He Lost His Gun Rights Because of a Misdemeanor DUI Conviction. That Was Unconstitutional, a Judge Says.
The federal ban on gun possession by people with certain kinds of criminal records is often described as applying to “felons,” but that shorthand is misleading. The provision, 18 USC 922(g)(1), actually covers anyone convicted of “a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year.” That is why Pennsylvania resident Edward A. Williams lost his right to own a gun after he was convicted of driving under the influence, a misdemeanor, in 2005. Had Williams defied Section 922(g)(1) by possessing a firearm, he would have been committing a federal felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
That consequence violated Williams’ Second Amendment rights, a federal judge ruled on Tuesday. U.S. District Judge John Milton Younge’s decision in Williams v. Garland tracks the logic of a June ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit, which includes Pennsylvania. The latter case, Range v. Attorney General, involved a Pennsylvania man who likewise was convicted of a nonviolent misdemeanor: food stamp fraud. Both cases illustrate the breadth of this “prohibited person” category, which includes many Americans with no history of violence.
Back in 1995, Bryan Range pleaded guilty to fraudulently obtaining $2,458 in food stamps by understating his income. He returned the money, paid a $100 fine and $288 in court costs, and served three years of probation. But although he did not initially realize it, that Pennsylvania misdemeanor conviction also carried a lifelong penalty under Section 922(g)(1): permanent loss of his Second Amendment rights. Even though Range did not serve any time behind bars, his crime theoretically was punishable by up to five years in prison.
Applying the constitutional test that the Supreme Court established last year in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, the 3rd Circuit concluded that disarming Range was not “consistent with this Nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation.” Writing for the majority, Judge Thomas M. Hardiman noted that laws restricting gun rights based on criminal records were not enacted until relatively recently.
The first such federal law, the Federal Firearms Act of 1938, applied only to violent crimes such as murder, manslaughter, rape, kidnapping, robbery, and assault with a deadly weapon. In 1961, Congress expanded the ban to cover nonviolent crimes punishable by more than a year in prison. “We are confident that a law passed in 1961—some 170 years after the Second Amendment’s ratification and nearly a century after the Fourteenth Amendment’s ratification—falls well short of ‘longstanding’ for purposes of demarcating the scope of a constitutional right,” Hardiman wrote.
The 3rd Circuit described its decision as “narrow,” applying only to Range and “people like him.” One of those people, Younge ruled on Tuesday, is Williams, who was arrested for DUI 23 years ago in State College. Although Williams completed a diversion program that resulted in the dismissal of that charge, it still cou
Article from Latest
The Reason Magazine website is a go-to destination for libertarians seeking cogent analysis, investigative reporting, and thought-provoking commentary. Championing the principles of individual freedom, limited government, and free markets, the site offers a diverse range of articles, videos, and podcasts that challenge conventional wisdom and advocate for libertarian solutions. Whether you’re interested in politics, culture, or technology, Reason provides a unique lens that prioritizes liberty and rational discourse. It’s an essential resource for those who value critical thinking and nuanced debate in the pursuit of a freer society.