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Wednesday, May 22, 2024 | Back issues
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Gun Owners Win a Round Against the Army

BOISE, Idaho (CN) - The Army Corps of Engineers must let U.S. citizens carry guns on property it manages, including hydroelectric dams and recreation areas around them, a federal judge ruled.

Two people, from Idaho and Utah, sued the Army Corps of Engineers in August 2013, seeking declaratory judgment that they could carry guns on and around water projects and recreational areas managed by the Corps.

On Monday, U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill said they could - that there is a difference between regulation of handguns and their outright ban.

Winmill granted plaintiffs Elizabeth Morris and Alan Baker's motion for summary judgment on Second Amendment grounds.

"The regulation banning the use of handguns on Corps' property by law-abiding citizens for self-defense purposes violates the Second Amendment," Winmill ruled. "The plaintiffs are therefore entitled to a declaratory judgment that36 C.F.R. § 327.13 [Corps policy] violates the Second Amendment, and an injunction enjoining its enforcement in Idaho."

Winmill said he could not impose a nationwide injunction against an unconstitutional federal regulation since the plaintiffs did not file a class action.

Morris and Baker, both outdoor enthusiasts who have concealed carry weapons permits, challenged the Corps' regulations that prohibit people from "possessing or carrying functional firearms - openly, concealed and in a vehicle - on any water resources development project administered by the Chief of Engineers," an act the Corps says is punishable by "fine, imprisonment or both."

The plaintiffs claimed Corps District Commander Lt. Col. Andrew Kelly can give permission to possess firearms on Corps-administered lands. Both wrote letters in 2013, requesting permission to carry weapons while camping at Dworshak Reservoir in northern Idaho and at Lucky Peak Reservoir near Boise, in addition to other locations throughout the state.

Morris and Baker say Kelly has yet to respond to those letters.

They sought a court declaration that the Army's ban on guns is unconstitutional.

The Corps argued it has the right to enforce the law because "it is a government entity acting as a proprietor managing its own property" and that the policy is needed to protect critical power supplies in light of Homeland Security threats.

In addition, large numbers of visitors to parks and recreation areas all but require a ban on guns, according to the Corps, which claims disputes between armed visitors create an escalated environment and that Corps park rangers have yet to be authorized by Congress to carry firearms.

Winmill, in citing the 9th Circuit's 2014 ruling in Peruta v. County of San Diego, said the ban on guns in other countries is possible, but not in the United States ,where gun rights are protected by the Constitution.

"The Corps cites these considerations to support the ban imposed by its regulation," Winmill wrote. "But Peruta ... rejected that line of argument: 'We are will aware that, in the judgment of many governments, the safest sort of firearm-carrying regime is one which restricts the privilege to law enforcement with only narrow exceptions. Nonetheless, the enshrinement of constitutional rights necessarily takes certain policy choices off the table.'"

The plaintiffs' attorney, John Runft, of Runft and Steele in Boise, was not immediately available for comment.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers manages 694 dams that hold back about 100 trillion gallons of water. Surrounding recreation areas, also managed by the Corps, serve more than 370 million visitors annually, according to the Corps' website.

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