Last month, the firearms community exploded with the news that plaintiff Jay Hollis had filed a lawsuit against Eric Holder and the ATF that could finally challenge the 1986 closure of the NFA machine gun registry. In the Hollis case, the ATF “accidentally” approved a Form 1 to manufacture a machine gun. After realizing their error, the agency attempted to coerce Mr. Hollis into returning the approved stamp and advised him that he would be in violation of federal law if he went ahead and manufactured the firearm. While the challenge is sound, this case will likely take years to be resolved and we will cover it here at a later date.
Today, another Supreme Court case was brought to my attention by the guys over at AR15.com. In this lawsuit, Johnson v. United States, the plaintiff is a convicted felon with ties to the Aryan Liberation Movement who was arrested in 2012 for unlawful possession of a firearm. While Johnson is undoubtedly an unsavory character, one of his prior felony convictions was for the possession of a short-barreled shotgun (SBS). Johnson is challenging the classification of this possession as a violent offense under the premise that mere possession does not in itself constitute violence. The defense has asserted that there is a strong correlation between illegal possession of SBS and violent acts, thus they feel it is reasonable to classify possession as a violent felony.
The oral arguments for the case were heard today. During this hearing, Johnson’s attorney, Ms. Menendez, argued that because possession of a Title I firearm, such as a handgun, does not constitute a violent offense; neither should possession of a short-barreled shotgun. The defense attorney, Mr. Bash, argued that several legislatures have banned these firearms outright as their sole apparent purpose is violent in nature. To counter these claims, Ms. Menendez established that there are presently as many as 40,000 SBS legally registered under the NFA and that owners of these legal SBS have proven themselves unlikely to commit violent acts. The court seems to have accepted her point as well as her further assertion that only 10 state legislatures ban possession of SBS outright. She also pointed out that Michigan recently repealed their ban on SBS after apparently determining that the firearms indeed have legitimate uses.
This case will be worth following as it may force the Supreme Court to acknowledge that SBS present no greater danger than any other firearm. Such a ruling could even go further to undermine the basis for the adoption of NFA.
A summary of Johnson v. United States can be found here: http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/cert/13-7120
Full oral arguments: http://www.supremecourt.gov/oral_arguments/argument_transcripts/13-7120_jhek.pdf