“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.”
“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.”
“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.””
“Kavanaugh stressed, the constitutional problem with New York’s licensing scheme for carrying handguns in public was that “it grants open-ended discretion to licensing officials and authorizes licenses only for those applicants who can show some special need apart from self-defense.” By contrast, “43 States employ objective shall-issue licensing regimes. Those shall-issue regimes may require a license applicant to undergo fingerprinting, a background check, a mental health records check, and training in firearms handling and in laws regarding the use of force, among other possible requirements.” Today’s decision by the Court, Kavanaugh emphasized, did not touch any of that in any of those 43 states. “Shall-issue licensing regimes are constitutionally permissible, subject of course to an as-applied challenge if a shall-issue licensing regime does not operate in that manner in practice.”
Kavanaugh’s second point was drawn straight from the Heller language that I quoted above. “Properly interpreted,” Kavanaugh wrote, invoking Scalia, “the Second Amendment allows a ‘variety’ of gun regulations.”
Why would Kavanaugh write such a concurrence if he also fully joined Thomas’ majority opinion? One possible reason is that Kavanaugh is looking ahead to future cases that will inevitably arise in the lower courts as legal challenges are levied against other gun control laws. Kavanaugh, joined by Roberts, may be signaling to the lower courts that, in his view, many such gun control regulations are presumptively constitutional, and lower court judges should therefore act accordingly. At the very least, many lawyers in future Second Amendment cases will be grappling with Kavanaugh’s concurrence.”
“The decision in NetChoice v. Paxton reinstates an unconstitutional Texas law that seizes control of the major social media platforms’ content moderation process, requiring them to either carry content that those platforms do not wish to publish or be so restrictive it would render the platforms unusable. This law is unconstitutional because the First Amendment prohibits the government from ordering private companies or individuals to publish speech that they do not wish to be associated with.”
“Although the court did not identify which of the three judges dissented, it’s not hard to guess how the votes broke down. The panel includes Judge Leslie Southwick, a relatively moderate conservative appointed by President George W. Bush, as well as two notoriously right-wing judges.
Judge Edith Jones is a former general counsel to the Republican Party of Texas who was appointed by President Ronald Reagan when she was just 35 years old. Since then, she’s developed a reputation as an especially caustic conservative — Jones once told a liberal colleague to “shut up” during a court hearing, and she joined an opinion arguing that a man should be executed despite the fact that his lawyer slept through much of his trial.
The third judge, Andy Oldham, is a young Trump appointee who clerked for Justice Samuel Alito. Among other things, Oldham is the author of a Fifth Circuit opinion permitting a Trump-appointed district judge to seize control of much of the nation’s policy governing the US-Mexico border.
It is likely, but not entirely certain, that Jones and Oldham are right-wing outliers even when compared to the median justice on the Supreme Court. In 2021, Justice Clarence Thomas published an opinion expressing sympathy for the “common carrier” theory Texas relies on in NetChoice. But that opinion was joined by no other justice.
In any event, given the enormous disruption the Fifth Circuit’s NetChoice decision is likely to create for social media companies, it is likely that they will ask the Supreme Court to intervene very soon. We should know in very short order, in other words, whether the Supreme Court intends to write social media out of the First Amendment.”
“In 2008, the Supreme Court effectively wrote NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre’s “good guy with a gun” theory into the Constitution. The Court’s 5-4 decision in District of Columbia v. Heller (2008) was the first Supreme Court decision in American history to hold that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm. But it also went much further than that.
Heller held that one of the primary purposes of the Second Amendment is to protect the right of individuals — good guys with a gun, in LaPierre’s framework — to use firearms to stop bad guys with guns. As Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in Heller, an “inherent right of self-defense has been central to the Second Amendment right.”
As a matter of textual interpretation, this holding makes no sense. The Second Amendment provides 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.”
We don’t need to guess why the Second Amendment protects a right to firearms because it is right there in the Constitution. The Second Amendment’s purpose is to preserve “a well-regulated Militia,” not to allow individuals to use their weapons for personal self-defense.
For many years, the Supreme Court took the first 13 words of the Second Amendment seriously. As the Court said in United States v. Miller (1939), the “obvious purpose” of the Second Amendment was to “render possible the effectiveness” of militias. And thus the amendment must be “interpreted and applied with that end in view.” Heller abandoned that approach.
Heller also reached another important policy conclusion. Handguns, according to Scalia, are “overwhelmingly chosen” by gun owners who wish to carry a firearm for self-defense. For this reason, he wrote, handguns enjoy a kind of super-legal status. Lawmakers are not allowed to ban what Scalia described as “the most preferred firearm in the nation to ‘keep’ and use for protection of one’s home and family.”
This declaration regarding handguns matters because this easily concealed weapon is responsible for far more deaths than any other weapon in the United States — and it isn’t close. In 2019, for example, a total of 13,927 people were murdered in the US, according to the FBI. Of these murder victims, at least 6,368 — just over 45 percent — were killed by handguns.”
“It is likely, moreover, that the Supreme Court is going to make it even harder for federal and state lawmakers to combat gun violence very soon.”
“The future of firearm regulation looks grim for anyone who believes that the government should help protect us from gun violence.”
“The government insists that its citizens have a Second Amendment right to defend their homes, but it also insists that armed agents of the state may break down one’s door in the middle of the night with little to no warning. So if a groggy, scared citizen, jolted out of bed by the sound of men shouting and the front door coming off its hinges, exercises that right against what he or she could reasonably assume to be violent intruders, the homeowner can be held criminally liable—and that includes capital punishment. In 2006, former Reason writer Radley Balko detailed the case of Cory Maye, a Mississippi man sentenced to death for fatally shooting a police officer during a no-knock drug raid. As Reason has argued continually over the years, these sorts of raids, especially when used for narcotics search warrants and non-violent offenses, put both officers and civilians at needless risk, occasionally with tragic results.”