Fox News reports that the ACLU of South Dakota is challenging a state law that prevents legal U.S. residents from obtaining permits to carry handguns, arguing that it violates the 14th Amendment's guarantee of equal protection. The plaintiff is Wayne Smith, who was born in the U.K. but has lived in the U.S. for 30 years. He had no trouble obtaining a carry permit until the South Dakota legislature added American citizenship to the requirements in 2002. Why the change? "We went back and listened to the testimony from 2002," says South Dakota Secretary of State Jason Gant, "and it was in response to 9/11 as well as wanting to make sure that only U.S. citizens were receiving these permits." The first reason does not make much sense to me (did carry permits play some crucial role in the hijackings that I've forgotten?), and the second reason is tautological. Evidently South Dakota legislators decided to make U.S. citizenship a requirement for carry permits so that only U.S. citizens could obtain carry permits.
Whatever their reasons, says ACLU of South Dakota Executive Director Robert Doody, the requirement is unconstitutional:
All persons are guaranteed equal protection under the Constitution regardless of what their status is. Everyone should be treated equally by the government. And in this case we know that there are United States Supreme Court decisions out there that say that alienage is one of the highest standards of strict scrutiny, so if a state or government makes a decision based on pure alienage then that would run afoul of the 14th Amendment.
The ACLU of Kentucky won a similar challenge in 2008, and "constitutional attorney Noel Francisco" tells Fox News that Smith has a strong case:
Legal resident aliens—that is, non-citizens who legally live in the United States—have constitutional rights. No one, for example, would say that a state could prohibit a legal resident alien from freely practicing his religion or engaging in free speech. Thus, if Mr. Smith does not have a criminal background or hasn't done anything else that disqualifies him from getting a permit, it's not clear to me how a state could prohibit him from getting a permit when it allows an otherwise similarly situated citizen to get one.
So who's against this defense of Smith's gun rights? Gun Owners of America, which brags of being "the only no-compromise gun lobby in Washington." (The wishy-washy National Rifle Association, by contrast, is cheering Smith on.) GOA Executive Director Larry Pratt worries that "they want to make it so illegal aliens have the same rights as everybody else…every little bit chipping away." And what's Smith's problem anyway? "If the guy wants to enjoy the full benefit of residing in the United States," says Pratt, "become a citizen. He's been here for 30 years. What's he waiting for?" Presumably the same goes for legal residents who want to practice their religions or speak freely.