial resources in attempts to reduce processing times, spending over $1 million annually in overtime and temporary duty expenses, and dedicating over 33 additional full-time and contract positions since 2011 to support NFA processing. Despite these efforts, NFA processing times are widely viewed by applicants and the industry as far too long, resulting in numerous complaints to Congress. Since silencers account for the vast majority of NFA applications, the most direct way to reduce processing times is to reduce the number of silencer applications. In light of the expanding demand and acceptance of silencers, however, that volume is unlikely to diminish unless they are removed from the NFA. While DOJ and ATF have historically not supported removal of items from the NFA, the change in public acceptance of silencers arguably indicates that the reason for their inclusion in the NFA is archaic and historical reluctance to removing them from the NFA should be reevaluated.ATF’s experience with the criminal use of silencers also supports reassessing their inclusion in the NFA. On average in the past 10 years, ATF has only recommended 44 defendants a year for prosecution on silencer-related violations; of those, only approximately 6 of the defendants had prior felony convictions. Moreover, consistent with this low number of prosecution referrals, silencers are very rarely used in criminal shootings. Given the lack of criminality associated with silencers, it is reasonable to conclude that they should not be viewed as a threat to public safety necessitating NFA classification, and should be considered for reclassification under the GCA.

If such a change were to be considered, a revision in the definition of a silencer would be important. The current definition of a silencer extends to “any combination of [silencer] parts,” as well as “any part intended only for use in” a silencer. Compared to the definition of a firearm, which specifies the frame or receiver is the key regulated part, any individual silencer part is generally regulated just as if it were a completed silencer. Revising the definition could eliminate many of the current issues encountered by silencer manufacturers and their parts suppliers. Specifically, clarifying when a part or combination of parts meets a minimum threshold requiring serialization would be useful. (Emphasis and underlining added)

Have you ever shot a gun that had a silencer (aka suppressor). I have. Once. A 22 caliber handgun. Ffffft! Ffffft! Fffffft! The sound resembled a feral kitten defending itself. Ffffft! Ffffft! And just about as harmless. Surprisingly quiet, but then, why not? A 22 caliber handgun or rifle is pretty quite with or without a silencer.

A silencer on my 357 magnum? That’s another sound altogether. For the uninitiated, silencers don’t really silence anything. They simply suppress sound. Yes, James Bond uses a silencer to “eliminate” the sound of his kill. Hunters and marksmen, on the other hand, use silencers/suppressors to reduce the firearm’s retort so as to protect their ears. And the suppressor just barely does that job, reducing the sound to just below the number of decibels OSHA allows in the workplace. In other words, with the possible exception of the smallest caliber firearms, suppressors still allow for a big enough bang to damage a shooter’s ears over time.

And yet the knives–no guns for these folks–are already out, wielded by people who’ve seen one too many Bond flicks and whose motto is there’s no regulation too strong and too ineffectual for the gun industry.

Good news is, it’s sounding like the ATF might be thinking of listening to more rational people. Let’s hope so. Could save you $200 on your next suppressor purchase.

I’m a Fan, of Both Nino and Kagan

Scalia was possibly the best writer on the Supreme Court–ever. Kagan, almost his political polar opposite, will likewise rank as one of its best writers. These are generous, kind thoughts and a worthy example to emulate when we speak of someone we may otherwise disagree with.

One Word: Neat – Silencer Shop’s Kiosks for NFA Trust Paperwork

I wrote about Silencer Shop’s kiosks a few months ago. Here’s a video that demonstrates how they work. The title of the video is a bit misleading. You don’t set up or buy an NFA firearms trust on the Kiosk, rather you initiate the government-required paperwork–your Form 4, for example– so you can use your trust to purchase an NFA item.

Want Your 2nd Amendment Rights Restored? There’s Hope.

get-out-of-jail-freeProfessor Eugene Volokh posted today about a decision handed down today by the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals that answered the question on at least a few people’s minds: If I was convicted of a felony and if I’ve served my sentence, cleaned up my life, and stayed out of trouble, might I have my 2nd Amendment rights restored?

The short answer is no. The longer answer involves more than a few maybes. But if you’ve been a good boy or girl and if your felony conviction didn’t involve violence, your chances are better than zero.

The decision itself is quite long and Volokh’s discussion of it is rather complicated, so I won’t try to summarize either beyond what I’ve written above. But if you’re really interested, here’s a link to the case. If you’re just kind of interested, here’s a link to Volokh’s post. Enjoy.

Justice Breyer’s Abortion Reasoning as Applied to Gun Control

STOP_signSupreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer delivered the court’s majority opinion today in Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt, a case in which the plaintiff challenged the “admitting-privileges” and “surgical-center” requirements that were part of legislation enacted by the Texas Legislature in 2013. Those requirements, the Legislature said, were to ensure safer practices by Texas abortion providers and prevent atrocities of the sort carried out by Dr. Kermit Gosnell, a physician convicted of first-degree murder in Pennsylvania because of his abominable–there’s no other word–abortion practices.

I won’t dwell on the Gosnell case. He’s now in jail, as he should be. What’s interesting to me is a bit of reasoning Justice Breyer used to answer the dissent in the Hellerstedt case. His discussion of Gosnell begins on page 27 of his opinion. After a brief, quite sanitary catalogue of Gosnell’s crimes, Bryer writes:

Gosnell’s behavior was terribly wrong. But there is no reason to believe that an extra layer of regulation would have affected that behavior. Determined wrongdoers, already ignoring existing statutes and safety measures, are unlikely to be convinced to adopt safe practices by a new overlay of regulations.

Now imagine, if you can, Breyer writing the following:

Omar Mateen’s behavior was terribly wrong. But there is no reason to believe that an extra layer of regulation would have affected that behavior. Determined wrongdoers, already ignoring existing statutes and safety measures, are unlikely to be convinced to adopt safe practices by a new overlay of regulations.

I can’t imagine it. Even though the constitutional right to abortion had to be “found” in the Constitution, while the constitutional right to keep and bear arms is explicitly stated in the 2nd Amendment, the first right is in favor, the second is not. Therefore, though there is little if any evidence–and that, disputed–that additional background checks, secret terrorist watch lists, and assault weapons bans would have prevented recent mass shootings or will prevent future ones, those proposed “extra layer[s] of regulation” will withstand judicial scrutiny, if Justice Breyer has anything to say about it. At least that’s how I’ll be betting.

While we’re at it, let me share another item from the news. The other day I was listening to the Diane Rehm Show as I drove south on I-15. They were discussing gun control in light of the recent tragedy in Orlando. The host read the following e-mail from a listener in Texas

We have another email also from Brandy in Texas, who writes, many shooters, including the Orlando shooter, had domestic violence in their past, and most victims of mass shootings are women and children shot in domestic violence incidents. Can we pass a federal law to prevent domestic violence offenders from getting or keeping guns?

I almost wrecked. The e-mail captured what for me is the most frustrating thing about the gun control debate: Those in favor know little or nothing about existing gun control laws. Fortunately, Adam Winkler, a law professor at UCLA who is in favor of some new gun control measures, took advantage of this particular teaching moment:

Yes, we do have federal laws already on the books to stop domestic abusers from possessing firearms. You can, if you are subject to domestic violence restraining order, under federal law, then you are prohibited from possessing a firearm. You can also have your firearm taken away from you on a temporary basis after what’s known as an ex parte hearing. That’s a hearing in which the person who’s effected does not get a say or does not have representation.

And so, we do have laws in effect. I believe that in the current situation with regards to Orlando, and I could be wrong about the facts, but my understanding is is that he was never charged and convicted with any crime of domestic violence.

And was not subject to any kind of domestic violence restraining order. So, it might not have caught him, but it is right to point out that when there are certain kinds of violence, that if we see evidence of, we should take the guns away from that person because they’re likely to engage in more serious forms of violence with that firearm.

Winkler is correct. Section 922 (d)(8)-(9) and (g)(8)-(9) does exactly what Winkler says: People who have been charged with domestic violence, including harassment, stalking, threatening, and the like, AND who have at least had an opportunity for a hearing AND who, as a result, either are subject to a court order related to that behavior or have been convicted CANNOT possess firearms.

Of course, that brings us full circle. According to Breyer–and Breyer’s correct in this–“Determined wrongdoers, already ignoring existing statutes and safety measures [such as laws against stalking and domestic violence], are unlikely to be convinced to adopt safe practices by [Section 922 or by] a new overlay of [gun control] regulations.” And that’s the problem gun control can’t solve.

Jefferson Owned a 22-Shot Rifle

Things I learned while on Twitter: Thomas Jefferson owned a 22-shot rifle, a Girandoni air rifle. You can read all about these air rifles here. Pretty nifty rifle.

Here’s a video explaining how the rifle works.

 

Here’s another video (not as well done), this time showing the rifle in action.

The implications of Jefferson owning such a firearm should be obvious.

One More Reason to Not Live in California

The 9th Circuit rules against concealed carry in California. The court said there was no constitutional right to concealed carry. I’m guessing we haven’t heard the last of this case. And for what it’s worth, the 9th Circuit hasn’t fared too well in the Supreme Court:

The Justices [of the Supreme Court] have long had a seemingly contentious relationship with the Ninth Circuit, which covers most of the western United States and Hawaii and Alaska. Far more cases come to the Court from the Ninth Circuit than any other court, and — not surprisingly — Ninth Circuit rulings make up a sizeable portion of the docket of argued and decided cases – 75 cases, or 25.7% for the last four Terms including the current session.  During that period, the Court has reversed or vacated and sent back 79.5% of the Ninth Circuit decisions it has reviewed.

I understand there’s an election going on that might impact the ultimate outcome of this case.

Required Reading, Then and Now

Jefferson LCBTwo things interest me about the two quotes below: First, that original material was written in 1764–in Italy–by Cesare Beccaria in his treatise On Crimes and Punishments. Yes, I know. It sounds like something right out of an NRA press release in response to yet another move by the [name your president] to implement by executive order more “common sense” restrictions on firearms. But no, Beccaria was a political philosopher of some renown, whose work many of the Founders thought important enough to use as source material for the founding documents of this nation. Jefferson, for one, copied the passage below into his Legal Commonplace Book, a sort of journal the author of the Declaration of Independence used to keep track of important ideas–I assume his and of others. Jefferson entered the Beccaria quote into his journal in the original Italian. The first quote below is the English translation of Italian, which appeared in in 1809 and which Jefferson owned.

That brings me to the second interesting thing: The two quotes are essentially the same quote from Beccaria, the first an 1809 translation, the second a 1963 translation. You can find the second all over the Internet. (I originally found it in a book I’m reading, That Every Man Be Armed by Stephen P. Holbrook, an excellent history of the Second Amendment, going all the way back to the Greeks and Romans.)

So you can easily notice the differences, I’ve color keyed the corresponding words in each translation. (And yes, I realize that the second translation has an ellipsis.) I prefer the second, newer, and I’d say more elegant translation. Whatever your preference, Becarria offers up some good food for thought, even today.

“A principal source of errors and injustice are false ideas of utility. For example: that legislator has false ideas of utility who considers particular more than general conveniencies, who had rather command the sentiments of mankind than excite them, who dares say to reason, ‘Be thou a slave;’ who would sacrifice a thousand real advantages to the fear of an imaginary or trifling inconvenience; who would deprive men of the use of fire for fear of their being burnt, and of water for fear of their being drowned; and who knows of no means of preventing evil but by destroying it.

The laws of this nature are those which forbid to wear arms, disarming those only who are not disposed to commit the crime which the laws mean to prevent. Can it be supposed, that those who have the courage to violate the most sacred laws of humanity, and the most important of the code, will respect the less considerable and arbitrary injunctions, the violation of which is so easy, and of so little comparative importance? Does not the execution of this law deprive the subject of that personal liberty, so dear to mankind and to the wise legislator? and does it not subject the innocent to all the disagreeable circumstances that should only fall on the guilty? It certainly makes the situation of the assaulted worse, and of the assailants better, and rather encourages than prevents murder, as it requires less courage to attack unarmed than armed persons.”

Though you can find the following translation of the quote by Paolucci in a number of places, I found it here.

False is the idea of utility that sacrifices a thousand real advantages for one imaginary or trifling inconvenience; that would take fire from men because it burns, and water because one may drown in it; that has no remedy for evils, except destruction. The laws that forbid the carrying of arms are laws of such a nature. They disarm only those who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crimes….Such laws make things worse for the assaulted and better for the assailants; they serve rather to encourage than to prevent homicides, for an unarmed man may be attacked with greater confidence than an armed man.

For those who would prefer practicing their Italian, here’s the quote in Italian, as it appeared in Jefferson’s Legal Commonplace Book:

“Falsa idea di utilità è quella, che sacrifica mille vantaggi reali, per un inconveniente o immaginario, o di poca conseguenza, che toglierebbe agli uomini il fuoco perchè incendia, e l’acqua perchè annega; che non ripara ai mali, che col distruggere. Le leggi, che proibiscono di portar le armi, sono leggi di tal natura; esse non disarmano che i non inclinati, nè determinati ai delitti, mentre coloro che hanno il coraggio di poter violare le leggi più sacre della umanità è le più importanti del codice, come rispetteranno le minori, e le puramente arbitrarie? Queste peggiorano la condizione degli assaliti migliorando quella degli assalitori, non iscemano gli omicidi, ma gli accrescono, perchè è maggiore la confidenza nell’assalire i disarmati, che gli armati. Queste si chiaman leggi, non preventrici, ma paurose dei delitti, che nascono dalla tumultuosa impressione di alcuni fatti particolari, non dalla ragionata meditazione degl’inconvenienti, ed avvantaggi di un decreto universale.”

The Federal Circuit Courts of Appeals and 2nd Amendment Gun Rights

SAMSUNG

David Koppel’s got it if you want it: a complete review of federal circuit court jurisprudence on the 2nd Amendment post Heller and McDonald. Here’s the abstract:

“The Supreme Court decisions in District of Columbia v. Heller and McDonald v. Chicago left lower courts with the responsibility to flesh out many aspects of Second Amendment legal doctrine. This Article explains how the federal Circuit Courts of Appeal have done so. The Article provides a comprehensive synthesis and analysis of the Circuit decisions, covering everything from ammunition to zoning.

“Most Circuits use the Two-Step Test propounded by U.S. v. Marzzarella (3d. Cir.). Step One is to determine whether a challenged law implicates Second Amendment rights. If the answer to Step One is “yes”, Step Two is to apply some form of heightened scrutiny. In both steps, the burden of proof is on the government.

“Step Two can involve intermediate scrutiny, “not quite strict scrutiny,” strict scrutiny, or categorical invalidation, depending on various factors. All forms of heightened scrutiny involve consideration of alternatives which might be less burdensome to the right; the stringency of that consideration increases when higher forms of scrutiny are employed.

“Not every Circuit case perfectly fits with the emerging doctrinal norms. The Second Circuit, for example, has been a consistent outlier in manipulating standards of review in order to treat the Second Amendment as an inferior, second-class right – contrary to the mandate of McDonald v. Chicago. Even so, analysis of the nearly 150 Circuit Court Second Amendment cases since Heller reveals a mostly consistent methodology.”

You can read a bit more (without having to read the entire 118 page article) at The Voloch Conspiracy.
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