This is TTAG’s weekly roundup of legal and legislative news affecting guns, the gun business and gun owners’ rights. For a deeper dive into the topics discussed here, check out this week in gun rights at FPC.
Pennsylvania’s Attorney General has effectively bans “ghost guns”, Puerto Rico takes the first step to recognizing gun rights, Cuomo wants stricter arms licensing, St. Louis bans carrying in parks, a brief at the Supreme Court in the bump stock case, and an injunction sought in a “prohibited person” lawsuit.
Pennsylvania AG effectively bans “ghost guns.”
This week Pennsylvania attorney general Josh Shapiro earned the praise of gun controllers nationwide when he had the “courage” to cast aside the nondelegation doctrine and unilaterally declare “80%” receivers as “firearms” under Pennsylvania law.
Shapiro announced on facebook live his opinion that “80%” receivers are “firearms” under PA law, accompanied by a promotional video showcasing the construction of a Polymer80 glock, complete with edgy music. Shapiro did this because of course he did, it’s the end of 2019 and a proud social media showcase of a violation of our natural rights is precisely what we have earned as a society.
Long story short, Shapiro issued a legal opinion directing the Pennsylvania state police (PSP) to treat incomplete receivers as “firearms.” The state definition includes weapons which are “designed to or may readily be converted to expel any projectile by the action of an explosive; or the frame or receiver of any such weapon.”
This is pretty noncontroversial language, and the “readily converted” language was originally targeted at “starting pistols” designed to fire blanks to start races, but could be converted into a firearm by driving out a plug.
Shapiro saw that language as his way to “do something.” The opinion is a quite circular and frankly embarrassing piece of lawyering. He imports from federal law an interpretation of “may readily be restored,” from the NFA’s definition of “machinegun,” to justify his interpretation that a block of plastic or aluminum is actually “designed” or “readily converted” to operate as a firearm. PA firearms attorney Josh Prince called the move out for what it was: unlawful.
FPC has already filed an emergency injunction to prevent this ludicrous display from harming any Pennsylvanians.
ATF Professional Grade Weeblewobblry
Giving us flashbacks to the bump stock ban and shouldering pistol braces, ATF has again flipped the flop. The Franklin Armory Reformation, a non-SBR short barreled firearm with a buttstock, was reviewed by ATF.
Through a tremendous feat of mental and regulatory gymnastics, the ATF declared the small firearm, which takes a rifle cartridge, is actually a shotgun. But not a shotgun. A special kind of short barreled shotgun so special it needs its own ownership system. Or something.
The ATF did something similar with the FosTech Origin 12, changing it from a “firearm” to a short barreled shotgun.
A certain amount of wanton authority-wielding is expected with administrative agencies, but it must be stressed we are talking about federal criminal law. In its constant flippancy over whether a firearm will land you in prison or not, this is a perfect encapsulation on why the Supreme Court needs to rule in the rule making powers of executive agencies.
Puerto Rico takes first step to recognizing gun rights
Despite being under the sovereignty of the United States for over a century, Puerto Ricans have been subject to some of the most restrictive firearms laws in US history. Last week, Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced signed Act 168 into law, which re-vamps the territory’s weapons permit system, imposing a shall-issue system for a permit to possess and carry firearms.
The ownership permits cost $200 and must be renewed every five years for an additional $100. Under 168, a permit to own includes the right to carry and defensively use a firearm. The law also recognizes other U.S. firearm permits.
It’s hard to say that something is a right at all if you have to jump through hoops and pay hundreds of dollars to do it. While Puerto Rico took a good step in the right direction, it’s important to recognize that its residents are still being aggressively short-changed, especially those adults aged 18 to 21, who are denied the right to purchase a gun.
Surprise! New York’s Governor Cuomo wants stricter arms licensing
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo shocked us all, I’m sure, when he came out with a proposal to further tighten the screws of gun ownership in New York.
Presently, New York lists a series of “serious misdemeanors” that disqualify residents from firearms ownership (one of which, of course, is unlicensed possession of a firearm). Cuomo wants to “fix” the law so that someone convicted of a misdemeanor in another jurisdiction outside New York, who then has the horrifying misfortune of moving to the Empire State, can’t obtain a firearms license.
We’ve talked a lot about putting up roadblocks in front of the fundamental right to arms. Licensing the exercise of a right is among the most pernicious, insidious violations of right there is.
Misdemeanors are often given unserious treatment by public defenders and prosecutors, with many Americans being coerced to “plea out” to “mere misdemeanors.” Misdemeanors aren’t the type of conduct people should permanently lose fundamental rights for.
St. Louis bans carrying in parks
On December 13th, St. Louis Mayor Lyda Kewson signed an ordinance banning the carry of firearms in city parks which passed the city council 16-2. This is an obvious response to the state’s recent embrace of constitutional carry. Missouri law allows all non-prohibited adults to carry firearms, with some exceptions. One of those exceptions is “child-care facilities.”
St Louis lashed out against the constitutional carry by declaring the city’s parks and related buildings as “child-care facilities.” Because where else would you want to leave a child, but in the middle of a city park? Regardless, the classification relies on a thin, precarious reading of state law.
It’s likely Kewson’s attempt to force a “loophole” in Missouri’s constitutional carry will fail if (and when) challenged.
Reply brief at Supreme Court in Bump Stock Case
The Firearms Policy Foundation filed a reply brief in Guedes v. BATFE, a challenge to the Trump administration’s illegal bump stock ban. The brief outlines the laundry list of reasons the Supreme Court should hear the case and strike down the lower court’s decision upholding the ban, and bring some sanity back to administrative law.
Injunction sought in “prohibited person” lawsuit
It might shock you to learn this, but California is pretty bad at recognizing the right of the people to keep and bear arms. The state has an expansive definition of “prohibited person,” and will deny the rights of a person who was convicted out-of-state of a non-violent felony, even when that conviction has been set aside and vacated, restoring the persons’s rights in the very state that took them to begin with.
The Firearms Policy Coalition announced the filing of a motion for preliminary injunction, to stop the state from continuing to deprive non-violent people of their fundamental rights.
“This case and this motion seek to vindicate and restore fundamental rights,” explained the plaintiffs’ attorney, George M. Lee. “We have presented compelling reasons why the State of California, Attorney General Becerra, and the Department of Justice cannot continue to deprive these gentlemen of their right to possess firearms.”
Check out the press release and motion here.
Matthew Larosiere is the Director of Legal Policy at the Firearms Policy Coalition.