This is TTAG’s weekly roundup of legal and legislative news affecting guns, the gun business and gun owners’ rights.
Illinois Gun Dealer Oversight Law Challenged
Last January, Illinois governor J. B. Pritzker signed into law a strict licensing regime for the state’s firearm dealers. It required any retailer selling guns in the state to go through a separate state certification process, in addition to the already existing federal licensing regime.
The state also requires owners to install video surveillance equipment, in addition to a litany of state-specific training and security requirements. The state certification costs up to $1,500 for three years. The law took effect last Wednesday.
This week, a group of dealers and the Illinois State Rifle Association brought suit against the state, arguing that the new law imposes an unfair and discriminatory financial burden on business owners. The governor’s office defends the proposal on the grounds that it makes the state safer, invoking terms such as “commonsense.”
While the law is silly and will likely do little more than the lawsuit alleges, the plaintiffs here have a tremendous hill to climb. While law isn’t too terribly developed in the Second Amendment context, when it comes to other exercises of fundamental rights, the courts have been far more lenient when it comes to restrictions on businesses. It’s not often that a federal court even entertains, much less vindicates, the rights of businesses.
Illinois Heavy on Dealers, Looser on Carry
Despite the previously mentioned clampdown on dealers in the state. Pritzker signed a law resetting the clock on existing concealed carry permits in the state, and relaxing some red tape standing between Illinois residents and their Firearm Owner Identification Cards.
The law also exempts a specific shooting complex from the aforementioned heightened requirements of dealers, a fascinating exercise in corporate welfare. If the requirements are too burdensome for the state-owned World Shooting Complex at Sparta, why should it apply to apply to Maxon Shooters Supplies in Des Plaines or Metro Shooting Supplies in Belleville?
The law also loosens restrictions on current and former police and military in carrying firearms.
Study Posits Children Safer in States With Tough Gun Laws
Last Monday, the journal “Pediatrics” released a study that purported to find a reduced likelihood of risk to a child being killed by a firearm in states with tougher gun laws. Multiple outlets have reported on the “findings” this week, chomping at the bit to announce support that stricter gun las save lives.
One group asked me to comment on the new study ahead of its publication. There are a few problems most reports seem to glaze over.
For one, it’s very “black box,” the study is vague about its inputs and, despite using yearly data, only presents itself as a 5-year trend. This obfuscates the regular ebb and flow of data related to something as rare as childhood mortality.
Further, the study presents its likelihood of death in terms of “x per 100,000 U.S. Children,” an intentionally misleading and inflationary metric that seems designed to confuse with “x per 100,000 Americans,” a much more commonly used metric within and without pediatrics.
Most importantly, and most suspiciously, the study uses data that suggests its own conclusion. A state’s mortality rate is juxtaposed with the score given the state by the Brady Campaign, which, need I remind, was originally called “The National Council to Control Handguns.” Not only is a subjective rating by an anti-gun organization not an actual metric, it would be the understatement of the century to say it might be a little biased.
That said, expect to hear this study quoted. A lot.
NJ Gun Control Package
On Tuesday, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed a gun control package with a stunning, inspired name: “Gun Safety Package 2.0.” The governor chose a high school as the venue for signing the law, because of course he did.
The “commonsense” package includes a “smart gun” bill, requiring that any approved model be available for sale by dealers in the state; a law expanding the list of crimes that disqualify New Jersians from gun ownership, and also makes it illegal to own a firearm without a serial number (a shame for any collectors of historical European arms in New Jersey); a law making it a crime for a “disqualified person” to solicit a transfer of a firearm; and a law requiring the state to establish a suicide prevention class, and force gun dealers to hand out related pamphlets.
The biggest move here is the “smart gun” bill. It will effectively create a captive market for the first company to get a gun approved by the state’s “smart gun” board. The dealers of the state will be at the mercy of that company to pay whatever price imaginable. Why bother making your product affordable when every dealer has to stock them?
Vermont’s Supreme Court Asked to Weigh in on HiCap Ban
The Vermont Supreme Court has been asked to review constitutional questions arising out the state’s “high capacity” magazine ban. Max Misch was charged with two counts of possessing illegal magazines, and is now working his way through Vermont’s state court system.
This type of litigation is exciting for a number of reasons. For one, a state supreme court isn’t required to defer to federal case law when interpreting the right to bear arms under their state constitution. This is also frightening, for obvious reasons.
Given the diverse makeup of state supreme courts, and SCOTUS’ reticence in the Second Amendment context, this breed of action might be a great way to develop the body of law. State decisions can be used as persuasive authority in Federal Court, as they were in determining the “militia” clause of the Second Amendment to be perfunctory.
New Zealand’s Buyback
This week was the first of a series of “buyback events” in New Zealand. Over 900 registered to relinquish their arms, but only about 200 showed up to “voluntarily” relinquish their firearms. One issue, though, was that when gun owners realized, and were unsatisfied with, the price being offered by their government, they were not allowed to leave. Shocking, that.
New Zealand has a fascinating history with gun control, which Dean Weingarten at Ammoland did a nice write-up on here. Definitely worth a read.
In Pennsylvania, A Conviction Alone is Not Enough
To say we have an over-criminalization problem in the United States is one of many understatements that color our legal landscape. In the US, you can face over a year in the clink for such things as fibbing in the mail, catching a lobster that’s a bit too small, or even mis-handling your prescriptions. But what do these have to do with the ability to safely handle a firearm?
That’s a question the Pennsylvania Supreme Court just weighed in on. In November of 2013, Richard Navarro pled guilty to two first-degree misdemeanor counts of forgery. He then requested to have a stolen firearm returned to him in 2016, but was denied after failing a NICS check.
This is where things get complicated. Federal law bars anyone from receiving a firearm if they have been convinced of a crime punishable by more than one year in jail, which Navarro was. However, federal law only applies to firearms used in interstate commerce.
This is one of the last remaining vestiges of the Constitutional system expressly intended to prevent a massive body of federal law. The feds need a legitimate source of Constitutional power to regulate in any area, and they most often go to the “commerce clause” for this.
If the item hasn’t moved in interstate commerce, technically, the feds can’t touch it under the commerce clause. Since the Gun Control Ac of 1968 was passed pursuant to the Commerce power, that holds here. The Judge rightly found that the government must prove that the firearm moved in interstate commerce before applying 922(g).
While this might not save Navarro (unless the arm is a rare made-in-PA model that never left the state), it shows the judiciary is here taking the proposition that the federal goernment’s powers are “few and defined” seriously.
San Diego Safe Storage
On Monday, the San Diego City Council approved a safe storage provision requiring gun owners in the city to keep their firearms in state-approved lockboxes, except when the owner is actually handling the firearm. Violating the ordinance carries a penalty of up to six months in jail, and a $1,000 fine.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Firearms are tools for self-defense. Their use situations are those in which human lives hang in the balance. An inaccessible firearm is more of a financial asset than it is a useful tool. This isn’t to say guns shouldn’t be secured – far from it. But rather that the individual is better suited to weigh the costs and benefits of firearm accessibility than a City Council.
Further, being that these laws relate to arms kept in homes, we know that enforcement will most likely only occur in communities with higher police presence. These laws are more likely to result in the harassment of disadvantaged communities than any tangible public safety benefit.