First Circuit Upholds Firearms Restrictions

     BOSTON (CN) – A retired Supreme Court justice weighed in on the issue of gun control Monday, upholding a ban on the sale of any firearm without a device clearly indicating the gun is loaded.
     Sitting by designation on a three-judge panel of the First Circuit, former Supreme Court Justice David Souter presided over an appeal in which consumers said Massachusetts trampled their Second Amendment rights with a law mandating that all guns have either a load indicator or a safety that would disengage their magazines.
     The plaintiffs, which included a firearms dealer and two gun rights nonprofits, contended the regulation was preventing them from buying third and fourth-generation models of Glock brand pistols that reportedly lacked the state-mandated safety features.
     Attorney General Maura Healey’s office defines a load indicator as “a device which plainly indicates that a cartridge is in the firing chamber within [a] handgun,” according to court documents.
     The complaint also took aim at the use of semantics in the law. The plaintiffs claimed that the commonwealth’s use of the words “plainly indicates” is too vague for firearm dealers or buyers to ensure that a gun’s design meets legal requirements. The ambiguity of the law’s phrasing makes it impossible to enforce, they said, and therefore violates their constitutional due process rights.
     A federal judge dismissed the case, however, and the First Circuit affirmed last week in an eight-page opinion signed by Souter.
     The retired justice began by dismantling claims that the attorney general violated consumers’ due-process rights by passing a vague regulation. He said the language of the law is in fact specific enough to communicate exactly how obvious the presence of a cartridge needed to be.
     “This definition provides anyone of ordinary intelligence fair notice that what is required is a readily perceptible signal that a loaded gun is loaded,” Souter wrote, noting that the court has upheld similarly worded phrases against past vagueness challenges.
     Evidentiary photographs of the disputed Glock handguns showed no such perceptible signal, the ruling said, with the difference between the appearance of their “locked” position and their “unlocked” position so minute that it was “discernible only to the careful and discriminating eye.”
     “Perhaps it is a sense of the weakness of their position that leads the [plaintiffs] to argue, in effect, that fair notice requires the Commonwealth to provide something approaching a design specification,” Souter wrote.
     Because the plaintiffs’ Second Amendment claim was listed in the lawsuit as “derivative” of the alleged due process violation, the former was null and void as a result of the latter being quashed, the decision said.
     The panel also affirmed the district court’s finding that the gun rights advocacy group lacked standing to sue in the first place, holding that the Second Amendment Foundation would have needed to prove that one of its members was injured as a result of the gun law in order to assert a legal claim.
     Because the foundation did they not prove any of its members were denied the right to buy or sell a gun as a result of the regulation, their case did not merit any further review, or even formal discovery of its claims, Souter said.
     “Why the advocacy group would have needed formal discovery to identify which of its own members may have been injured by the regulation is a mystery the group leaves unsolved,” he wrote.
     The attorney general’s office expressed satisfaction with the ruling, calling it “a victory for common sense gun regulations.”
     “It is unacceptable for gun dealers to put Massachusetts families at risk by selling handguns that do not plainly indicate when they are loaded,” spokeswoman Emily Snyder said in an email. “Attorney General Healey is committed to defending our gun laws and reducing violence throughout the state.”
     The Second Amendment Foundation did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Courthouse News.
     Plaintiffs Concord Armory and Precision Point Firearms could also not be reached for comment.

%d bloggers like this: