Federal Judge Rules Ban on Interstate Handgun Sales Unconstitutional

Leah Barkoukis
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Posted: Feb 12, 2015 2:23 PM
Federal Judge Rules Ban on Interstate Handgun Sales Unconstitutional

Second Amendment advocates landed a major victory on Wednesday after a federal judge declared the longstanding federal interstate handgun transfer ban to be unconstitutional.

First, the background:

The ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Reed O'Connor stemmed from a challenge to the ban brought by a Texas firearms dealer and a couple from the District of Columbia in July 2014.

The federal law prohibits a dealer from transferring a handgun, but not a rifle or shotgun, to an individual who does not live in the state in which the dealer's business is located. […]

Andrew and Tracey Hanson met with licensed firearms dealer Fredric Mance Jr. in Texas about buying two handguns, but did not complete the transaction because they could not take immediate possession of the weapons, according to court papers.

Federal law required Mance to transfer the handguns to a federally licensed dealer where the Hansons live, Charles Sykes in the District of Columbia, where they could complete the purchase after paying shipping and transfer fees.

The Hansons and Mance, all members of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, argued in their lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas that the ban limits consumer choices and infringes on their rights.

The ban, O’Connor determined, violated both the Second and Fifth Amendments to the Constitution. He also noted that the ban is distinguishable from other firearms restrictions because it does not target certain people, conduct, or distinctions among certain classes of firearms. “Instead,” he wrote, “the federal interstate handgun transfer ban targets the entire national market of handgun sales and directly burdens law-abiding, responsible citizens who seek to complete otherwise lawful transactions for handguns."

“It is bizarre and irrational to destroy the national market for an item that Americans have a fundamental right to purchase,” Alan Gura, attorney for the plaintiffs, observed. “Americans would never tolerate a ban on the interstate sale of books or contraceptives. And Americans are free to buy rifles and shotguns outside their state of residence, so long as the dealers respect the laws of the buyer’s home state. We’re gratified that the Court agreed that handguns should be treated no differently.”

Also significant, Reason points out, is that the judge applied “strict scrutiny” in the case.

In constitutional cases, strict scrutiny is the most exacting level of judicial review and is reserved for those disputes where a "fundamental" right is considered to be at stake.

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s 2008 decision inDistrict of Columbia v. Heller, which did not endorse any specific level of scrutiny for future Second Amendment cases, gun rights advocates have been urging the lower courts to practice strict scrutiny whenever appropriate. [Wednesday’s] win accomplished that important goal and will now serve as an example for other federal judges to follow as they grapple with America's fast-growing Second Amendment jurisprudence.

“Our lawsuit strikes at the heart of a debate that has been ongoing for several years, since the creation of the National Instant Check System (NICS),” CCRKBA Chairman Alan Gottlieb said in a statement. “With the advent of the NICS system, it makes no sense to perpetuate a ban on interstate transfers of handguns.”

While certainly an important victory, my colleague Bob Owens over at BearingArms.com reminds us that the ruling can’t be implemented immediately. Moreover, the government will almost certainly request a stay and then appeal the case.