Quick Post-Bruen Update on the Constitutionality of Gun Laws

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.

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Does a DWI Conviction Bar a Person from Possessing a Gun?

The maximum punishment for driving while impaired in violation of G.S. 20-138.1 increased from two to three years in 2011. As a result, defendants convicted of misdemeanor DWI and sentenced at the most serious level—Aggravated Level One—are prohibited from possessing firearms by federal law. That’s because federal law prohibits firearm possession by a person who has been convicted of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year, though state law misdemeanors that are punishable by a term of imprisonment of two years or less are excluded from this category of disqualifying convictions. Because North Carolina law sets out a single offense of driving while impaired, which may be punished at varying levels, rather than six separate offenses, there is a question as to whether any defendant convicted of misdemeanor DWI on or after December 1, 2011 may lawfully possess a firearm, regardless of the level at which the defendant was actually punished.

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Open Carry

Do law-abiding North Carolina residents have a right to carry a gun openly in public? Generally, yes. Federal constitutional right? The Supreme Court has recently ruled that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to bear arms, including handguns, District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008), and that it protects that right from … Read more

Second Amendment Update

In District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008), the United States Supreme Court held that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to possess firearms for lawful purposes such as self-defense. Heller unleashed a tsunami of litigation over the nature and scope of that right. Of particular interest to criminal lawyers, Heller led … Read more

Constitutional Challenges to Federal Gun Laws

I wrote here about 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(9), the federal statute that prohibits people who have been convicted of domestic violence misdemeanors from possessing firearms. Federal law also prohibits felons, drug addicts, “mental defective[s],” illegal aliens, and various other groups from having guns. 18 U.S.C. § 922(g). In the wake of District of Columbia v. … Read more

McDonald’s Impact in North Carolina

The Supreme Court just finished the Term that began in October 2009, and it went out with a bang. On Monday, it announced what was perhaps the most-anticipated opinion of the year, McDonald v. City of Chicago. The genesis for McDonald was District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. __ (2008), the case in which … Read more

Second Amendment Math: Britt + Heller = Whitaker?

A divided court of appeals decided another significant gun case this week. But before I talk about the opinion in State v. Whitaker, I’ll briefly summarize the legal backdrop for the case. In June 2008, the United States Supreme Court decided District of Columbia v. Heller, holding that the Second Amendment protects an individual right … Read more

Heller . . . Britt . . . What’s Next for Gun Laws?

We’ve seen several significant cases concerning gun laws in the past few years. The two biggest, of course, are District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. ___ (2008), in which the United States Supreme Court struck down the District of Columbia’s ban on handgun possession as inconsistent with the Second Amendment, and Britt v. North … Read more

Britt, Heller, and the Right to Bear Arms

The state supreme court issued a batch of opinions last Friday, and while several of them are notable, the one that has received the most attention is Britt v. North Carolina. (You can see the News and Observer’s story here, and a couple of commentators’ views here and here.) Barney Britt pled guilty to PWISD … Read more

News Roundup

Several recent news stories that may be of interest: 1. Governor Perdue just signed S 920, which makes substantial changes to the probation laws. For example, it requires all probationers to submit to warrantless searches by probation officers, and to a lesser degree, by law enforcement officers. It also clarifies the tolling provisions of the … Read more