“President Joe Biden, who recently issued a mass pardon for low-level marijuana offenders, says cannabis consumption should not be treated as a crime. His administration nevertheless defends the federal ban on gun possession by marijuana users, arguing that Second Amendment rights are limited to “law-abiding citizens.”
Last week, a federal judge agreed, dismissing a challenge to that rule by medical marijuana patients in Florida. The reasoning underlying that decision shows that the constitutional right to armed self-defense, which the Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld, is still subject to legislators’ arbitrary whims and irrational prejudices.”
“Winsor noted a long history of banning gun ownership by people convicted of certain crimes. But as Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett pointed out in a 2019 dissent as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, that history does not suggest that any crime, or even any felony, will do.
“Legislatures have the power to prohibit dangerous people from possessing guns,” Barrett wrote. “But that power extends only to people who are dangerous.”
Are cannabis consumers dangerous? Winsor suggested that they are, accepting the Biden administration’s analogy between the gun ban for marijuana users and laws enacted in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries that prohibited people from either carrying or firing guns “while intoxicated.”
That analogy fails, however, because those laws did not impose general bans on gun possession by drinkers. They applied only when gun owners were under the influence.”
“In an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper..President Joe Biden conceded that his son Hunter lied on a government form when he purchased a handgun in October 2018—a federal felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison. The younger Biden was a crack cocaine user at the time, as recounted in his 2021 memoir Beautiful Things. Yet he answered no to this question on ATF Form 4473: “Are you an unlawful user of, or addicted to, marijuana or any depressant, stimulant, narcotic drug, or any other controlled substance?”
” The Washington Post reported that federal agents believe they have enough evidence to charge Hunter Biden with making that false statement. Although the Post did not mention it, receiving and possessing the gun he bought was also a felony, which at the time likewise was punishable by up to 10 years in prison. The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which President Biden signed into law in June, raised the maximum penalty for that offense to 15 years.
Biden presumably does not think his son should go to prison for lying about his personal habits or for violating a federal law that prohibited him from owning a gun. Neither do I. But if that result would be unjust, why does Biden enthusiastically support the laws that allow it?
Under those laws, someone in Hunter Biden’s position, if convicted, can be sent to federal prison for years or decades. Furthermore, such a conviction would forever bar him from possessing firearms, whether or not he continued using illegal drugs. If he were caught with a gun after being convicted of a felony, he could be prosecuted again, in which case he would now face up to 15 years in prison. And he would carry all the other lifelong burdens of a felony record.”
“The federal prohibition of gun possession by unlawful users of controlled substances also applies to cannabis consumers, even if they live in states that allow medical or recreational use of marijuana.”
“Gun controls that look sensible in theory frequently fail in practice, either because they are ill-suited to prevent mass shootings, do not apply, or were not enforced. That does not mean such laws have no effect on violent crime. But it does mean that Americans should be skeptical when politicians tout the lifesaving potential of a particular policy, especially when it also has the potential to deprive innocent people of their constitutional rights.
The New York Times notes that the 21-year-old man who prosecutors say admitted to murdering seven people and injuring dozens of others in Highland Park on Monday “was known to police” because of two incidents in 2019. In April 2019, Reuters reports, police visited his Highland Park home in response to a 911 caller who said he “had attempted suicide.” That September, police returned in response to “alleged threats ‘to kill everyone’ that he had directed at family members.”
During the second visit, police asked the young man if he was suicidal, which he denied. They “seized a collection of 16 knives, a dagger and a sword” that belonged to the 18-year-old’s father, which they later returned to him.
Police did not arrest the son because they lacked probable cause to believe he had committed a crime. “There were no complaints that were signed by any of the victims,” Chris Covelli, a sergeant with the Lake County Sheriff’s Office, told reporters yesterday. But Highland Park police reported the incident to the Illinois State Police, which took no action.
State police offered two explanations for that. First, the future mass murderer at that point did not have a firearm owners identification card (FOID), which is required to legally buy or own guns in Illinois, and had not applied for one. Second, Reuters reports, state police “said no relative or anyone else was willing ‘to move forward with a formal complaint’ or to provide ‘information on threats or mental health that would have allowed law enforcement to take additional action.'”
The state’s red flag law, which took effect at the beginning of 2019, authorizes police as well as family members to seek a “firearms restraining order” that bars the respondent from purchasing or possessing guns. But if the future killer’s relatives were uncooperative, collecting evidence to support a petition would have been difficult, since the case hinged on their account of his words and actions.
Like the other states with red flag laws, Illinois gives people who are concerned that someone poses a danger two options. They can obtain an “emergency” order, which is issued without a hearing or notice, if a judge decides there is “probable cause to believe that the respondent poses an immediate and present danger of causing personal injury to himself, herself, or another.” Such ex parte orders last up to two weeks, at which point the respondent actually gets a chance to respond.
Alternatively, or when an ex parte order is about to expire, a petitioner can seek a six-month order, which requires a hearing. The standard at that point is “clear and convincing evidence” that the respondent poses “a significant danger…in the near future.” If an order is issued, it can be renewed for another six months based on a showing that the respondent continues to pose a significant danger.
The evidence that a judge is required to consider includes “threats of violence or acts of violence by the respondent directed toward himself, herself, or another.” That certainly seems relevant in this case. But again, police would have had a hard time presenting such evidence without the family’s cooperation.
Three months after his second encounter with police, the alleged killer, then 19, obtained an FOID. Because he was younger than 21, he needed the written consent of a parent or guardian, which his father supplied. A lawyer representing the father told the Times “his client did not believe there was an issue” and “might not have understood what happened with the knife seizure because it did not happen in his house.”
If the father had recognized the threat his son posed, he presumably would not have supported the FOID application, which would have prevented the killer from legally buying guns until he turned 21—i.e., last September. But in that case, the father probably would have been willing to file or support a red flag petition.
The other requirements for an FOID largely track federal restrictions on gun ownership, which among other things disqualify people with certain kinds of criminal or psychiatric records. None of those disqualifications applied.
For the same reason, the alleged murderer passed background checks when he bought several guns, including the Smith & Wesson M&P 15 rifle that police say was used in the attack, in 2020 and 2021. According to Reuters, “police said the only offense detected…during background checks was for unlawful possession of tobacco in 2016.” There were “no mental health prohibiter reports.”
In retrospect, it is easy to say that state police made a disastrous mistake by failing to seek a red flag order. Based on documentation of the two police calls, they might have met the probable-cause requirement for an ex parte order. But presenting clear and convincing evidence of a continuing threat to justify a six-month order was another matter. If no one with relevant knowledge was willing to come forward, it is hard to see how police could have satisfied that standard. And even if they had, the order would have had to be repeatedly renewed to block the gun purchases, the last of which happened two years later.”
“The Second Amendment states that “a well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Thus, it is the rare constitutional provision that not only declares the existence of a right, but also states the reason why this right exists. The purpose of the Second Amendment is to protect “a well regulated Militia.” That’s what the plain text of the Constitution provides.
But Thomas’s opinion in Bruen, much like the Court’s earlier decision in District of Columbia v. Heller (2008), thumbs its nose at the text of the Constitution.”
“The immediate impact of Bruen is that handguns — which are responsible for the overwhelming majority of gun murders in the United States — are likely to proliferate on many American streets. That’s because Bruen strikes the types of laws that limit who can legally carry handguns in public, holding that “the Second and Fourteenth Amendments protect an individual’s right to carry a handgun for self-defense outside the home.”
The case involves a 109-year-old New York state law which requires anyone who wishes to carry a handgun in public, whether openly or concealed, to demonstrate “proper cause” before they can obtain a license to do so. An applicant must show “a special need for self-protection distinguishable from that of the general community or of persons engaged in the same profession.”
Similar laws exist in five other states — California, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, and New Jersey — plus the District of Columbia. Together, these jurisdictions make up about a quarter of the US population, and a much higher percentage of the country’s urban population. In effect, that has meant very few residents of those states have been able to legally carry a handgun in public.
Writing solely for the Court’s Republican appointees, Justice Clarence Thomas strikes down New York’s century-old law. He also establishes a whole new (confusing) framework for evaluating gun control laws. Bruen establishes a “text, history, and tradition test” that purports to be rooted in, well, the text of the Constitution, and the history of English and early American gun laws.
In reality, however, Thomas’s new test takes extraordinary liberties with the text of the Second Amendment, which explicitly states that the purpose of the right to bear arms is to protect service in a militia.
And when it comes to “history,” “the Court’s near-exclusive reliance on history is not only unnecessary, it is deeply impractical,” as Breyer chastises Thomas in dissent. That’s because judges are ill-equipped to conduct the kind of multi-century historical survey that Thomas’s new framework demands.
Worse, Thomas announces that the government bears the burden of showing that any gun law “is consistent with this Nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation.” But if “tradition” is so important, why must New York’s 100-year-old law fall? As a practical matter, moreover, that Thomas places the burden of proof on the government means many gun laws are likely to fall because, when the historical record is unclear, the government loses.”
“As the Court explained in United States v. Miller (1939), the “obvious purpose” of the Second Amendment was to “render possible the effectiveness” of militias, and the amendment must be “interpreted and applied with that end in view.”
But Heller upended that. And quoting from Heller, Thomas writes that “individual self-defense is ‘the central component’ of the Second Amendment right.” And therefore gun regulations should be judged according to whether they undermine this atextual purpose invented by Republican appointees to the Supreme Court.
Similarly, Thomas writes that courts should determine whether a modern-day gun regulation fits within the nation’s historical traditions by drawing “historical analogies” to early American gun laws.
Thomas’s opinion suggests that these analogies may need to be drawn to laws that existed in 1791, when the Second Amendment was ratified; or that they may need to be drawn to laws that existed in 1865 — when the Fourteenth Amendment, which requires states to comply with the Second Amendment, was ratified. It declines to resolve questions about which date matters, however, adding another layer of confusion for judges forced to apply Bruen.
In any event, there are fairly obvious reasons why it is hard to draw reliable analogies between modern-day regulations and laws from earlier centuries. Federal law, for example, prohibits civilian ownership of machine guns. But the machine gun was invented in 1884. So a judge searching for early American laws regulating automatic weapons will come up empty, because machine guns did not exist during either the Founding Era or the Reconstruction Era. Does this mean that a ban on machine guns is unconstitutional?
Thomas also writes that “when a challenged regulation addresses a general societal problem that has persisted since the 18th century, the lack of a distinctly similar historical regulation addressing that problem is relevant evidence that the challenged regulation is inconsistent with the Second Amendment.” In other words, modern gun laws that address problems that existed in the 1700s are likely to fall, unless similar laws existed in the 18th century.
For this reason, Thomas concludes that a handgun ban like the one struck down in Heller is unconstitutional because the framers did not ban handguns in order to combat the problem of “firearm violence in densely populated communities.”
But this reasoning is anachronistic. According to the 1790 census, New York City had only 33,131 residents around the time when the Second Amendment was ratified. The second-largest city, Philadelphia, had fewer than 29,000 residents.
Eighteenth-century Americans, in other words, simply did not confront the problem of “firearm violence in densely populated communities.” The most densely populated communities in the 18th-century United States had roughly the same number of people as a small town in modern-day America.”
“this litany of long-forgotten laws does little to clarify the question of what the framing generation (or perhaps people during Reconstruction) thought about the right to carry a firearm without a permit on city streets. The bottom line is that the six Republican appointees surveyed many centuries worth of gun laws and concluded that they support the Republican Party’s preferred stance on firearms; while the three Democratic appointees surveyed the same laws and concluded that they support the Democratic Party’s preferred stance on firearms.
In fairness, Thomas does offer a workaround for the problem that many modern weapons — from machine guns to intercontinental ballistic missiles — did not exist until very recently and therefore were not regulated by early American lawmakers.
The lesson of history, Thomas claims, is that the Second Amendment protects the right of civilians to carry weapons that “are ‘in common use at the time.’” So an amendment that may have protected the right to own a musket in 1790 now protects the right to own a handgun, because handguns are now commonly used by civilians. Similarly, even Thomas would likely concede that the Second Amendment does not permit civilians to own tanks, nuclear warheads, or other weapons that are not commonly possessed by civilians in 2022.
Judges will no doubt have an easier time determining what kinds of guns are in common use in 2022 than they will determining what 18th-century gun laws have to say about the B-2 stealth bomber. But Thomas’s need to rely on such a workaround from his “text, history, and tradition” framework only emphasizes the uselessness of that framework.”
“The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which passed the Senate 65-33 after weeks of negotiations, doesn’t go as far as many Democrats wanted. But it introduces tailored reforms meant to incentivize states to keep guns out of dangerous people’s hands, provide new protections for domestic violence victims, enhance screening for gun buyers under the age of 21, and crack down on illegal gun purchases and trafficking.
The bill also provides billions of dollars in additional funding for school safety and mental health resources. Democrats have stressed they don’t believe that America’s gun violence epidemic can be solved by investments in mental health resources, as Republicans have argued, but have said that they won’t pass up the opportunity to put more money toward mental health.”
“Ultimately, 15 Republicans and 50 members of the Democratic caucus ended up joining them in voting for the bill. The vote was bipartisan on the House side too, with 14 GOP lawmakers — including Rep. Tony Gonzales, whose district includes Uvalde — voting yes.”
“At the heart of the case was the question of whether the discretion that New York placed in the hands of local licensing officials was consistent with how constitutional rights are typically treated in the American system. New York’s licensing scheme failed that test. “We know of no other constitutional rights that an individual may exercise only after demonstrating to government officers some special need,” Thomas wrote. “That is not how the First Amendment works when it comes to unpopular speech or the free exercise of religion. It is not how the Sixth Amendment works when it comes to a defendant’s right to confront the witnesses against him. And it is not how the Second Amendment works when it comes to public carry for self-defense.””