A Texas judge has ruled the restriction on purchasing handguns out of state unconstitutional, saying the ban violates the Fifth and Second Amendments and that there’s no evidence restricting the purchase of handguns to the state of residence has reduced handgun crime.
The surprising ruling issued by Federal District Judge Reed O’Connor comes after two Washington, D.C., residents sued the Justice Department after they tried to purchase a handgun in Texas. O’Connor said restrictions on out of state purchases were outdated since the introduction of the National Instant Criminal Background Check system and violated a “strict scrutiny” of the citizens right to own a firearm.
“It may be that the federal interstate handgun transfer ban remains justified because the Brady Act fails to prevent prohibited individuals from crossing state lines to illegally acquire and possess handguns they otherwise would not obtain, and the Brady Act fails to provide notice to those states who desire it,” wrote O’Connor, referring to the 1994 law that established instant background checks for gun purchasers.
“However, Defendants have failed to carry their burden to show the federal interstate handgun transfer ban is narrowly tailored to achieve the intended objective under current law.”
The ruling strikes at a major component of the 1968 Gun Control Act signed into law by then-President Lyndon Johnson after the assassination deaths of President John F. Kennedy, Attorney Gen. Robert Kennedy and Rev. Martin Luther King. The Act established the Federal Firearm Licensed dealer network, restricted firearms purchases to those without certain criminal records and banned out-of-state handgun transfers.
The suit brought by Texas gun dealer Frederic Mance, Jr. and purchasers Tracey and Andrew Hanson stemmed from an attempted handgun purchase by the D.C. residents in June 2014. Since D.C. residents have no local gun stores, they are allowed to purchase handguns out of state but must complete the transfer through a single FFL in D.C. and pay a $125 fee.
The Hansons and Mance argued the residency restriction was a violation of their Fifth Amendment rights to due process and was outdated based on the current electronic background check system.
“The federal interstate handgun transfer ban is unique compared to other firearms restrictions because it does not target certain people (such as felons or the mentally ill), conduct (such as carrying firearms into government buildings or schools), or distinctions among certain classes of firearms (such as fully automatic weapons or magazine capacity),” O’Connor agreed in his ruling. “Instead, the federal interstate handgun transfer ban targets the entire national market of handgun sales and directly burdens law-abiding, responsible citizens who seek to complete otherwise lawful transactions for handguns.”
It is unclear whether O’Connor’s decision means gun buyers can go pick up that awesome 1911 they’ve been eyeing at the gun store across the border. It is likely the government will seek a stay of the ruling and appeal the judge’s finding.
Gun control advocates are outraged over the ruling, saying the interstate ban is a key tool to reducing gun-related crime.
"For us, it's a highly disappointing decision, the court made a number of errors in regard to other Second Amendment case law that's out there — it overestimated the burden on the plaintiffs and underestimated the evidence the government provided about how this law protects public safety," Michael McLively, a staff attorney with the San Francisco-based Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, told The Washington Times. "The 1968 law doesn't take away your access to firearms. You're still able to purchase them."