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In the Courts: Defending and Advancing Our Rights

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

By Chris W. Cox, NRA-ILA Executive Director

Many state legislatures are rushing to judgment. In a race to grab headlines, governors and state lawmakers are pushing extreme and poorly drafted anti-gun legislation through the process as quickly as possible, before their gun-owning constituents have a chance to review the details and speak out in opposition.  

First came New York, where anti-gun Gov. Andrew Cuomo goaded legislators into passing massively flawed legislation with only a few hours’ notice. Then politicians in Colorado, Maryland and Connecticut queued up for second place. And there will be more, despite the fact that law-abiding gun owners in these states have turned out to rallies by the thousands, given hours and hours of testimony in opposition and swarmed state houses in such numbers that it’s been difficult at times to even walk around in state capitol buildings. 

When lawmakers rush ahead with these attacks on our rights, the only recourse is often in the courts. The New York law is headed for expedited review by the state’s courts, and other states will follow this pattern as well. The judges who will hear these cases now have two U.S. Supreme Court precedents to contend with, Heller and McDonald, both of which confirm that the right to keep and bear arms for self-defense is a fundamental, individual right. So the years of effort that went into reaching the Supreme Court and securing these precedents will now be put to work, protecting the rights of gun owners from attack by their own state governments. 

The Heller and McDonald decisions aren’t only being used to challenge recent infringements by the state legislatures. We are also using them to challenge longstanding laws that ban citizens from exercising the right of self-defense. 

Recently, for example, I wrote about the NRA-backed case of Shepard v. Madigan, and the resulting decision written by Judge Richard Posner. (See “Right-To-Carry Victory In Court,” March 2013.) The plaintiff, Illinois resident Mary Shepard, challenged the state’s near-total ban on carrying a firearm outside the home for self-defense. Writing for a three-judge panel in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, Judge Posner struck down the ban, saying that “To confine the right to be armed to the home is to divorce the Second Amendment from the right to self-defense described in Heller and McDonald.”   

The court gave the state 180 days to write a new Right-to-Carry law that complies with the decision. On Feb. 22, the full Seventh Circuit rejected the state’s request to review the case—so the clock is still ticking on the deadline to pass a Right-to-Carry law. When the legislature does, it will eliminate Illinois as the last state that had absolutely no provision for defensive carry outside the home or workplace. And it will provide welcome relief for law-abiding gun owners in Illinois, who have worked for years to pass Right-to-Carry into law.

But it won’t eliminate the ban on concealed carry that’s in effect in Chicago. That’s why NRA-ILA has now funded a new case, Hall v. City of Chicago, which challenges the Chicago ordinances that limit the lawful possession of a handgun to the inside of one’s home—which is defined to exclude yards, porches and even garages.   

Plaintiff Michael Hall is a law-abiding citizen and father of five, living in a high-crime area of Chicago where his family has been victimized by criminals many times. He served four years with the Marine Corps, where he received extensive firearm training and earned an “expert” rating in marksmanship. And yet it remains illegal for him to even possess a handgun on his own driveway. That has to change, and NRA-ILA’s support of his case is intended to do just that. 

Our March article documented several other strategically filed cases in other federal courts. They are all intended to drive toward the same goal and, even if we lose some of them, the process will signal the U.S. Supreme Court that it’s time to step in and offer a definitive ruling. 

Litigation is often our only defense against bad laws that are rushed onto the books. But it’s also a tool we can use to go on the offense. The U.S. Supreme Court has definitively ruled on what it means to “keep” arms.  The next frontier will be for the court to rule on the meaning of “bear.”  With your support, the NRA will be there, bringing the cases that are most likely to advance our rights. 

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NRA ILA

Established in 1975, the Institute for Legislative Action (ILA) is the "lobbying" arm of the National Rifle Association of America. ILA is responsible for preserving the right of all law-abiding individuals in the legislative, political, and legal arenas, to purchase, possess and use firearms for legitimate purposes as guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.