Late last week brought some welcome movement on an issue that has plagued gun owners for decades. On January 19, U.S. District Court Judge for the Middle District of Florida Kathryn Kimball Mizelle ruled in U.S. v. Ayala that the federal prohibition on firearms in U.S. Post Offices is unconstitutional. The ruling has the potential to significantly impact those who exercise their Right-to-Carry, as for many Americans, a post office may be their chief or only physical interaction with the federal leviathan.
Federal law, 18 U.S.C. § 930, creates a blanket firearm prohibition for “federal facilities.” Those found guilty of possessing a firearm at a “federal facility” face up to a year in prison. Moreover, U.S. Postal Service regulations, 39 C.F.R. § 232.1, provide,
Notwithstanding the provisions of any other law, rule or regulation, no person while on postal property may carry firearms, other dangerous or deadly weapons, or explosives, either openly or concealed, or store the same on postal property, except for official purposes.
This Postal Service gun ban has been interpreted broadly, with ridiculous results. In U.S. v. Dorosan (2009), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit upheld the conviction of a man who had a firearm in the glove box of a private vehicle in a post office parking lot.
In another case, Bonidy v. U.S. Postal Service (2015), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit ruled that a rural Colorado man couldn’t store his lawfully carried firearm in his vehicle in the post office parking lot while picking up his mail, even though his post office did not deliver mail to residences. In justifying the gun ban, the Court opined,
the parking lot should be considered as a single unit with the postal building itself to which it is attached and which it exclusively serves. There is, in fact, a drop-off box for the post office in the parking lot, meaning that postal transactions take place in the parking lot as well as in the building.
This logic may cause a person to question whether some believe the U.S. Postal Service could commandeer any location with a collection box, or for that matter the end of your driveway.
That was all before the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen (2022). The opinion stated that law-abiding Americans have a right to carry outside the home for self-defense, and in doing so made clear that the government does not have unfettered authority to label locations as “sensitive” to prohibit carry.
The Bruen decision noted,
[w]hen the Second Amendment’s plain text covers an individual’s conduct, the Constitution presumptively protects that conduct. The government must then justify its regulation by demonstrating that it is consistent with the Nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation. Only then may a court conclude that the individual’s conduct falls outside the Second Amendment’s “unqualified command.”
Citing Bruen, Judge Mizelle explained,
New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, 597 U.S. 1 (2022), requires the United States to present historical support for § 930(a)’s application to Ayala, which it fails to do. Post offices have existed since the founding, as have threats to the safety of postal workers and the public entering those locations. Yet the historical record yields no “distinctly similar historical regulation addressing” those safety problems by regulating firearms in post offices.
Judge Mizelle went on to note, that while the Supreme Court’s District of Columbia v. Heller (2008), McDonald v. Chicago (2010), and Bruen decisions contemplated some specific “sensitive places,” none of these rulings contend that firearms may be prohibited in all manner of government buildings. The Judge stated that in its discussion of “sensitive places,”
The Supreme Court was providing an example of how the Bruen test works in practice. It had earlier explained that largely unchallenged founding-era regulations will almost certainly be constitutional. It then provided three examples—legislative assemblies, polling places, and courthouses. The paragraph proceeds to direct lower courts to use these three places as analogues when deciding how the sensitive-places exception applies to modern regulations.
Post offices are clearly not analogous to these enumerated locations.
Despite the ruling, gun owners would be wise to hold off on carrying at the post office just yet. On January 18, the U.S. Postal Service put out a news item stating that their no firearms policy is still in force.
Still, Judge Mizelle’s ruling is an important step towards rectifying decades of injustice. Moreover, the ruling bodes ill for other unjustifiable “federal facility” gun bans. After Bruen, no one should envy the government attorneys tasked with concocting arguments for how National Park commodes are “sensitive places.”