Federal Judge Strikes Down Federal Interstate Handgun Transfer Ban

Major victory for Second Amendment proponents.


Credit: xomiele / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

In a major victory today for Second Amendment advocates, Judge Reed O'Connor of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, Fort Worth Division, declared the federal interstate handgun transfer ban to be unconstitutional.

"The federal interstate handgun transfer ban is unique compared to other firearms restrictions because it does not target certain people (such as felons or the mentally ill), conduct (such as carrying firearms into government buildings or schools), or distinctions among certain classes of firearms (such as fully automatic weapons or magazine capacity). Instead," Judge O'Connor wrote in Mance v. Holder, "the federal interstate handgun transfer ban targets the entire national market of handgun sales and directly burdens law-abiding, responsible citizens who seek to complete otherwise lawful transactions for handguns."

According to Judge O'Connor, this approach not only infringes on the core scope of the Second Amendment, it fails to permissibly advance a legitimate government interest while doing so. The Obama administration, he wrote, has "not shown that the federal interstate handgun transfer ban is narrowly tailored to be the least restrictive means of achieving the Government's goals under current law. The federal interstate handgun transfer ban is therefore unconstitutional on its face."

Equally important for Second Amendment advocates is the fact that Judge O'Connor employed the legal standard known as "strict scrutiny" when reviewing the federal ban. In constitutional cases, strict scrutiny is the most exacting level of judicial review and is reserved for those disputes where a "fundamental" right is considered to be at stake.

In the wake of the Supreme Court's 2008 decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, which did not endorse any specific level of scrutiny for future Second Amendment cases, gun rights advocates have been urging the lower courts to practice strict scrutiny whenever appropriate. Today's win accomplished that important goal and will now serve as an example for other federal judges to follow as they grapple with America's fast-growing Second Amendment jurisprudence.

One final point. The architect of today's win was the civil rights lawyer Alan Gura, who argued and won the case and who previously argued and won Heller at the Supreme Court. Gura's pathbreaking legal work continues to expand the Second Amendment liberties of all Americans.

The opinion in Mance v. Holder is available here.