An interesting decision was handed down yesterday in the Middle District of Pennsylvania yesterday concerning the Gun Control Act of 1968. The Court held that the Second Amendment actually protects the rights of individuals who have been convicted of old, nonviolent crimes. Julio Suarez was convicted in Montgomery County, Maryland of carrying a handgun without a license in 1990. The offense was classed as a misdemeanor in Maryland, but had a potential term of imprisonment of “not less than thirty days, nor more than three years.” Suarez was sentenced to . . .
180 days’ imprisonment and fined $500 (both suspended) and given one year of probation. He was also convicted of a misdemeanor in 1998 for driving while under the influence of alcohol.
The Gun Control Act of 1968 (at section 921(g)), bans anyone who “is under indictment for, or has been convicted in any court of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year….” Therefore, Suarez was barred under federal law from obtaining a firearm.
Suarez filed a complaint in 2014 (his attorneys includedPennsylvania lawyer Douglas Gould and the famous Alan Gura,) announcing that he intended to acquire a firearm for purposes of self-protection and the protection of his family. He argued (among other things) that the Gun Control Act, as applied to him, violates the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Judge William W. Caldwell of the Middle District of Pennsylvania agreed with him.
Judge Caldwell applied a two-prong test: first he asked whether or not Suarez’s case fell within the meaning of the Gun Control Act (which he held that it did.) Then he examined whether or not “the challenged law imposes a burden on conduct falling wtihin the scope of the Second Amendment’s guarantee.
The key to the ruling appears to be this section of i>U.S. v. Heller (and I’m taking this quote from Eugene Volokh in the Volokh Conspiracy):
Although we do not undertake an exhaustive historical analysis today of the full scope of the Second Amendment, nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.
[Footnote: We identify these presumptively lawful regulatory measures only as examples; our list does not purport to be exhaustive.]
Because the Supreme Court held that these measures were only “presumptively” valid, Judge Caldwell held that they could be “rebutted with an as-applied challenge.” To raise such a challenge, the challenger “must present facts about himself and his background that distinguish his circumstances from those of persons historically barred from Second Amendment Challenges.”
Judge Caldwell noted: “the traditional justification of § 922(g)(1) [the section of the gun control act barring possession of firearms by people convicted of crimes punishable by more than one year in prison] was the disarmament of individuals likely to commit violent offenses.”
Concerning Suarez’s background, the Court had this to say:
Since his 1990 conviction, Plaintiff has been married for twenty years. He is a father of three children. He is a member of a local church and enjoys a position of leadership there. Since 1992, Plaintiff has maintained continuous employment within the technology field. For the last six years, he has been employed as a Project Manager for a technology management company. In his position, Plaintiff provides technology services primarily to Department of Defense clients. And in order to provide those services, he holds a government security clearance of “Secret.” Finally, in August of 2009, Plaintiff applied to the Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas of Adams County to remove the firearm disability imposed under Pennsylvania law. The court granted the application and held that Pennsylvania law no longer prohibits Plaintiff from possessing a firearm. Plaintiff asserts that he is entitled to judgment as a matter of law because these circumstances place him outside the intended scope of § 922(g)(1). We agree.
Because of these facts, Judge Caldwell held that Suarez should not be barred from owning firearms for life, as is mandated by the language of the Gun Control Act:
First, we find that…Plaintiff’s predicate conviction was minor and non-violent, and the conviction is now decades-old. The conviction was minor because he ultimately received only one year of probation. It was non-violent because it did not involve the use of force. And his 1990 conviction is now two and a half decades old.
Second, we find that Plaintiff’s background and circumstances in the years following his conviction establish that he is no more dangerous than a typical law-abiding citizen and poses no continuing threat to society….
Plaintiff’s conviction did not involve violence. He served his probationary period without incident. There is no evidence that in the twenty five years since his conviction Plaintiff was dangerous or misused firearms. There is no evidence that he used violence toward other citizens. Although he does have one intervening conviction for driving under the influence of alcohol, that conviction is not a disqualifying conviction…and is itself nearly two decades old. Indeed, despite Plaintiff’s subsequent conviction, in 2009, a Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas determined that Plaintiff’s circumstances justified removal of a firearm disability imposed under State law. And finally, Plaintiff maintains “Secret” security clearance with the government in order to provide services to Department of Defense clients. We think it safe to assume that our government does not give such clearances to individuals that are dangerous or that pose a threat to society. Accordingly, we find that Plaintiff has established that he is no more dangerous than a typical law-abiding citizen and poses no continuing threat to society. Therefore, we find that Plaintiff falls outside the intended scope of § 922(g)(1) and is distinguishable from those historically barred from Second Amendment protections.
Boiled down, the Judge wasn’t willing to permanently disarm a person who had made some (non-violent) mistakes as a young man, who had clearly been on a good path for over fifteen years, and who simply wanted to exercise his right to own a firearm for the protection of his family.
Thus, yet another victory for Alan Gura.
As soon as they digest the case, the usual suspects opposed to the right to keep and bear arms will no doubt issue breathless statements about how this decision will put guns in the hands of violent felons. To do so, however, would be to ignore the rather thoughtful decision written by Judge Caldwell, and the facts in Mr. Suarez’s particular case.
[Hat tip: Arthur P.]