In June 2021, the Supreme Court handed down a decision in New York State Pistol and Rifle Association v. Bruen, ruling that courts must look to the historical tradition of firearms regulation when interpreting any government measures that attempt to restrict firearm ownership. That ruling has led to a major shakeup of gun laws across the country as courts have started applying the Bruen test to cases challenging the constitutionality of both recent and longstanding gun legislation.
Over the past two weeks, that trend has continued. Below are the latest developments.
Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett has given the state of Illinois until Wednesday, December 6, to respond as to why she should not block its ban on approximately 190 guns. Earlier this year, U.S. District Court Judge Stephen Patrick McGlynn granted an injunction to plaintiffs seeking to stop the gun ban from going into effect.
The law, known as Protect Illinois Communities Act (PICA), bans so-called assault weapons, which are defined as a “semiautomatic rifle that has the capacity to accept a detachable magazine or that may be readily modified to accept a detachable magazine” if it also possesses an attachment.
PICA would ban magazines of more than 10 rounds for rifles or more than 15 rounds for handguns. Gun owners would also have to register their guns with the government.
Following McGlynn’s ruling, two judges in a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ruled in the state’s favor, declining to prevent the law from going into effect.
Plaintiff Robert Bevis requested the Supreme Court issue an injunction.
Bevis’s sentiments echo that of McGlynn, who argued,
“The Supreme Court in Bruen and Heller held that citizens have a constitutional right to own and possess firearms and may use them for self-defense. PICA seems to be written in spite of the clear directives in Bruen and Heller, not in conformity with them.”
Bevis stated, “It’s just so egregious. You go through it and they are literally slapping the Supreme Court right in the face.”
He owns Law Weapons, a firearms and gunsmithing business in Naperville, Illinois, which he says is struggling to survive amidst PICA’s promise of banning guns like the AR-15. The law is set to go into effect on January 1.
In other challenges to Illinois’s law, plaintiffs are seeking a hearing by the full Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.
Bruen proved to be a deciding factor in Brown v. ATF, a case brought by Steven Brown and Benjamin Weekley challenging a federal law that bans adults under the age of 21 from legally purchasing a handgun. On December 1, U.S. District Court Judge Thomas S. Kleeh of the Northern District of West Virginia ruled in their favor, finding that 18-to-20-year-old law-abiding citizens “are part of ‘the people’ [whom] the Second Amendment protects.”
In so doing, he struck down as unconstitutional the part of the 1968 Gun Control Act that bans the sales of guns to those adults under 21. He wrote,
“The core issue the Court must answer under Bruen remains whether our Nation’s history and tradition contains ‘analogous’ restrictions on the ability of 18-to-20-year-olds to purchase firearms. Defendants have not presented any evidence of age-based restrictions on the purchase or sale of firearms from before or at the Founding or during the Early Republic. Defendants have likewise failed to offer evidence of similar regulation between then and 1791 or in a relevant timeframe thereafter. For that reason alone, Defendants have failed to meet the burden imposed by Bruen.”
In his ruling, Judge Kleeh enjoined the ATF and its officials from enforcing the law against the plaintiffs and “otherwise qualified 18-to-20-year-olds,” which means it applies across all 50 states, not just to West Virginia.
In late November, Harney County Judge Robert Raschio again blocked Oregon’s controversial gun permitting law, ruling that it violates the state’s own constitution.
The law, which was approved through a ballot measure with only 50.6 percent of the vote, requires a permit to purchase a gun, and that permit process requires that the permit-seeker:
The law also limits magazine capacity to 10 rounds.
Last December, Raschio and U.S. District Court Judge Karin Immergut handed down conflicting rulings. In July, Immergut issued another ruling in favor of the state, which permitted the law to go into effect. On November 21, Raschio delivered yet another ruling, once again blocking the law.
This time around, Raschio looked at the question of whether Measure 114 violates the state’s constitution.
Article 1, Section 27 states, “The people shall have the right to bear arms for the defence of themselves, and the State, but the Military shall be kept in strict subordination to the civil power[.]”
Raschio noted that the court needed to answer the question of what the voters of 1857 understood the law to mean. In his ruling, he wrote,
“The court finds the voters of 1857 did not seek to restrain access to the best firearms with the highest functionality possible they could procure.”
He stated that the magazine restriction didn’t provide any protection from mass shooters as a shooter could quickly change magazines. He also found that the permit process gives police too much power in granting permits. Finally, Raschio argued that police could use subjective criteria to determine whether a person should be able to purchase a gun.
The state of Oregon says it plans to appeal the ruling.
In its decision in Bruen, the Supreme Court wrote,
“The constitutional right to bear arms in public for self-defense is not ‘a second-class right,’ subject to an entirely different body of rules than the other Bill of Rights guarantees. We know of no other constitutional right that an individual may exercise only after demonstrating to government officers some special need. 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.”
It is not the government’s right to impose strict burdens on which law-abiding citizens can carry a gun or which gun they can or can’t own. The Second Amendment grants law-abiding Americans the right to keep and bear arms, and that right cannot be infringed, not directly nor through a sneaky end run — like restricting ammunition, or requiring governmental approval, or arguing that some adult citizens who are otherwise allowed to vote and join the military can’t be classified as “of the people” when it comes to their God-given right to self-defense.
In both the Bruen and Heller decisions, the Court sought to protect against those who would attempt to take away or water down the Second Amendment right granted to Americans to defend themselves under the Constitution. Thankfully, most judges tasked with working out the various ways that governments attempt to infringe on this right are applying the Supreme Court’s wise guidance.
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