Recently in Firearms Category

Boston's Growing Murder Problem

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Since finishing up my time interning with the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation I have moved back to Boston to begin my final year at Suffolk University Law School. While back here I am a Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Rule 3.03 Certified Student Prosecutor. That basically means I intern for a local District Attorney's office with all the responsibilities and powers of an Assistant District Attorney but am always under the supervision of someone who makes sure I don't screw things up too bad. These opinions are my own and not that of CJLF, the Plymouth County District Attorney's Office, and most certainly not that of Suffolk University Law School.
 
I come back to a city in crisis, as the gun violence and murder rates from the summer have dwarfed, in historic proportions, the rates from the previous summer and the past several summers.

SCOTUS Wednesday

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Today, the US Supreme Court decided United States v. Castleman, No. 12-1371, a case involving the interpretation of the federal statute restricting gun ownership by a person convicted of "a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence," 18 U.S.C. §922(g)(9).  The Court holds unanimously that this includes a state conviction for "having 'intentionally or knowingly cause[d] bodily injury to' the mother of his child," reversing the Sixth Circuit.  There is some disagreement on how much further the statute reaches.

What about the Second Amendment?

Finally, Castleman suggests--in a single paragraph--that we should read §922(g)(9) narrowly because it implicates his constitutional right to keep and bear arms. But Castleman has not challenged the constitutionality of §922(g)(9), either on its face or as applied to him, and the meaning of the statute is sufficiently clear that we need not indulge Castleman's cursory nod to constitutional avoidance concerns.
Now there's a public spanking for an inadequate argument, but no precedent on the Second Amendment question.

For today's oral argument session, the Court is hearing Wood v. Moss.  Aside from its interesting name (placing it in a category with the famous Plough v. Fields and Silver v. Gold) the case is about qualified immunity for Secret Service agents who were sued for thinking that demonstrators against the President just might pose a greater threat than demonstrators for him and acting accordingly.

Update:  Adam Liptak has this article in the NYT on the argument, noting that some of the justices urged the lawyer for the government to take a bolder position than the one he was taking.

Aiding, Abetting, and Guns

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The US Supreme Court has decided Rosemond v. United States, exploring yet another facet of the federal law on use of a gun in a crime, 18 U.S.C. § 924(c).  This case involves the "what did he know, and intend, and when did he know/intend it" aspect when an accomplice to a robbery uses a gun.

We hold that the Government makes its case by proving that the defendant actively participated in the underlying drug trafficking or violent crime with advance knowledge that a confederate would use or carry a gun during the crime's commission. We also conclude that the jury instructions given below were erroneous because they failed to require that the defendant knew in advance that one of his cohorts would be armed.
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An active participant in a drug transaction has the intent needed to aid and abet a §924(c) violation when he knows that one of his confederates will carry a gun. In such a case, the accomplice has decided to join in the criminal venture, and share in its benefits, with full awareness of its scope--that the plan calls not just for a drug sale, but for an armed one. In so doing, he has chosen ... to align himself with the illegal scheme in its entirety--including its use of a firearm.
In practice, proving that a participant knew in advance that another participant was armed is going to require accomplice testimony in nearly every case, with all the problems that entails.

Defending Statutes

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HolderDaisy.jpgTwo weeks ago, a divided panel of the Ninth Circuit declared California's law on carrying guns in public to be unconstitutional in Peruta v. San Diego, No. 10-56971.  Judge O'Scannlain's opinion begins, "We are called upon to decide whether a responsible, law-abiding citizen has a right under the Second Amendment to carry a firearm in public for self-defense."  He and Judge Callahan answer yes.  Judge Thomas dissents.

The San Diego Sheriff announced he would not seek rehearing en banc.  The California Attorney General has now moved to intervene and petitioned for rehearing en banc.

In my view, the AG is entirely correct to do this regardless of where one stands on the underlying question.  The proper operation of our system of separation of powers requires a defense of statutes when they are challenged judicially, and it is the Attorney General's duty to make that defense as long as one can reasonably be made.  It is dereliction of duty for AGs to refuse to defend statutes merely because they agree with the plaintiffs on close questions of constitutional law or, even worse, merely because they oppose the policy behind the statute.  The United States Attorney General notoriously failed to defend the anti-Miranda statute in the Dickerson case back in 1999.  That was very wrong, even though the case ultimately ended with the statute being struck down.

In this case, I have no doubt that Ms. Harris supports the policy behind the statute, so the disagreement issue is not presented.  However, I expect she will be criticized for defending it, so I wanted to state up front that her decision to make the case for the statute's constitutionality is correct, in my view.

Oh, BTW, the case is a slam dunk for rehearing en banc.
Friday, I previewed the capital cases on the list for the U.S. Supreme Court's "long conference" yesterday. None were taken up in the short orders list released today.  Denials of certiorari (i.e., the Supreme Court declining to take the case and letting the lower court judgment stand) usually come out in the long list released when the Court formally convenes for its new term, the first Monday in October.

There was one exception to the denials-later practice today.  The Court turned down the case of Florida murderer Marshall Gore.  As noted in the prior post, Gore's claim of mental incompetence has been found to be "patently a fabrication."  He is scheduled for execution today.

The other capital cases will probably be denied Monday, although one or more might be "relisted" to be considered again at a future conference.

The case of a traffic stop based on an anonymous call is described in a separate post.

The Court also took up the case of United States v. Castleman, No. 12-1371, another variation on the federal statute barring gun possession by people with certain convictions, in this case a "misdemeanor crime of domestic violence."  This appears to be a pure statutory interpretation argument, not involving the constitutional question of whether Congress has the authority to micromanage who is allowed to possess a gun.
Under the Supreme Court's post-1937 view of the Commerce Clause, Congress has the power to regulate intrastate activity if it affects interstate commerce.  That includes a farmer growing wheat for use on his own farm, the high court decided in my least favorite opinion by my favorite justice, Wickard v. Filburn (1942).  What's good for wheat is good for weed, the court said in Gonzales v. Raich (2005).

Today, the Ninth Circuit decided Montana Shooting Sports Assn. v. Holder, No. 10-36094.

The Montana Legislature passed the Montana Firearms Freedom Act ("MFFA" or "the Act"), which declares that a firearm or ammunition "manufactured . . . in Montana and that remains within the borders of Montana is not subject to federal law or federal regulation, including registration, under the authority of congress [sic] to regulate interstate commerce." Mont. Code Ann. § 30-20-104. It purports to authorize the manufacture and sale of firearms within the state, but imposes certain requirements for a firearm to qualify under the Act, notably that the words "Made in Montana" be "clearly stamped on a central metallic part." Id. § 30-20-106.
Will that dog hunt?  No.

If Barack Obama Had a Son...

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...would he look like Chris Lane?

No, he wouldn't, because Chris Lane was guilty of walking while white.  His for-kicks murder by a couple of black hoods is therefore snooze material for our ostensibly ever-so-compassionate  --  but actually not-all-that-compassionate-at-least-if-you're-white  --  Liberal Elite, starting right at the top with Mr. Smooth.  

The story I put up in my last entry has an eerie and discomfiting echo of the Trayvon Martin case.  That, you will remember, was the locus of a huge amount of still-percolating anger. The anger ignited because a white/Hispanic man killed an unarmed black teenager, but was acquitted after he made a perfectly plausible case of self-defense the state failed to rebut. 

Today's story of two blacks fatally shooting a white man in the back features no whisper of a legitimate defense; it was ambush murder, plain and simple. By any neutral standard, then, it has to be more reprehensible than the Trayvon Martin homicide.  But you'll hear not a mummer of outrage from those who (drum roll here) Demand An Honest Discussion about Race.  The Demand, you see, hoves into view only when it's time to stage a combo Morality Play&Tupperware Party to "oooooohh" and "aaaaahh" over the eighteen zillionth depredation of the White Devil. 

Just so we'll understand:  Our liberal masters want that honest discussion about the implications of inter-racial murder only up to the point that it actually IS honest, after which you better shut your mouth.

Guns Don't Kill People

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The title of this post is the title of an opinion piece in, of all things, the University of Washington student newspaper.  (The piece is two years old, but timely considering the renewal of the gun control debate).

The most dreadful murderers in our history did not use guns  --  Osama, McVeigh, John Wayne Gacy, Ted Bundy, Ted Kaczynski, Jeffrey Dahmer, the "BTK killer" (Dennis Rader)  --  I could name quite a few more.

I have made this point before, but this seems an apt time, in a horrible way, to re-emphasize it, in light of today's bombing murders at the Boston Marathon.

Controlling guns may well, to some extent, be part of the answer.  But we are simply deluding ourselves if we think the main answer is anything other than controlling criminals.  If we fail, through hand-wringing, diversionary thinking, political agendas, delusional self-blame, or any other excuse, we will continue to invite what we saw this afternoon.

UPDATE: Having been informed that the link doesn't work, I have copied the piece and have put it after the break.

Monday SCOTUS Orders

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Not too much exciting in today's orders list from the US Supreme Court.  A number of capital cases were turned down.  The cross-petitions in the Phillips case, noted here, were relisted yet again.  The court turned down Indiana's petition in an AEDPA case, Butts v. Hall, previewed at SCOTUSblog.  The court also turned down a New York Second Amendment case, Kachalsky v. Cacace, No. 12-845.  Lyle Denniston has this post at SCOTUSblog.  The USCA2 summary follows the jump.

The Balm of Gun Control

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The title of this entry is the title of an opinion piece in the Washington Post.  The piece expresses many of my reservations about gun control.  It's not that I'm a priori opposed to some kinds of gun control, nor do I think that all forms of it are inconsistent with the Second Amendment (as Heller made quite clear in dictum). It's that gun control won't solve the real problem, which is controlling unstable and/or malevolent people.

If we control criminals, or those with crime imminently on their minds, we won't have to worry about controlling guns.  If we don't, the amount of good gun control will do is sparse.

Knife Control

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CNN reports that 14 people were injured today, two now in critical condition, in a knifing attack on a Texas college campus.

I guess this means President Obama will be telling us tomorrow that we need expanded federal knife control, and  --  as he did just recently in Connecticut  --  that anyone not in full agreement with his suggestions must have forgotten the horror.

It may well be that some of Obama's proposals are good ideas.  I'm willing to assume arguendo that they are.  The problems are that (1) it's unworthy (not to mention stupid) of President Nixon Obama to impugn the humanity and motives of the opposition, and (2) as today's episode illustrates, the focus should be on the person using the weapon, not on the weapon itself.

Today's attacker didn't use a gun.  Neither did John Wayne Gacy or Timothy McVeigh.  Eliminate the criminal  --  as justifiably both of them were eliminated  --  and we won't need to worry so much about the type of weapon he'll no longer be able to use. 

Crime and What Works

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The parents of Hadiya Pendleton, murdered at the age of 15, were present as President Obama delivered his State of Union speech last night.  Would Hadiya's tragic murder have been prevented by any of the measures Mr. Obama proposed?  Probably not.

Would a ban on assault weapons have prevented this crime?  No, the killer probably used a revolver.  Would background checks have helped?  Probably not, despite what the expert interviewed in the preceding link says.  Extending background checks to gun shows or even to private sales by law-abiding individuals won't stop criminals from getting them through black-market sales or just stealing them.  (I am not against background checks.  I just don't think they will have a large effect on crime rates.)

So what does work?  Mostly measures that are opposed by the same people calling for these ineffective measures.  First, locking criminals up works.  Jason Meisner of the ChiTrib reports:

The reputed gang member accused of gunning down 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton last month was on the street even though he had been arrested three times in connection with break-ins and trespassing while on probation for a weapons conviction in recent months, the Tribune has learned.

In two of those arrests, including one just 2 1/2 months ago, Cook County probation officials failed to notify prosecutors or the judge that Michael Ward had been arrested on the new misdemeanor charges and allegedly violated his probation.

The head of the county's probation department acknowledged Monday that his office fell short in its responsibilities and vowed to find out what went wrong.

If they hadn't "fallen short" in locking up this criminal, Hadiya would be alive.

Another measure that works is the proactive policing of the kind New York City uses over the vehement opposition of the Politically Correct.  Holman Jenkins has this column in the WSJ:

Chicago had more than 500 murders last year.  The police chief believes that gun control is a big part of the answer, and has proposed a three-year mandatory minimum sentence for those convicted of illegal possession of a gun.

This has led to renewed interest in the Windy City about mandatory minimum sentencing generally.  Some, including me, believe that the legislature has every right to decide that, for a given crime, there is a floor below which the court should not be able to go no matter what the mitigating circumstances.  This seems no more than the logical counterpart to the notion that the legislature should be able to impose a ceiling on the sentence for a given crime, because, no matter how bad the offender may be, the act made criminal simply cannot, in fairness, warrant more than X amount of jail time.  If we can accept a legislative judgment about what sentence is necessarily too harsh, given the nature of the offense  --  and almost everyone would agree we can  -- we can accept its judgment about what sentence is necessarily too lenient.

Others think that mandatory sentencing laws unwisely tie the judge's hands.  In their view, only the judge has the flesh-and-blood defendant before him, and thus he alone  --  not the legislature  --  is able to tailor the sentence to the requirements of justice.

The battle will be joined when I discuss this topic with Prof. Doug Berman of the Ohio State University on Chicago's public radio station.  The program is called "Morning Shift," and Doug and I will be on Monday at 9:15 a.m. Central Time.  The show airs on WBEZ, 91.5.

Of Madmen, Mass Killers, and Politics

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Charles Cooke of NRO observes today:

Bill Clinton didn't just blame Timothy McVeigh's actions on Rush Limbaugh and others at the time, but came back 15 years later for a another shot at the apple, libeling the Tea Party in the process. In 2010, both Dana Milbank and the Daily Kos went so far as to write pieces about a shooting that never happened, blaming the attempt on Glenn Beck. Piers Morgan happily asked Gabby Giffords's husband whether he had received an apology from Sarah Palin, and was astonished when the answer was "no."

The attempt to blame conservatives and/or Second Amendment advocates for mass murder by deranged people has an unfortunately long history.  That's the bad part.  The good part is people of normal intelligence don't buy it.  The even better part, in a sick sort of way, is that it can be turned on its purveryors.

Is Gun Control the Answer?

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The Obama Administration says it is.  Personally, I confess I don't know.  I have almost no acquaintance with guns.  My instinct tells me that gun control is not the answer; control of criminals is.  Yet it certainly seems that those most in favor of controlling guns are the same people least in favor of controlling criminals.

But let's assume that the Obama Administration is correct, and that gun control is the answer.  That would not demonstrate, however, that we need more gun control laws.  It might more peruasively suggest that we should do a better job of enforcing the ones we have.

But guess what.  Under President Obama, gun prosecutions are down by between 25% and 50% from the Bush Administration.  This little known fact was discussed today by two of the Senate's brightest members, Jeff Sessions and our friend Ted Cruz.

Powerline has the story

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