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.
A decade ago, I wrote a post about the circumstances under which police may stop a person who is carrying a gun openly. A lot has changed since then. The Supreme Court has strengthened the Second Amendment in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, 597 U.S. __ (2022). The General Assembly has eliminated the requirement that North Carolina residents obtain a permit before buying a handgun. See S.L. 2023-8. And empirical scholarship suggests that many more Americans are carrying guns on a daily basis. See Ali Awhani-Robar et al., Trend in Loaded Handgun Carrying Among Adult Handgun Owners in the United States, 2015-2019, Am. J. Pub. Health (2022) (finding that in 2019, “approximately 6 million [gun owners carried] daily,” which was “twice the 3 million who did so in 2015”). So it is a good time to revisit the question.
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.
The 2022 Annual Report from the North Carolina Child Fatality Task Force (CFTF) highlights a significant increase in firearm-related deaths among North Carolina’s youth. The CFTF Annual Report, submitted in May of 2022, details child fatalities that occurred in North Carolina in 2020. According to the CFTF, rates for suicides, homicides, and firearm deaths for children in North Carolina all increased in 2020. CFTF Annual Report, p. 2. Firearms were used in 12 of the 20 suicides reported among youth ages 10 – 14 and in 19 of the 35 suicides reported among youth ages 15 – 17. All 11 of the homicides reported against youth ages 10 – 14 involved a firearm and 48 of the 50 homicides reported against youth ages 15 – 17 involved a firearm. Table 1, CFTF Annual Report. Suicide was the leading cause of death among youth ages 10 – 14 and homicide was the leading cause of death among youth ages 15 – 17. Table 2, CFTF Annual Report.
These numbers reflect an increasing trend of firearm-related deaths among youth. While there were 525 firearm-related youth deaths between 2011 and 2020, 105 firearm-related youth deaths were recorded in 2020 alone. CFTF Annual Report, p. 18.
Is this trend rooted in more violent firearm usage by youth? The suicide data clearly reflects youth use of firearms to kill themselves. Do the homicide numbers reflect youth shooting other youth? Data from the Division of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (DJJDP) may shed some light on that question.
In May of this year I wrote a blog post about protesters and demonstrators carrying firearms at their events. In the months since that post, a variation of that conduct has begun happening more frequently: armed militias showing up at other groups’ events, either as supporters or as opponents. The recent events in Kenosha have brought renewed media attention to this issue, but incidents involving armed militias have occurred all across the country this summer (see a few examples here, here, here, and here).
Lately I’ve been asked if these types of private militias are legal in North Carolina, and if so, whether they are permitted to “deploy” to protests as participants or security? This post provides a summary of the relevant statutes and the criminal offenses that may apply.
Several federal circuit courts have decided Second Amendment cases over the past few months. This post summarizes them. The cases and the reasoning behind them are not all completely consistent, but collectively, the courts continue to interpret the Second Amendment as permitting substantial levels of gun control.
When a defendant is charged with possession of a firearm by a felon, may the prosecution introduce, under Rule 404(b), evidence that the defendant previously possessed a different firearm? Courts nationally are divided. The Court of Appeals of North Carolina just ruled in State v. Williams that the answer is no.
North Carolina law prohibits a person who has been convicted of a felony from possessing a firearm. The prohibition, set forth in G.S. 14-415.1, contains narrow exceptions, such as for antique firearms. The question has arisen in several cases whether a person with a prior felony conviction may possess a firearm if necessary to defend himself or others—in other words, whether the person may rely on a justification defense.
The United States Supreme Court recently decided a case about what counts as a “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence” for purposes of the federal statute prohibiting individuals who have been convicted of such crimes from possessing firearms. I’ve had several questions about whether the ruling affects last year’s Fourth Circuit decision holding that North Carolina assaults generally don’t qualify as “misdemeanor crime[s] of domestic violence.” For the reasons set out below, I don’t think the Supreme Court case clearly overrules the Fourth Circuit’s decision.