Earlier this month, the Third Circuit, sitting en banc, found the federal felon-in-possession statute unconstitutional as applied. The decision was based on the new interpretive approach announced in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, 597 U.S. __, 142 S. Ct. 2111 (2022). The Third Circuit’s ruling is a massive decision that seems virtually certain to be reviewed by the Supreme Court. Keep reading for more details.
Last fall, I wrote a post about the litigation over the constitutionality of various firearms restrictions in the wake of New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, 597 U.S. __, 142 S. Ct. 2111 (2022). Recall that in Bruen, the Supreme Court announced a new interpretive approach for Second Amendment claims: courts must determine whether the challenged regulation is “consistent with the Nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation.” Litigants have subsequently come forward with numerous challenges to gun laws, and courts have struggled with how to apply the new test. As detailed below, the Fifth Circuit recently issued a major federal appellate case decided under the Bruen framework, and we are awaiting another from the Third Circuit on an even more important issue.
Earlier this year, the Supreme Court decided New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, 597 U.S. __, 142 S. Ct. 2111 (2022), holding that New York could not constitutionally require residents to show a special need (beyond the general concerns about self-defense that any person might have) in order to obtain a permit to carry a handgun outside the home. I wrote a detailed summary of the case in this prior post. North Carolina doesn’t require any such showing, so the direct impact on our state was minimal.
However, Bruen’s holding arose from a new interpretive approach. The Court rejected the intermediate scrutiny test most lower tribunals had used when analyzing gun laws and replaced it with a historical analysis in which a limit on gun rights is constitutional only if it is “consistent with the Nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation.” Lower courts have now begun to apply this framework to assess the constitutionality of various gun laws. The early returns suggest that Bruen’s impact may be substantial across a wide range of federal and state gun laws.