Gun News of the Week: States ask U.S. Supreme Court to Review Carry Permit Laws

Plus: Nationwide gun sales continue to decline

TOP STORY

Attorneys General From 23 States Request Supreme Court Rule on New Jersey 'May Issue' Challenge

Attorneys general from 23 states have filed a 26-page amicus brief requesting the U.S. Supreme Court take up a New Jersey case that could resolve the long-standing constitutional disconnect between “shall issue” and “may issue” in state carry permit laws.

Thomas Rogers and the Association of New Jersey Rifle & Pistol Clubs challenges the constitutionality of New Jersey's arbitrary "may issue," law which allows officials to rarely grant permits to carry a firearm in public for self-defense and, essentially, requires law-abiding citizens to seek permission to exercise a constitutional right.

“Your constitutional rights don’t end when you walk outside your front door,” Arizona AG Mark Brnovich, who is spearheading the effort, said in a statement. “We have a guaranteed bill of rights in this country, not a bill of needs.”

Brnovich noted “may issue” laws that “Similar laws infringe upon the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens have already been ruled unconstitutional across the country and New Jersey’s de facto ban should be overturned as well.”

The 26-page brief argues 42 states use “shall-issue” permitting standards and that New Jersey’s restrictive practice “subjectively restricts law-abiding citizens from carrying a gun outside their home, even if they meet the eligibility requirements to do so.”

The Supreme Court rejected "may issue" challenges from New Jersey gun owners in 2014 and 2017. Also in 2017, the court declined to hear Peruta v. California, a "may issue" challenge many thought was a sure-fire case worthy of review.

However, after nearly a decade of avoiding Second Amendment cases, in January the court granted certiorari to review New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v City of New York, a challenge to a New York City law that prohibits lawful handgun permit holders from transporting their unloaded, locked-up weapons outside city limits.

With the addition of Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the court late last year — the second justice appointed by President Donald Trump — the Supreme Court now includes a 5-4 majority of conservative-leaning justices and, as January’s action indicates, challenges that have been collecting dust suddenly have a new luster.

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WHAT DOES IT MEAN?

Despite an Increase in 2018 Background Checks, Gun Sales Declined

The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) on Jan. 28 reported U.S. firearms sales fell 6.1 percent in 2018, marking it the second straight year of declines and extending the “Trump slump” in gun sales following the November 2016 election of pro-gun rights President Donald Trump.

Meanwhile, according to the FBI, it conducted more than 26 million background checks last year — more than 2017, but less than the 27 million checks in 2016.

The NSSF estimated 2018 sales at 13.1 million firearms, down from 14 million the previous year and down 16.5 percent from record 2016 sales of 15.7 million. The U.S. consumer firearms market supports a $40 billion industry of manufacturers and retailers of guns, ammunition and accessories.

Industry representatives attribute the decline to a market corrections as well as politics with gun sales tapering following a near-decade of booming sales when anti-gun President Barak Obama was in office.

In California, which has some of the nation’s strictest gun laws, retailers are reporting brisk sales with Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom, a long-time gun control zealot, now in office.

According to Adhiti Bandlamudi in a Feb. 1 analysis for Guns & America, “a public media reporting project on the role of guns in American life,” the discord between declining gun sales and increasing gun checks illustrates how “gun sales and background checks don’t necessarily go together.”

Citing an Annals of Internal Medicine Journal 2017 study, Bandlamudi notes that 22 percent of U.S. gun owners acquired a firearm without a background check.

How background checks are conducted in various states is among the reasons why they don’t necessarily translate into precise sales estimates, he explained.

“If you’re in a state like Massachusetts or Hawaii, which require a separate permit every time a handgun or rifle is purchased, you could potentially estimate the number of firearms sold,” Bandlamudi writes. “Some states, such as Iowa or Michigan, require a person to have a permit before they can buy a firearm, but once they have that permit, they can buy as many guns as they want, as long as the permit is valid. So, if you live in Iowa, you can get a permit which will remain valid for 5 years, and you can buy all the guns you’d like in that time. In a state like North Carolina, a person could purchase multiple guns within the same transaction, which would have only involved one background check.”

Nevertheless, the "Trump slump" for the firearms industry is real, says Jurgen Brauer, chief economist for Small Arms Analytics & Forecasting (SAAF), a research consultancy focused on small arms and ammunition markets.

"Firearms sales have declined substantially," Brauer said. "At the federal level, there is no fear among firearms purchasers in regard to restrictive legislation."

SAAF projects that sales may rebound this year with Democrats seizing control of the House of Representatives and introducing a slate of gun-control bills, including Rep. Mike Thompson's (D-Calif.) introduced the 'Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019,' which would require all gun sellers, including private vendors, to run background checks on customers.

"New state level legislation may increase demand, but usually only in the month before the legislation takes effect," Brauer said. "That might be in June 2019 for legislation taking effect in July, for example."

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STATE ROUNDUP

South Dakota Becomes 14th State to 'Allow' Concealed Handguns Without a Permit

Republican Gov. Kristi Noem on Jan. 31 signed into law a bill adopted by the state Legislature making South Dakota the 14th state to carry a concealed handgun without a permit

It is the first bill newly-elected Noem has signed into law since assuming office earlier last month.

The legislation goes into effect on July 1 and will “protect the Second Amendment rights of South Dakotans by allowing constitutional carry,” she said.

“More than 230 years ago, the Founding Fathers of our country penned the Constitution that has since laid the framework for centuries of policies,” Noem said in a press conference. “They so firmly believed in the importance of the freedom to bear arms that they enshrined it into the Constitution’s Second Amendment.”

South Dakota joins Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Kansas, Maine, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Vermont, West Virginia and Wyoming in not requiring a permit to carry a concealed weapon, according to the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).

Noem told the Sioux Falls’ Argus Leader that the measure was passed after a “robust and thoughtful process” and still maintains “restrictions on who can carry a concealed handgun.”

The state already recognizes the right to carry a firearm openly without a permit, the NRA said.

“Current law, however, requires a state-issued permit to carry that same firearm under a coat or in a bag. This new law simply extends the current open carry rule to concealed carry. Those who obtain permits will still enjoy the reciprocity agreements that South Dakota has with other states.”

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IN THE COURTS

Defense Distributed Suit Won't Be Heard in Texas

U.S. Western District of Texas Judge Robert Pitman on Jan. 30 tossed out Defense Distributed’s lawsuit challenging state bans and restrictions on its plan to sell 3D printable gun molds online nationwide.

Pittman ruled his Austin federal courtroom is not the appropriate venue to resolve the First and Second amendment dispute, encouraging Defense Distributed to take its case elsewhere.

The judge also denied Defense Distributed’s request for an injection to block New Jersey from implementing its recently passed state law banning its online 3D printable gun molds.

In December, Defense Distributed attorneys argued before Pitman that the case should be tried in Austin because that’s where the company received a cease-and-desist letter from the New Jersey attorney general’s office.

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