Monday, April 15, 2013

Drug dealers don't have Second Amendment rights

Now that the Supreme Court has recognized a constitutional right under the Second Amendment to own a gun, people are coming out of the woodwork in arguing that their Second Amendment rights were violated in a variety of circumstances. This challenge arises in a criminal prosecution where the guy used a gun in the course of drug trafficking.

The case is United States v. Bryant, decided on April 3. The Second Circuit holds in this case that the Second Amendment does not protect the right to possess a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking. The case arose when the police executed a search warrant and found money, guns and drugs in the defendant's residence. The defendant told the police that he sold drugs on behalf of his roommate, a drug dealer. He was convicted of possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. Prior to sentencing, the Supreme Court handed down District of Columbia v. Heller, which recognized private gun rights under the Second Amendment for the first time. Defendant here cites Heller in trying to vacate his conviction because he needed the gun to protect himself from robbers and that he purchased the firearm legally but never brandished it in public.

Heller is going to spawn tons of constitutional challenges to convictions like this for the next few decades, at least. Lawyers like it when the courts recognize new rights, and this one opens the door for all kinds of new arguments. It may work in some cases, but it will not work here. 

The Supreme Court in Heller said that the Second Amendment does not protect absolute gun rights. The Court specifically said that the government may restrict possession rights for the mentally ill, people who carry them in schools and government buildings and felons. The Court of Appeals (Pooler, Hall and Livingston) interprets Heller to mean that the Second Amendment protects gun ownership for law-abiding, responsible citizens. Other Circuits have therefore held that the Amendment does not protect all self-defense efforts. "Given the Supreme Court’s guidance, our own jurisprudence, and the persuasive authority from our sister circuits that have addressed this issue directly, we hold that the Second Amendment does not protect the unlawful purpose of possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime and that 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) as applied in this case does not violate the Second Amendment."

Since Bryant engaged in "an illegal home business" -- drug dealing -- the presence of a gun permitted the jury to find that he was no longer a law-abiding citizen. The constitutional challenge to his conviction fails.

No comments: