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Second Amendment extended

The Constitution’s protection of an individual right to have guns for personal use restricts the powers of state and local government as much as it does those of the federal government, the Ninth Circuit Court ruled Monday.  The opinion by the three-judge panel can be found here.  This is the first ruling by a federal appeals court to extend the Second Amendment to the state and local level.  Several cases on the same issue are now awaiting a ruling by the Seventh Circuit Court.

Ruling on an issue that is certain to reach the Supreme Court, the Circuit Court concluded “that the right to keep and bear arms” as a personal right has become a part of the Constitution as it applies to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process clause.

That right, it said, “is ‘deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition.’  Colonial revolutionaries, the Founders, and a host of commentators and lawmakers living during the first one hundred years of the Republic all insisted on the fundamental nature of the right.  It has long been regarded as the ‘true palladium of liberty.’

“Colonists relied on it to assert and to win their independence, and the victorious Union sought to prevent a recalcitrant South from abridging it less than a century later.  The crucial role this deeply rooted right has played in our birth and history compels us to recognize that it is indeed fundamental, that it is necessary to the Anglo-American conception of ordered liberty that we have inherited.  We are therefore persuaded that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment incorporates the Second Amendment and applies it against the states and local governments.”

But, following the lead of the Supreme Court’s decision last June in District of Columbia v. Heller, finding a personal right in the Second Amendment for the first time, the Circuit Court concluded that the right as interpreted by the Justices is limited to “armed self-defense” in the home.

Thus, the Circuit Court refused to strike down an Alameda County ordinance that makes it a crime to bring onto county property a gun or ammunition, or to possess them on that property.  A county supervisor who sponsored the ordinance cited “a rash of gun violence” in an apparent reference to the school shootings in the late 1990s, including the one at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo.

The Alameda ordinance, the Circuit Court said, does not involve the kind of armed self-defense that the Supreme Court had in mind in Heller.  “It regulates gun possession in public places that are County property,” it concluded.

The ordinance had been challenged by Russell and Sallie Nordye, who operate a business that promotes gun shows in California.  They contended that the Alameda County ordinance burdens their Second Amendment right because it makes it more difficult to buy guns.

Before the gun ordinance was adopted, gun shows had been staged at the Alameda County fairgrounds, drawing up to 4,000 people.  The Nordykes said that some county officials wanted to drive gunshows out of the county, and that is what led to the ordinance’s enactment.

The Circuit Court, however, said the ordinance “does not meaningfully impede the ability of individuals to defend themselves in their homes with usable firearms, the core of the right as Heller analyzed it. The ordinance falls on the lawful side of the division, familiar from other areas of substantive due process doctrine, between unconstitutional interference with individual rights and permissible government nonfacilitation of their exercise.”

Finally, it said, banning guns from municipal property “fits within the exception from the Second Amendment for ‘sensitive places’ that Heller recognized,” the Circuit Court said.

The Court also rejected a First Amendment challenge to the ordinance, based on the Nordykes’ claim that the local law was designed to silence those who promote gun rights.  “The language of the ordinance,” the Court said, “suggests that gun violence, not gun culture, motivated its passage.”

It also rejected a claim of discriminatory application of the law, because of some exceptions the county wrote into its ordinance.

The ruling was written by Circuit Judge Diarmuid F. O’Scannlain  and joined by Circuit Judge Arthur L. Alarcon.  Circuit Judge Ronald M. Gould joined the opinion, but also wrote separately to discuss the doctrine of incorporating rights selectively to apply to state and local government.