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).

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  1. It would have been much quicker to simply say that the 2nd Amendment prohibits government from infringing on the right to keep and bear arms.

    He is not in state custody for a criminal offense, so he can speak freely, associate freely, own a weapon freely, travel freely, among many other rights which some are protected by the Constitution.

    1. So far, I’m also not seeing anythign that prevents him from voting either.

      1. Voting isn’t a right specifically secured by the Constitution (except insofar as it defines qualifications for voting in federal elections based on qualifications for voting in state elections). The Fourteenth Amendment has been read as limiting discrimination in deciding who votes — but section 2 of that Amendment expressly contemplates restrictions on voting based on past criminal record, so the Court concluded (I think correctly) that section 1 doesn’t prohibit restrictions that section 2 seems to endorse. See Richardson v. Ramirez (1974).

        1. Voting is an implied right but as Volokh correctly states, there is not constitutional right to vote. How else would our Constitutional democratic Republic function if Americans could not vote is evidence of that implied fundamental right.

  2. I agree, although the problem is that the courts are making people bear the litigation expense each time for these challenges. The courts should order Congress to draft an appropriate statute that takes into account the seriousness and time period of the crime, or otherwise they can’t enforce the statute at all.

    1. Seems like an actual right wing patriot would know that the constitution doesn’t allow the courts to order congress to do anything.

      1. Did you intentionally ignore the rest of my post? The courts absolutely can tell Congress “Draft another felon gun removal statute that does not conflict with the 2nd Amendment OR you will not have any statute that you can enforce at all.”

        1. Shorter: “Invoke judicial activism!” (but maybe call it something else?)

          1. It’s okay when it’s something I agree with, right?

          2. Declaring a patently unconstitutional law unconstitutional is not judicial activism. In fact, it would be judicial activism to uphold it.

    2. Of course when Congress passed the law prohibiting felons from possessing firearms, a typical felon was someone like John Dillinger. Today it’s more likely someone like Martha Stewart. The root of the problem is that there are way too many felonies.

      1. And there’s actually already a solution to the problem. Prohibited persons are supposed to be able to petition the government to have their Second Amendment rights, and others, restored

        Unfortunately, some members of Congress don’t like guns, and have managed to block funding for such restoration since it was passed.

  3. I will note, however, that this district judge was appointed by Bush Sr. Once an appellate panel of Obama appointees hears the case, they WILL reverse, as they don’t belong the 2nd Amendment means anything at all. To use the judge’s description, they “ignore” the 2nd Amendment.

  4. Felon denial of firearms should only be for malum in se crimes in the first place.

    Malum prohibitum crimes involve no actual or potential violence so a violation means nothing about potential misuse of a weapon.

    1. Wouldn’t this particular case involve a conviction for a malum in se crime?

      Although I haven’t looked at what the nature of Hatfield’s intentional misstatement on the forms was, I’m assuming it was to increase his benefits in some way. If so, it is an attempt to steal money from a common fund which will likely eventually have to be made up by others such as taxpayers, workers covered by the pension, those retired and receiving benefits, or consumers due to increased freight costs. It seems little different than stealing something of value which, if I understand it, would be classified as a malum in se crime.

      Though, given the Second Amendment, it seems that the only crimes that should automatically result in a lifelong restriction on firearms ownership should be those that involved violence or credible intentional threat thereof.

    2. Malum prohibitum crimes disrespect the government far more than malum in se crimes, therefore they show far more potential misuse of a weapon against the government. After all, the primary intent of the Second Amendment is to make sure weapons can be used against a tyrannical government.

  5. I know its silly, but law matters aside I can’t imagine a Hatfield (or a McCoy) without a firearm. 🙂

  6. I do think it’s strange from a matter of principles that a Constitutional right could be denied entirely by definitions of a state’s choosing. I think there are reasonable arguments that the state has the right to prohibit possession of a firearm based on certain felony convictions (and even certain misdemeanor convictions), but it seems there needs to be an objective criteria that doesn’t allow the state to include whatever they feel like.

    1. The entire purpose of the BoR is to prevent government from spinning its yarn to deny a right protected by the Constitution. The Founders were fully aware that governments move in this direction over time.

      There is zero reason to deny a freeman their right to keep and bear arms. If you’re not free then you are a slave, non-American or convict in prison or jail.

      1. You said there’s zero reason to deny someone a right to keep and bear arms but then immediately conceded one example where a person can be denied that right – someone in jail. That’s done entirely under state law determinations, right? So the actual balance is somewhere between the two extremes.

        1. A ‘freeman” differs in meaning from “someone.”

        2. Someone in state custody has none of the rights that would prevent him/her being in state custody.

          A prisoner keeping and bearing arms would make it hard to keep people in custody.

          All freemen have the right to keep and bear arms. Once you’re out of state custody, you’re a freeman again.

          1. Of course, that’s not even remotely true. If the State gets a conviction allowing them to hold you in prison for 20 years, it can then chose to release you after merely 10 subject to parole/supervision restrictions. At that point you are neither in custody nor entirely free.

            1. “[S]ubject to parole/supervision restrictions” cannot be fairly characterized as a “freeman” or so it seems to me.

              1. Can a state make laws that determine who is and is not free under this theory?

  7. Hatfield! I assume a different Hatfield than referenced in Who Owns the Rain, 1 Stan. L. Rev. 43 (1948); and Widespread Panic, Hatfield, Everyday (Capricorn Records 1993).

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