In a groundbreaking decision dated June 6, 2023, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals declared that the ATF had overstepped their authority by denying a gun purchase to an individual with a past non-violent conviction. This ruling is a significant development in the ongoing application of the Bruen standard of constitutional review that courts across the country are using to chip away at the long-standing federal practices that limit the Second Amendment rights of individuals. The case under review was Bryan Range v. Attorney General United States of America.
In 1995, Bryan Range was convicted for nonviolently “making a false statement to obtain food stamps.” His sentence was three years probation in Pennsylvania. When he tried to purchase a rifle in 1998, he was denied due to his previous conviction, making him a “prohibited person” under the ATF’s regulations.
Range took his case to the Third Circuit, which, in an unusual move, convened all its judges (a procedure known as “en banc”) to reconsider his case. The court’s ruling harshly criticized the ATF’s position, applying the Bruen standard, which focuses heavily on the historical traditions underpinning the Second Amendment.
The court argued that many jurisdictions had overreached by using a two-step process that applied means-end scrutiny to Second Amendment cases. Instead, under the Bruen standard, any conduct that the plain text of the Second Amendment covers is presumptively protected by the Constitution.
The court affirmed Range’s contention that he was still part of “the people” protected by the Second Amendment, even after his 1995 conviction. This pronouncement dismissed the ATF’s argument that Range was no longer one of “the people” following his conviction.
In the second part of the ruling, the Third Circuit called upon the government to show that the prohibition against someone like Range owning a firearm was part of the nation’s historical tradition. The ATF attempted to argue that the prohibition was long-standing because it had been law since at least 1961 and potentially since 1938. The court rejected this argument, stating that a law from 1961 was hardly “longstanding” in the context of a constitutional right ratified in 1791.
In conclusion, the Third Circuit has delivered a significant decision that could influence Second Amendment jurisprudence. This ruling and the Bruen standard it applies may have far-reaching implications for Tennessee Governor Bill Lee’s push for a Red Flag law.
This law, purportedly necessary for public safety, could potentially infringe on the rights of individuals protected by the Second Amendment. Therefore, any Tennesseean concerned about their Second Amendment rights should make their voices heard. Contact your legislators to oppose Governor Lee’s Special Session call and commit to supporting candidates who stand firm against any legislation that could limit these constitutional rights.