The Volokh Conspiracy
Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent
The Heller Court made clear that the Second Amendment excludes "those weapons not typically possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes." This limit on the Second Amendment right arises from the Second Amendment's text; the Heller Court explained that the plain meaning of "militia" and the relationship between the Second Amendment's operative clause and prefatory clause show that the Second Amendment protects common weapons used for lawful purposes. This limitation comes from the text of the Second Amendment, so whether a particular type of gun is typically used by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes is a proper question at the first step of the N.Y. State Rifle analysis.
Guns with obliterated serial numbers belong to "those weapons not typically possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes" so possession of such guns isn't within the Second Amendment's scope. Heller. Guns with obliterated serial numbers are useful for criminal activity because identifying who possessed a firearm is more difficult when the serial number is destroyed. By using a gun without a serial number, a criminal ensures he has a greater higher likelihood of evading justice.
Mr. Reyna might be right that a deserialized gun is just as useful for self-defense as a gun with its serial number intact, but that doesn't suggest that deserialized guns are typically used by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes. A law-abiding citizen who uses a gun for self-defense has no reason to prefer a deserialized gun to a gun with serial number intact. That a law-abiding citizen could use a gun with an obliterated serial number for lawful self-defense isn't evidence that guns with obliterated serial numbers are typically used by law-abiding citizens for lawful self-defense.
Mr. Reyna's objection that § 922(k) reduces the pool of guns available to him for self-defense doesn't change the outcome. Prohibiting possession or use of a particular type of gun might bring a regulation within the Second Amendment's scope if the class of firearms is defined by its functionality. For instance, in Heller, the government argued that banning all handguns was permissible because a would-be gun owner could still possess some other type of gun, like a rifle. The Court rejected that argument because of handguns' characteristics that make them helpful and common for lawful self-defense:
It is enough to note, as we have observed, that the American people have considered the handgun to be the quintessential self-defense weapon. There are many reasons that a citizen may prefer a handgun for home defense: It is easier to store in a location that is readily accessible in an emergency; it cannot easily be redirected or wrestled away by an attacker; it is easier to use for those without the upper-body strength to lift and aim a long gun; it can be pointed at a burglar with one hand while the other hand dials the police. Whatever the reason, handguns are the most popular weapon chosen by Americans for self-defense in the home, and a complete prohibition of their use is invalid.
While the prohibition in Heller applied to a class of guns defined by characteristics that brought them within the Second Amendment's scope (they are useful and common for lawful self-defense), the § 922(k) prohibition applies to a class of guns defined solely by a nonfunctional characteristic: the serial number. See United States v. Marzzarella (3d Cir. 2010) ("Furthermore, it also would make little sense to categorically protect a class of weapons bearing a certain characteristic wholly unrelated to their utility. Heller distinguished handguns from other classes of firearms, such as long guns, by looking to their functionality.")….
The Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms doesn't extend to arms that aren't typically possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes. Law-abiding citizens don't typically possess firearms with obliterated serial numbers for lawful purposes, so Mr. Reyna's indictment and guilty plea don't offend the Second Amendment.