A United States District Court Judge has ruled that a man convicted of drunk driving almost two decades ago cannot have his gun rights taken away. In 2005, Edward A. Williams was convicted of driving while under the influence, a first-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to five years in prison. He was allowed to serve his sentence of 90 days to two years at home because of a medical problem.
That conviction forfeited his gun rights under federal law, 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1).
He filed suit to regain his gun rights in 2017, arguing that a lifetime loss of gun rights for a non-violent misdemeanor conviction violates his Second Amendment rights. He lost.
Backed by the Firearms Policy Coalition, Williams subsequently filed for a rehearing under the Supreme Court’s Bruen decision. Today, District Court Judge John Milton Younge (a Trump appointee) ruled that under Bruen, stripping the gun rights of someone who had a previous DUI conviction is unconstitutional.
In no way does the Court dispute the dangerousness of drunk driving or of combining firearm use and alcohol consumption, and it acknowledges that Plaintiff’s offenses were serious and his conduct during his convictions in 2004 and 2005 dangerous. However, that legislatures have historically labelled certain groups and conduct dangerous for the purposes of disarmament…does not, in of itself, create a historical analogue to the present-day prohibition on firearm possession by those convicted of DUIs.
The Range Court had rejected the argument that status based restrictions on ‘dangerous’ groups identified as such by the legislature would constitute an appropriate analogy to Section 922(g)(1) today. …(noting that legislatures are not empowered to “eviscerate the general right to publicly carry arms for self-defense” with overbroad categorizations). Historical regulations on persons deemed dangerous do not present a sufficient historical analogue without showing that the regulated conduct itself is analogous to Plaintiff’s.
Similarly, the Court finds the Government’s argument that Section 922(g)(1) can be appropriately applied to Plaintiff because of historical regulations on the possession of a firearm by a presently intoxicated person unavailing. The Government points to several regulations permitting the disarmament of drunk or intoxicated persons. … None of these regulations allude to disarmament lasting beyond the individual’s state of intoxication, and none provided for permanent disarmament, as Section 922(g)(1) does.
Certainly, this Court agrees that using a firearm while intoxicated is dangerous, but historical regulations which momentarily disarmed certain individuals for temporary mental incapacity cannot be considered similar to the sanction of permanent disarmament for past DUI convictions. As noted in Range, “government confiscation of the instruments of crime,” including to prevent an imminent crime, “differs from a status-based lifetime ban on firearm possession.”
As stated in Bruen, the Court must consider the “how and why” behind Second Amendment restrictions to determine whether the modern articulation is relevantly similar to its proposed historical analogue. …The language in the regulations offered by the Government suggests an interest in protecting the public from an inevitable danger caused by allowing a presently intoxicated person to use a firearm. … Section 922(g)(1)’s prohibition on firearm possession for those convicted of a DUI cannot, without significant speculation by the Court, be considered as having a substantially similar purpose.
Ultimately, Judge Younge concluded . . .
…the Government has not carried its burden in proving that the United States’ tradition of firearm regulation supports stripping an individual of their right to possess a firearm because they had previously driven while intoxicated. The application of Section 922(g)(1) to Plaintiff, therefore, constitutes a violation of his Second Amendment rights, and the Court finds that Plaintiff is entitled to the requested relief.
Read the full ruling here.