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.
Supreme Court asks Solicitor General to weigh in on whether gun case is moot
On Friday, the Supreme Court requested the Solicitor General to submit his views on the mootness of New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. New York City, a Second Amendment challenge pending before the Supreme Court that the city of New York has been desperately trying to wriggle its way out of since certiorari was granted. The City’s principal argument is that, because they changed the subject law, there is no case to hear. (Despite, of course, several doctrines preventing exactly this type of abuse from standing.)
Moments after the Court requested the Government’s brief, the Solicitor General submitted their letter brief. The filing, quite flatly, rejects the City’s mootness argument. This is only a brief, of course, not a binding opinion. It doesn’t foreclose the City’s argument. It does, though, make the City’s argument look weak.
Federal Judge rules posting gun designs online is illegal
This is an exhausting one to cover. On Tuesday, a federal judge in Seattle ruled the release of 3D-printable gun designs online as “illegal,” bringing predictable praise from gun control activists. Blueprints for 3D-printed guns, we’re told, are “banned.” Yet just as before, anyone can get free gun designs from all over the internet.
This particular case is complicated, going all the way back to 2013 when so-called “ghost guns” (home-built firearms) made a tremendous stir in the US, with the Department of State threatening serious sanctions for anyone who posted gun blueprints online.
Was the government able to “stop the signal” and eliminate the trade of 3D printable guns in the US? Obviously not. The homemade gun community is as active as ever, with new designs coming out regularly. The crackdown on “ghost guns” is nothing more than a massive failure to censor people on the Internet and attack Second Amendment rights.
— ghostgunsmatter (@ghostgunsmatter) November 16, 2019
In 2015, Defense Distributed joined forces with Second Amendment Foundation, suing the government for knowingly violating its First, Second, and Fifth Amendment rights. The battle waged on for years, and the Department of State seemed to relent when they offered to settle the case in 2018.
Just before the settlement took effect, a group of state attorneys general sued to stop the feds from backing down. Their logic? If the feds allowed people to share designs online, irreparable harm would befall their states.
The Western District of Washington bought this half-baked canard, putting the kibosh on the settlement. That’s where we are now, with a Seattle judge ruling that the Trump administration’s move to step aside and amend its regs to exclude this type of file violates the APA; in essence, the Court asserted and held that the administration is making a significant regulatory “change” tantamount to a change in law.
This leaves out the minor detail that the government’s assertion that designs are ITAR-controlled “technical data” was conjured out of whole cloth in 2013, without any congressional notification or notice and comment. I guess you can have your cake and eat it, too… as long as you’re the government.
US DOJ rolls out gun violence prevention program
If that title didn’t make you nervous, I don’t know what will. On Wednesday, President Trump’s Attorney General, William Barr, announced an initiative they’ve dubbed “Project Guardian” to ramp up enforcement on gun background checks and beef up the NICS system.
The program will see prosecutors coordinate with state and local law enforcement to push stacking federal firearms charges on top of state law crimes whenever a suspect is arrested for committing any gun-related crime, including simple possession.
It will also direct officers of the ATF across the country to push for bringing charges against people they think lied while buying a gun at a dealer.
This might not seem like much, but it has the potential to present some serious issues. Simple possession charges are the most pernicious form of gun control, as it’s a victimless crime. With the vast array of federal gun crimes on the book, and with prosecutors already egregiously over-charging people, directing anxious feds with something to prove into affirmatively leveraging the system isn’t likely to lead to more justice. It’s more likely to lead to additional charges being tacked on in flimsy cases.
Watch the #Tacoma city council ignore the testimony of a domestic abuse survivor who argues that their new gun and ammunition taxes will only make it harder for victims and the poor to defend themselves.
They voted to impose the tax 8-0.
Same as it ever was. https://t.co/K69WV5phfS
— The Truth About Guns (@guntruth) November 14, 2019
Tacoma, WA rolls out tax on guns and ammo
On Tuesday, the Tacoma, Washington city council voted 8-0 in favor of new taxes on the sales of guns and ammunition in the city. After the 1st of July, 2020 consumers will pay $25 on each firearm purchase, 2 cents per round on rimfire ammunition .22 caliber and below, and 5 cents per round on all other ammunition. A tax on gun parts and accessories was left out.
Taxing gun ownership always feels like a signal that the privilege of owning a gun (as you surely wouldn’t tax a right) is something reserved to the upper echelons (i.e., “privileged”) of society. This isn’t a new thing either.
To those who can afford a firearm in Tacoma, mind not the $25 tax on firearms, the 5 cents-per-round ammo tax is egregious. Many common handgun and defensive rifle cartridges cost from 15-25 cents per round. An extra 5 cents per round is pretty significant.
That’s $10 added to the cost of a 200-round trip to the range. This further burdens a fundamental right and will, perversely, encourage people to practice less. (But then again, that is their intent.)
Illinois botches FOID card renewals
Illinois state police confirmed on Monday that “longstanding issues” surrounding the system that helps applicants renew their Firearm Owners Identification (FOID) cards had prevented people from renewing. From website crashes to inoperable phone lines, gun owners in Illinois were up the creek trying to maintain their ability to purchase arms and ammunition.
Not that the state could have foreseen a spike in demand and to shore up their system what with deer season opening, black Friday or anything. (Same thing with California’s ammo background check and “assault weapon” registration debacles.)
Events like this are just another reason burdening access to arms has more problems that at first meet the eye. Predicating the right to keep and bear arms on the state’s ability to run a system is a sure way to guarantee that innocent people will be short-shafted (or left to be felons).
SCOTUS won’t block suit against Remington
The Supreme Court denied Remington’s petition for certiorari (review) on Tuesday, involving a lawsuit against Remington by the families of victims of the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook. The Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA) was passed to prevent state legislatures and judiciaries from torturing products liability law to hold arms manufacturers liable for criminal misuse of their products.
What’s important to understand here is that no liability has been found yet. It kind of seems that SCOTUS may have punted this case, expecting Remington to win at trial and the case to just “go away.”
That’s not a very principled stance, as Remington has to bear the cost of defending a ludicrous claim based on a tortured interpretation of law. If you want to learn more about this particular issue, FPC was part of a coalition brief with a group of law professors and scholars, check it out here.