The fight to protect the Second Amendment from the clutches of the gun control crowd can feel much like the race between the tortoise and the hare made famous in Aesop’s Fables. Backed with huge budgets and armed with the moral elasticity to hijack any national tragedy to further their cause, gun control proponents employ flashy ads, emotional rhetoric and outright bullying to push their way to the forefront of the public debate. Meanwhile, Second Amendment supporters toil through the court system, winning occasional hard-fought victories in the drive to dismantle decades of laws designed to rob us of one of our most sacred natural rights.
One of those victories came last week, when a U.S. District Court judge in Texas found the federal interstate handgun transfer ban, established by the Gun Control Act of 1968 to be unconstitutional.
The case, Mance v. Holder, began when a law-abiding couple from Washington, D.C. tried to purchase a pair of handguns from a firearms retailer in Arlington, Texas. Because of the long-standing federal law prohibiting someone from one state from purchasing a handgun in another state, the couple was not able to complete the transaction. To do so in compliance with the federally-imposed system, the couple would have had to pay for the guns in Texas, then pay to have the dealer ship them to a federal firearms licensee (“FFL”) in their state of residence (Washington, DC). With the local authorities in Washington, DC being notoriously anti-gun, even finding an FFL in the nation’s capital willing to handle the transaction would be difficult.
According to veteran gun rights attorney Alan Gura, who also tried the landmark Heller and McDonald Second Amendment cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, the federal ban impermissibly limits access to firearms for law-abiding citizens through reduced consumer choice, higher costs, and unnecessary delays. Predictably, the federal government argued the ban – which it views as a mere inconvenience for the law-abiding citizen -- is necessary to ensure “public safety.”
Unswayed by the government’s boilerplate arguments, the District Court held the government failed to provide evidence sufficient to justify the burdens on Second Amendment rights imposed by the 1968 sales ban. Additionally, the Court correctly determined the ban violated the Due Process clause of the Fifth Amendment. As Judge Reed O’Connor noted in his opinion, “[t]he 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.” O’Connor correctly summarized the fundamental defect in the 1968 law with these words -- “The federal law not only creates a discriminatory regime based on residency, but it also involves access to the constitutional guarantee to keep and bear arms.”
O’Connor’s ruling is important for Second Amendment rights not only because of the impact it will have on making firearms more accessible and less expensive for law-abiding citizens; but because of the way in which it builds on a string of crucial court decisions in the post-Heller era (that seminal decision was issued by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2008). This latest court victory – if affirmed on appeal – establishes that the individual right to keep and bear arms does not end at a state’s borders.
In the Congress, now under Republican control in both houses, legislative efforts to shore up these hard-fought judicial victories are gaining momentum. For example, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas has introduced the “Constitutional Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act.” This legislation would ensure that if a citizen possesses a permit for the concealed carry of a firearm in one state, it must be recognized in any other state with concealed carry laws. This bill would treat concealed carry permits like driver’s licenses, which are issued by one state but recognized in all other states under the Constitution’s “full faith and credit” clause. Cornyn notes also that the legislation would “eliminate some of the ‘gotcha moments,’ where people inadvertently cross state lines” with firearms they are legally allowed to carry in one state, but under the current gun control regime, oft times not in others. One need only look at the ongoing police harassment of out-of-state gun owners in Maryland to see how badly such a law is needed.
Gura said he fully expects that the U.S. government will appeal the Mance case; so it may be some time before we see the onerous interstate handgun transfer ban finally struck from the books. However, as the tortoise proved, it is the perseverance of the moral and virtuous that ultimately wins the race. Though the fight in the courts and in the legislatures will continue for many years to come, thanks to Second Amendment heroes like Gura and Cornyn, with each incremental victory the finish line as set by our Founding Fathers in the Bill of Rights grows closer.