Last Friday, Chief Judge B. Lynn Winmill of the United States District Court for the District of Idaho issued a preliminary injunction to enjoin the Army Corps of Engineers from enforcing a regulation that, with limited exceptions, banned possession of firearms on lands under the Corps' control. The case, Morris v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, was brought by plaintiffs in western Idaho who use Corps' lands for recreation, including camping. The plaintiffs challenged the regulation as being an unconstitutional violation of the Second Amendment because of the burden the regulation placed on their right to self-defense in their temporary homes (tents) and their right to carry firearms for self-defense.
The court first examined the regulation as it applied to the plaintiffs' "homes," and found that the temporary nature of tents did not limit their consideration as homes because a tent is "a place--just like a home--where a person withdraws from public view, and seeks privacy and security for himself and perhaps also his family and/or his property." The court used this finding and followed the Supreme Court's holding in District of Columbia v. Heller to determine that the regulation impacted the core of the Second Amendment right, so the regulation was therefore subject to strict scrutiny.
The court did not examine the level of scrutiny to apply to the regulation as it applied outside of the tents because it found that even if less-stringent intermediate scrutiny was appropriate, the regulation would still fail. In coming to this conclusion, the court focused on the complete lack of a self-defense exception within the regulation.
The Corps argued that plaintiffs had no Second Amendment rights on federal land because the Corps was acting in its proprietary role as a land owner rather than exercising its role as a "law-maker," and, even if plaintiffs generally had a right to possess firearms for self-defense on federal land, that the Corps should be treated differently because it was not required by law to open its lands to the public. In rejecting both arguments, the court noted that the Corps could not evade application of constitutional requirements, in this case the plaintiffs' right to possess firearms for self-defense, merely because it had acted voluntarily. Once the Corps made the decision to open its land to the public, it had to give full recognition to individual's constitutional rights.
It should be noted that Chief Judge Winmill issued only a preliminary injunction, so the Corps will have the opportunity for a full evidentiary hearing or trial on the merits to get the court to lift the injunction. We will keep you updated on any further developments.