The decision highlights the injustice of a federal law that bans gun possession by broad categories of "prohibited persons."
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.
Although Range did not realize it, that Pennsylvania misdemeanor conviction also came with a lifelong penalty: Under federal law, he lost the right to own firearms. That disability, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit ruled yesterday in Range v. United States, is inconsistent with the constitutional right to keep and bear arms.
The 3rd Circuit applied the test that the Supreme Court established last year in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, which rejected a state law requiring that residents demonstrate "proper cause" to carry guns in public for self-defense. When a gun control law restricts conduct covered by the "plain text" of the Second Amendment, the Court said, the government has the burden of demonstrating that it is "consistent with this Nation's historical tradition of firearm regulation." The 3rd Circuit's 11–4 decision is the first en banc federal appeals court ruling to reject a gun restriction under the Bruen test, which cast doubt on the constitutionality of many firearm regulations.
"We hold that the Government has not shown that the Nation's historical tradition of firearms regulation supports depriving Range of his Second Amendment right to possess a firearm," Judge Thomas M. Hardiman writes in the majority opinion. "Because the Government has not shown that our Republic has a longstanding history and tradition of depriving people like Range of their firearms, [it] cannot constitutionally strip him of his Second Amendment rights."
The Firearms Policy Coalition (FPC), which filed a brief supporting Range's case, welcomed the decision. "For nearly three decades, Mr. Range has been unjustly denied his Second Amendment rights," Joseph Greenlee, director of constitutional studies at the FPC Action Foundation, said in a press release. "We're thrilled that Mr. Range's rights have been restored, and about the decision's potential implications for countless others who have been wrongfully disarmed."