This week in gun rights – August 15, 2020

Matthew Larosiere is the Director of Legal Policy at Firearms Policy Coalition. You can connect with him on Twitter @MattLaAtLaw.

Federal appeals court overturns California magazine capacity ban; four indicted in Santa Clara carry permit scandal; Missouri age bans; NYPD commissioner doesn't get carry; the American Bar Association hates gun owners; study links gun purchases to fear of gun laws; man charged for gun possession without a permit because he called an ambulance.


Federal appeals court overturns California magazine capacity ban

     In an 81-page decision issued this Friday, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals granted a major victory to gun owners, affirming a lower court decision holding that the state’s ban on magazines capable of holding more than ten rounds violates the Second Amendment. The decision also made some refreshing legal conclusions regarding firearm magazines. First, the Court found that firearms magazines are protected under the Second Amendment, are commonly owned and typically used for lawful purposes, and are not “unusual arms” falling outside the scope of protection afforded under the court’s interpretation of the Second Amendment. Second, capacity-based magazine bans are neither long-standing prohibitions, nor is there historical evidence supporting the theory that “large capacity magazine” possession isn’t protected under the Second Amendment.

     If you’re wondering why that’s relevant, it’s because there are two generally prevailing standards in most federal courts for analyzing laws that infringe on the Second Amendment. The proper standard - examining the text of the Second Amendment using history and tradition, comes from the seminal case District of Columbia v. Heller. The standard applied by the court here comes from one of their prior cases and looks at a variety of factors to determine whether the law in question sufficiently violates the right to keep and bear arms. By providing all of the legal conclusions I just mentioned, the Court explained that California’s blanket ban on “high capacity magazines” is unconstitutional using both the Heller and the court’s analyses.

     Don’t go packing up boxes to send to your Cali friends just yet, though. The ban remains partially in effect until the district court issues a new order lifting the stay of judgment.


Santa Clara concealed carry permit scandal - four indicted

     Something is rotten in Santa Clara County, California, where four people have been indicted for their involvement in a scandal related to the county’s gun permitting process. Last Thursday a grand jury indicted one of the county police force’s captains, and three political supporters of Sheriff Laurie Smith on charges of conspiracy and bribery. While Smith has yet to be indicted, prosecutors indicated that the investigation is far from over.

     The indictment is the result of an investigation into the police department’s involvement in pay-to-play gun licensing. Gun permits are remarkably difficult to obtain in Santa Clara County, and there have been whispers for a long time about the corrupt nature of the permitting process. According to the county DA, the four people have been charged for allegedly conspiring to unlawfully secure concealed-carry permits for a Seattle-based security contractor. This incident isn’t isolated; investigators discovered “a two-tiered policy for the concealed gun permits: a process for regular citizens whose applications were destined for a filing cabinet, and another for VIPs whose applications were fast-tracked for approval.”

     The situation in Santa Clara is just further proof that permitting processes are bad news for law-abiding individuals. Criminals are going to get their guns on the black market - they’re not standing in line to file their private information with the county before they pick up a handgun. Permitting laws encourage discriminatory conduct; almost always against the poor and disenfranchised, conducted by people we are supposed to trust to enforce the law. 


Missouri Senate passes bill criminalizing gun possession and transfers based on age

     One of the state legislators in the Show-Me State just pushed through a bill that would impose more punishment and additional restrictions for firearms possession and transfer. State Senator Doug Libla (R, Dist. 25) successfully advanced Senate Bill 1, which is a criminal reform bill. The first questionable thing this bill does is temporarily lift the residency requirement for police working in St. Louis. This decision doesn’t make much sense from a criminal justice perspective because police working in communities they aren’t related to are less likely to be invested in the welfare of the community’s residents, and are probably less prone to exercise discretion.

     The second thing this bill does is require children as young as 14 to be tried as adults for gun violations, which feels unnecessary considering they can already be tried as adults for traditional violent crimes like assault and murder. Why did Senator Libla feel the need to add this provision, especially in such a tumultuous period of time? Libla’s addition of a race tracker is also suspect. Lastly, this bill would criminalize loaning a firearm to individuals under the age of 18 without their parent or guardian’s permission. That means that if Uncle Joe were to loan his nephew a shotgun for a hunting trip and mom and dad weren’t aware, he’s committed a felony.

     Senator Libla’s bill is faulty because it encourages bad policing, vigorous prosecution of children, and criminalizes activity that shouldn’t be illegal in the first place. And it all seems to orient around St. Louis.


NYPD Commissioner doesn’t believe in the right to carry, or something

     Dermot Shea, the Commissioner of the NYPD had some harsh words for “people who carry guns” on Monday, saying that they “need to know three things - that there’s going to be swift, certain, punishment. Period. And if we get to that point, we’re going to be in a much, much better place.” That’s a weird way to phrase things considering the police department are the ones who run the city’s firearms licensing division, as well as the fact that isn’t really three things. The problem with Commissioner Shea’s position is that it assumes that anyone with a gun is a criminal, and that’s simply not true. Despite the Licensing Division’s well-earned reputation for obstructing the ability of law-abiding individuals to exercise their Second Amendment rights, there are at least 50,000 handgun licensees in the city. That’s 14,000 more handgun owners than the entire police force, which means at least 14,000 civilians have met the NYPD’s own ridiculous standards for gun ownership. That’s also not including the people who have rifle and shotgun permits, so the question is why Shea wants to punish gun owners. Maybe he and the rest of the NYPD just don’t want people to know that they’re capable of defending themselves. 

The American Bar Association hates gun owners

     The American Bar Association has a reputation for being anti-gun. In fact, they have a “standing committee on gun violence,” which is really just code for an organization that sits down to write anti-Second Amendment legislation. So it should come as no surprise that the ABA has pitched a resolution urging even more gun control.

     The ABA resolution calls for federal, state, and local governments to take three gun control actions. The first is to require individuals seeking to acquire a firearm to apply for a permit from a designated law enforcement or public safety agency. Second, the ABA wants applicants to have to apply in person, be fingerprinted, and be subjected to both a background and a criminal records check. These requirements are redundant, criminal records checks have already been proven to be ineffective at reducing rates of violent crime, and I don’t see why the police need to know about the intimate details of private peoples’ lives. The ABA’s last demand is that the sale, delivery, or transfer of a firearm to someone without a valid permit be prohibited. In other words, they want universal background checks, even on things like inheritance and loans.

     Only the ABA could come up with a resolution this monumentally stupid. Background checks don’t stop criminals from acquiring firearms, but they usually result in the improper denial or delay of law-abiding individuals’ exercise of rights. When applied universally, background checks prevent things like temporary firearms loans to family members for hunting events, and if poorly drafted, can result in criminal charges for someone using another person’s gun in a self-defense scenario. Giving police departments sole discretion to issue permits empowers them to discriminate against the poor and minorities while also enabling them to compel bribes like in the Santa Clara and NYPD pay-to-play scandals. 


Study links gun purchases to fear of gun laws

     If you’ve been a gun owner for a while I’m sure you’ve seen firearms surges or heard things like “Politician X is gun salesman of the year” after they’ve proposed some kind of ridiculous gun law. You know that gun ownership spikes after gun grabbers propose more gun control, but just in case you weren’t sure, it seems that a team at New York University has confirmed this easily observable fact. But wait, it gets better. Now the National Science Foundation has decided to waste $2,000,000 giving the NYU team a grant so that they can continue assessing cause and effect for gun purchasing.

     What these researchers apparently don’t understand is that tragedies are often exploited by politicians as a pretext for advancing gun control. So while the event itself may conjure consideration of a firearms purchase by non-gun owners, it’s more likely the imminence of legislation that would render these people defenseless going forward that makes them pull the trigger on buying a gun. Simply put, uncertainty in local and world events, when combined with false scarcity induced by legislative prohibitions on the right to keep and bear arms, make people buy firearms.


Man charged for gun possession without a permit because he called an ambulance

     Whenever something terrible happens, paternalistic politicians promise you that the government will be there to help. Well, it seems a Worcester, Massachusetts man learned what “help” is the hard way this week. The man, who apparently needed medical aid, called for an ambulance. When paramedics arrived, they discovered that he had a firearm and reported him to the police, who then charged him with possession of a gun without a permit.

     The argument you’d probably hear from the anti-gun crowd is “oh well, maybe he shouldn’t have had a gun on him.” Or maybe they would say something like “this is just another reason why criminals shouldn’t carry guns.” Either way, they’d be missing the mark. The point is that this permit law puts people in precarious positions, and anyone injured while carrying without a permit will have to decide whether to seek potentially life-saving medical attention or to chance it and try disposing of their gun first. If the goal here is to save lives, Massachusetts would do better by ditching the permit law.