Published on: Thursday, June 29, 2023

Big news!  Yesterday, Judge Karlton Reeves of the United States District Court for the Souithern District of Mississippi dismissed a felon-in-possession of a firearm indictment under 18 U.S.C. § 992(g)(1) based on the Second Amendment and the Supreme Court's expanded definition of the right to bear arms in New York State Rifle & Pistol Ass’n, Inc. v. Bruen, 142 S. Ct. 2111, 2126 (2022)See United States v. Bullock, No. 3:18‐CR‐165‐CWR‐FKB (SD Miss. June 28, 2023) (available here). As Judge Reeves observed, and the Defender Nation has been arguing, "[f]irearm restrictions are now presumptively unlawful unless the government can 'demonstrate that the regulation is consistent with this Nation’s historical tradi‐ tion of firearm regulation.'” Id. (quoting Bruen).  "Under that standard, the government has failed to meet its burden."  This watershed ruling comes after more than 120 district courts have rejected similar arguments. 

Judge Reeves' opinion includes these gems:

In this case, the federal government seeks to imprison Jessie Bullock for possessing a firearm as a convicted felon. See 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). Mr. Bullock claims that this is a violation of his Second Amendment rights. He observes that he finished serving his sentence long ago, and the available evidence indicates that the firearm the government complains of was kept in the sanctity of his home. Yet Section 922(g)(1)’s ban on gun possession is a lifetime one.

The question presented appears simple: has the government demonstrated that, as to Mr. Bullock, the federal felon‐in‐possession ban is consistent with America’s “historical tradition of firearm regulation”?  The government says the answer is also simple: “yes.” It points to more than 120 U.S. District Court decisions which recently determined that the government had met its burden — at least in those cases. 

This Court is not so sure.  The government’s citation to the mere volume of cases is not enough.  See Heller, 554 U.S. at 624 n.24 (rejecting decisions of “hundreds of judges”).  There also is doubt about the process those cases used to determine the history of the felon‐in‐possession ban.  In none of those cases did the government submit an expert report from a historian justifying felon disarmament.  In none of those cases did the court possess an amicus brief from a historian.  And in none of those cases did the court itself appoint an independent expert to help sift through the historical record.  It is unsurprising that the government relies on jurisprudence filled with such methodological flaws. The same errors define the Supreme Court’s own Second Amendment jurisprudence....

Nevertheless, the standard announced by the Supreme Court in Bruen is the law of the land.  It must be enforced. Under that standard, the government has failed to meet its burden.  The federal felon‐in‐possession ban was enacted in 1938, not 1791 or 1868 — the years the Second and Fourteenth Amendments were ratified. 

The government’s brief in this case does not identify a “well‐established and representative historical analogue” from either era supporting the categorical disarmament of tens of millions of Americans who seek to keep firearms in their home for self‐defense. Bruen, 142 S. Ct. at 2132; see Gabriel J. Chin, The New Civil Death: Rethinking Punishment in the Era of Mass Conviction, 160 U. Pa. L. Rev. 1789, 1791 (2012) (explaining that “tens of millions” of free‐world Americans have criminal records).

American history might support state‐level felon disarmament laws; that at least would align with principles of federalism.  It might support disarmament of persons adjudicated to be dangerous — as Justice Barrett found when she sat on the Seventh Circuit. See Kanter v. Barr, 919 F.3d 437, 451 (7th Cir. 2019) (Barrett, J., dissenting).  And it likely does support disarmament of persons convicted of death‐eligible offenses.  The power to take someone’s life necessarily includes the lesser power to disarm them.  The government’s arguments for permanently disarming Mr. Bullock, however, rest upon the mirage of dicta, buttressed by a cloud of law review articles that do not support disarming him.  In Bruen, the State of New York presented 700 years of history to try and defend its early 1900s‐era gun licensing law.  That was not enough.  Bruen requires no less skepticism here, where the challenged law is even younger.

The Training Divsion provides resources and training to help the Defender Nation challenge federal firearms charges based on Bruen, including these recent training events: