The Volokh Conspiracy

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Man with 28-year-old Felony False Statement Conviction Can't Be Denied Second Amendment Rights

So a federal district court in Illinois held yesterday.


From yesterday's decision in Hatfield v. United States:

Plaintiff Larry Edward Hatfield wants to keep a gun in his home for self-defense. But the Government bans him from doing so, because 28 years ago, Hatfield lied on some forms that he sent to the Railroad Retirement Board: a felony in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1001(a). Hatfield later pled guilty to one count of violating the statute, an offense for which he received no prison time and a meager amount in restitution fees pursuant to a formal plea agreement with the Government.

Now, Hatfield brings this as-applied challenge to 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1)—the statute that bans him from owning a gun—on the grounds that it violates his Second Amendment rights. Hatfield embeds his argument in United States v. Williams, 616 F.3d 685 , 692 (7th Cir. 2010), which instructed that "[the Supreme Court's decision in D.C. v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008)] referred to felon disarmament bans only as 'presumptively lawful,' which, by implication, means that there must exist the possibility that the ban could be unconstitutional in the face of an as-applied challenge." If there is any case that rebuts that presumption, it is this one. So for the following reasons, the Court GRANTS summary judgment in favor of Plaintiff Larry E. Hatfield….

[T]he Government—instead of focusing on a narrow class of as-applied challengers—rests their position on the broad idea that since felons have shown a "manifest disregard for the rights of others," the Government may immediately strip them of their Second Amendment rights. The Government seems to think this is the case even if they cut a plea deal with the felon that recommended zero days in prison, like they did with Hatfield.

It is absolutely impossible to reconcile the Government's positions here that (1) a specific felon is so harmless that the felon does not need to go to prison for their felony conviction, but also (2) the felon is so dangerous that they should be stripped of their right to own a gun and defend their home. This type of logical inconsistency shows that the Government is not taking the Second Amendment seriously. The Second Amendment has to mean something as a matter of law, policy debates aside. Overbroad policies ignoring a constitutional amendment are inexcusable.

Seems right to me, and consistent with some other recent cases (see, e.g., the Third Circuit's Binderup decision).