Even in Los Angeles………

U.S. Supreme Court aids gun rights yet again

The United States Supreme Court has no troops to enforce its rulings, but the justices are doing what they can to enforce their decision earlier this year in a major Second Amendment case, New York State Rifle & Pistol Assn., Inc., v. Bruen.

Last week the court took a dim view of a Massachusetts law that bars people convicted of gun-related misdemeanors from ever being allowed to buy a handgun again.

In Morin v. Lyver, the First Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the Massachusetts law using a two-step balancing test that the Supreme Court forcefully threw out in its New York State Rifle & Pistol decision. The Supreme Court has now vacated the First Circuit’s ruling and sent the case back down to be heard again under the high court’s new standard, which is based not on subjective judicial balancing tests, but on history.

This time Massachusetts will have to prove that its law barring some people from buying guns is similar to restrictions that have traditionally been viewed as consistent with the right to keep and bear arms.

Dr. Alfred Morin was arrested for carrying a gun without a permit while on a trip to Washington, D.C., in 2004. Morin was licensed to carry in Massachusetts and didn’t realize his permit was not valid in D.C. due to the city’s total ban on carrying a gun (later declared unconstitutional). He was arrested after he complied with a no-gun sign at a museum and tried to check his gun with security. He pleaded guilty to carrying a gun without a license and was sentenced to jail time, but never required to serve it.

That misdemeanor conviction now bars Morin from ever again obtaining a permit to buy a handgun. He sued the state, but the U.S. District Court found that the law was constitutional because Morin was not a “law-abiding citizen,” having been convicted of a gun-related misdemeanor warranting imprisonment. The Court of Appeals agreed with that reasoning.

However, under the Supreme Court’s new standard, it’s no longer enough for courts to find that the states have “an interest in preventing crime” and then determine if the law is “reasonably tailored” to meet those needs. The presumption now is that individuals have the right to keep and bear arms. States must prove that any laws restricting that right have traditionally been consistent with Second Amendment rights going all the way back to the early days of the Republic.

Morin v. Lyver is the fifth case the Supreme Court has vacated and sent back down for reconsideration under the new standard. One is a California case, a challenge to the state’s 10-round magazine limit. In addition, a Ninth Circuit en banc panel vacated a decision in McDougall v. Ventura County, involving a challenge to the closure of gun shops early in the COVID-19 pandemic. The case has been sent back to the trial court to be reconsidered in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling in the New York case.

This is an important course correction. The Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms is not a privilege that governments may arbitrarily withhold or revoke. A written constitution is the consent of the governed, and it places limits on government power. Enforcing those limits is the job of the Supreme Court. Freedom depends on it.