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Judge Rejects Ban on Interstate Handgun Sales

FORT WORTH (CN) - A federal judge Wednesday struck down Uncle Sam's ban on interstate sale of handguns, calling it unconstitutional and unnecessary due to the use of electronic background checks.

U.S. District Judge Reed O'Connor ruled that the ban violates the Fifth and Second Amendments.

"In short, the current statutory scheme presents less restrictive alternatives to achieve the goals that Congress identified in 1968, rendering the federal interstate handgun transfer ban not narrowly tailored," the 28-page opinion states.

Gun dealer Frederic Russell Mance Jr. of Texas, and gun buyers Tracey and Andrew Hanson of Washington, D.C., sued U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Director B. Todd Jones in Federal Court in July 2014.

They claimed the federal ban interfered with the formation of a national handgun market, "reduces competition, raises prices and limits consumer choices."

They pointed out that purchase and sale of rifles and shotguns across state lines is permitted by federal law, so long as the sales comply with laws of the seller's and purchaser's states.

Holder moved for summary judgment in November, claiming that the ban "does not impose any burden" on Second Amendment rights, and that the amendment is "silent" as to the ability to sell or buy firearms "in any particular forum." He said the federal courts have repeatedly refused to rule the amendment protects such a right.

But O'Connor concluded that under strict scrutiny, the ban is not narrowly tailored to show the curtailment of constitutional rights is "actually necessary to the solution."

O'Connor said the instant electronic background checks available today were not available in 1968 when the ban was enacted. He wrote that under the Brady Act of 1993, states can create a point of contact as a liaison between the National Instant Criminal Background Check System to ensure the buyer can legally buy a firearm.

"Current law therefore ensures potential purchasers can legally acquire and possess a firearm under state and federal law, and those states that desire to receive notice of firearms purchased by its citizens simply establish a [point of contact]," O'Connor wrote.

"Obviously, none of this infrastructure existed in 1968. Yet, in this case, it appears defendants rely on statistics from the 1968 Senate Report to support the continued need for an in-state [federal firearms licensed dealer] in every out-of-state handgun transaction."

The defendants failed to provide relevant evidence that the ban is needed for compliance with state law and that the point-of-contact system is not enough to provide notice to the states, O'Connor found.

"The current law relating to rifles and shotguns provides an example of a narrowly tailored law, especially when it is taken together with instant electronic background checks, face-to-face meeting requirements, state POCs, and published compilations of state and local firearms laws," the judge wrote.

O'Connor concluded that the ban does not survive lower, intermediate scrutiny, either.

"As law-abiding, responsible citizens, the Hansons likely do not pose the threat to public safety that motivated Congress to enact the federal interstate handgun transfer ban," the opinion states. "Requiring that the Hansons pay additional costs and fees and wait until they return to the District of Columbia to retrieve their firearms from [another gun dealer] amounts to a regime that is not substantially related to the Government's stated goal."

O'Connor also denied the defendants' motion for summary judgment, ruling that the plaintiffs have standing to sue.

He disagreed with the argument that Mance suffered no injury, finding that Mance's inability to sell handguns to the Hansons because of the ban is a loss of sale and "clearly" an injury to him.

He also found standing for the Hansons, whose injuries of not buying a handgun locally would be redressed by a favorable ruling by the court.

The Department of Justice did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday afternoon.

Plaintiffs' attorney William B. Mateja, with Fish Richardson in Dallas, applauded O'Connor's "tight and extremely analytical" ruling. He said the ban "makes no sense, there is no reason for it to exist."

"We won all the way around," Mateja told Courthouse News. "It is crazy to destroy the marketplace for handguns that Americans have a fundamental right to purchase. The lawsuit strikes at the heart of the issue ever since the creation of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. ... It makes no sense to perpetuate the ban."

Mateja said his clients were "incredibly gratified and happy" when informed of the ruling and are "very fired up."

"I'd be shocked if there was no appeal. Expect this to make its way to 5th Circuit, where I expect the court of appeals to affirm an incredibly sound opinion," Mateja said. "It is chock full of great analysis and went beyond just the filings and paid attention to oral arguments which lasted over two-and-a-half hours."

Plaintiffs' attorney Alan Gura, with Gura Possessky in Alexandria, Va., said there "simply was no reason to differentiate" between handguns, shotguns and rifles.

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