Chicago Judge Deems Firearm Ban for Convicted Felons Unconstitutional

Is The Ruling Potentially Paving the Way for a Supreme Court Battle?

In a decision that could potentially ignite a legal battle bound for the U.S. Supreme Court, a judge in Illinois has recently made a groundbreaking ruling asserting that the Second Amendment protects the gun rights of a convicted felon with a history of armed robberies.

On November 2, 2023, U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman issued this ruling in a case involving Glen Price, a 37-year-old Illinois resident. Price was accused of committing a robbery on a train in September 2021, during which he brandished a firearm while stealing a cell phone and a train fare card. Upon his arrest, law enforcement officers discovered a 9 mm pistol, cocaine, ammunition, and a stolen credit card in Price’s possession.

Price faced a 15-year prison sentence for his latest offense, as mandated by law for a convicted felon in possession of a firearm. However, Judge Gettleman’s ruling was based on a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in the case of New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc. v. Bruen, leading to his controversial legal decision.

In the Bruen case, the court ruled New York’s proper-cause requirement for obtaining an unrestricted license to carry a concealed firearm violated the Fourteenth Amendment because it prevented law-abiding citizens with common self-defense needs from exerting their Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms. 

This pivotal 6-3 ruling reversed a prior lower court decision and significantly affected many state and federal firearm regulations nationwide. President Joe Biden voiced his dismay at the decision, citing the troubling surge in gun violence within the United States.

According to Gettleman’s interpretation, Bruen compels courts to assess whether a statute that strips someone of their gun ownership rights imposes a “comparable burden” on the fundamental right to bear arms itself.

The judge wrote:

“Although the historical record … demonstrates this nation’s tradition of ‘comparably justified’ categorical dispossession statutes, the government has failed to meet its burden of providing evidence of a dispossession statute with a ‘comparable burden’ to § 922(g)(1). Specifically, this court is not persuaded that the government has met its burden to show a ‘distinctly similar or even a relevantly similar’ historical analogue to 922(g)(1) ‘s a permanent prohibition on firearm possession by felons which can only be lifted by expungement, federal pardon or other method of restoring civil rights that lifts the underlying offense from a conviction …”

In Gettleman’s view, the failure to provide felons with a mechanism to regain their forfeited gun rights places a “far greater burden on the right to keep and bear arms” than historical categorical exclusions from Second Amendment rights. He reasoned, “The government has not demonstrated why the modern ubiquity of gun violence, and the heightened lethality of today’s firearm technology compared to the Founding, justify a different result. This nation’s gun violence problem is devastating, but does not change this result under Bruen, which this court finds rests on the severity of § 922(g)(1) rather than its categorical prohibition.”

In Glen Price’s case, Gettleman argued that revoking his right to possess a firearm constituted a more significant infringement than when colonists in 1791 had their firearms confiscated due to their refusal to pass loyalty tests. Today, such tests would be deemed unconstitutional under the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

Gettleman thoroughly examined case law dating back to 1677 in search of precedent on this prohibition and found only one instance in Rhode Island that allowed gun confiscation from Native Americans lacking the necessary “ticket or order.” The judge emphasized that historically, state legislatures typically restricted the sale of firearms to Native Americans rather than prohibiting their possession.

Citing a 2023 decision in Range v. Attorney General of the U.S., Gettleman asserted that a “lifetime of disarmament is not rooted in our Nation’s history and tradition.

However, not everyone agrees with the judge’s ruling. Richard Pearson, the executive director of the Illinois State Rifle Association, expressed his opposition to the idea of violent convicted criminals having access to handguns or concealed carry permits.

As indicated by court records obtained by Law&Crime, U.S. attorneys have already initiated an appeal in response to this significant legal development. The outcome of this case could have profound implications for the interpretation of Second Amendment rights and the legal framework surrounding firearm ownership by convicted felons in the United States.

The Potential Implications of This Second Amendment Ruling on Felons’ Gun Rights

The recent ruling by U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman in Illinois, which declared that the Second Amendment protects the gun rights of convicted felons, could have significant implications for the interpretation and application of the Second Amendment. While it is essential to note that Judge Gettleman’s decision is just one ruling at the district court level and may be subject to further legal challenges and appeals, it raises several potential ways in which it could affect the Second Amendment:

Expanding the Scope of Second Amendment Rights

If Judge Gettleman’s ruling is upheld through higher courts, it could set a legal precedent that expands the scope of Second Amendment rights. Specifically, it suggests that certain restrictions on firearm ownership for convicted felons may be subject to constitutional scrutiny, potentially leading to challenges against other existing gun control measures.

Revisiting the Categorical Exclusion of Felons

Historically, felons have been categorically excluded from exercising their Second Amendment rights. However, this ruling questions the fairness and constitutionality of such a categorical prohibition. If upheld, it may prompt further legal discussions about whether some felons should have the opportunity to regain their gun rights after serving their sentences.

Balancing Public Safety and Individual Rights

The case highlights a significant tension between public safety concerns and individual Second Amendment rights. Courts will need to carefully consider the potential impact of such rulings on public safety, especially in cases involving individuals with violent criminal histories.

Potential for Supreme Court Review

Given the ruling’s controversial nature and potential conflict with existing legal precedents, it could ultimately lead to a case being brought before the U.S. Supreme Court. The Supreme Court’s decision, if it chooses to hear the case, could clarify the extent of Second Amendment protections and the balance between individual rights and public safety.

Impact on State and Federal Legislation

Depending on the outcome of legal challenges, this ruling could influence the development and enforcement of state and federal firearm laws. Policymakers may need to reassess and potentially modify existing legislation in response to evolving interpretations of the Second Amendment.

It is important to stress that the impact of this ruling on the Second Amendment is not known at this stage, as it is just one step in a complex legal process. Legal scholars, advocates, and lawmakers will continue to closely monitor this case’s progress and potential consequences for Second Amendment jurisprudence.

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