Second Amendment

The Debate Emerges

United States v. Emerson (2001)

270 F.3d 203 (2001)

Vote: 9-0
Decision: Reversed
Majority: Garwood, joined by DeMoss, and Parker (Parts I-IV)
Concurrence: Parker

Justice Garwood delivered the opinion of the Court.

On December 8, 1998, the grand jury for the Northern District of Texas, San Angelo division, returned a five-count indictment against Emerson. The government moved to dismiss counts 2 through 5, which motion the district court subsequently granted. Count 1, the only remaining count and the count here at issue, alleged that Emerson on November 16, 1998, unlawfully possessed “in and affecting interstate commerce” a firearm, a Beretta pistol, while subject to the above-mentioned September 14, 1998 order, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g) (8). It appears that Emerson had purchased the pistol on October 10, 1997, in San Angelo, Texas, from a licensed firearms dealer. Emerson does not claim that the pistol had not previously traveled in interstate or foreign commerce. It is not disputed that the September 14, 1998 order was in effect at least through November 16, 1998.

Emerson moved pretrial to dismiss the indictment, asserting that section 922(g) (8), facially and as applied to him, violates the Second Amendment and the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. He also moved to dismiss on the basis that section 922(g) (8) was an improper exertion of federal power under the Commerce Clause and that, in any case, the law unconstitutionally usurps powers reserved to the states by the Tenth Amendment. An evidentiary hearing was held on Emerson’s motion to dismiss.

The district court granted Emerson’s motions to dismiss. Subsequently, the district court issued an amended memorandum opinion … The district court held that dismissal of the indictment was proper on Second or Fifth Amendment grounds, but rejected Emerson’s Tenth Amendment and Commerce Clause arguments.

The government appealed. Emerson filed a notice of cross-appeal, which was dismissed by this Court. The government challenges the district court’s dismissal on Second and Fifth Amendment grounds. Emerson defends the district court’s dismissal on those grounds and also urges that dismissal was in any event proper under the Commerce Clause and on statutory grounds.

We have found no historical evidence that the Second Amendment was intended to convey militia power to the states, limit the federal government’s power to maintain a standing army, or applies only to members of a select militia while on active duty. All of the evidence indicates that the Second Amendment, like other parts of the Bill of Rights, applies to and protects individual Americans …

We find that the history of the Second Amendment reinforces the plain meaning of its text, namely that it protects individual Americans in their right to keep and bear arms whether or not they are a member of a select militia or performing active military service or training …

We reject the collective rights and sophisticated collective rights models for interpreting the Second Amendment. We hold, consistent with Miller, that it protects the right of individuals, including those not then actually a member of any militia or engaged in active military service or training, to privately possess and bear their own firearms, such as the pistol involved here, that are suitable as personal, individual weapons and are not of the general kind or type excluded by Miller [U.S. v. Miller (1939)]. However, because of our holding that section 922(g) (8), as applied to Emerson, does not infringe his individual rights under the Second Amendment we will not now further elaborate as to the exact scope of all Second Amendment rights.

Although, as we have held, the Second Amendment does protect individual rights, that does not mean that those rights may never be made subject to any limited, narrowly tailored specific exceptions or restrictions for particular cases that are reasonable and not inconsistent with the right of Americans generally to individually keep and bear their private arms as historically understood in this country. Indeed, Emerson does not contend, and the district court did not hold, otherwise. As we have previously noted, it is clear that felons, infants and those of unsound mind may be prohibited from possessing firearms. Emerson’s argument that his Second Amendment rights have been violated is grounded on the propositions that the September 14, 1998 order contains no express finding that he represents a credible threat to the physical safety of his wife (or child), that the evidence before the court issuing the order would not sustain such a finding and that the provisions of the order bringing it within clause (C) (ii) of section 922(g) (8) were no more than uncontested boiler-plate. In essence, Emerson, and the district court, concede that had the order contained an express finding, on the basis of adequate evidence, that Emerson actually posed a credible threat to the physical safety of his wife, and had that been a genuinely contested matter at the hearing, with the parties and the court aware of section 922(g) (8), then Emerson could, consistent with the Second Amendment, be precluded from possessing a firearm while he remained subject to the order …

We agree with the district court that the Second Amendment protects the right of individuals to privately keep and bear their own firearms that are suitable as individual, personal weapons and are not of the general kind or type excluded by Miller, regardless of whether the particular individual is then actually a member of a militia. However, for the reasons stated, we also conclude that the predicate order in question here is sufficient, albeit likely minimally so, to support the deprivation, while it remains in effect, of the defendant’s Second Amendment rights. Accordingly, we reverse the district court’s dismissal of the indictment on Second Amendment grounds.

We remand the cause for further proceedings not inconsistent herewith.

Reversed and remanded.

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