Letters to the Editor
... input from forum participants

Gun Control - A Gutless Supreme Court Decision - June 18, 2002

June 21st

We are seeing a tiny respite in the unrelenting push for more and more gun control during the eight years of Bill Clinton and Janet Reno. The Bush administration has singled a change of philosophy that may stop more legislation, but it has not even remotely suggested that it will repeal any laws on the books. In fact, in signaling its change of philosophy, it asked the Supreme Court not to take up the case of United States vs. Timothy Emerson. On June 10 the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) yielded to the Bush administration's request.

Upon the announcement of the decision, the Violence Policy Center (VPC), a group that worked closely with the Clinton White House, sent out a press release hailing the decision and claiming it to be a victory for the VPC position that the Second Amendment is not an individual right, saying, "Today's Supreme Court action is a victory for public safety and security and a defeat for the National Rifle Association and gun criminals, who have been chomping at a bit for the Supreme Court to overrule its own precedent."

Although I disagree with their characterization, I believe that the SCOTUS decision to deny certiorari to Emerson made it plain that they were not ready or willing to take up the matter of what has been called the Lautenberg Amendment. The VPC believes the decision is a positive development in their quest for the total abolition of private firearms ownership and unfortunately I have to agree. This ruling is a bad for those agree with the original decision by Judge Sam Cummings issued in 1999 and believe the Lautenberg amendment to be flawed and unconstitutional.

Cummings wrote, "It is absurd that a boilerplate state court divorce order can collaterally and automatically extinguish a law-abiding citizens Second Amendment rights. Their attorneys are aware of the federal criminal penalties arising from firearms possession after entry of the restraining order. That such a routine civil order has such extensive consequences totally attenuated from limit to government regulation on lawful firearm possession. This statute exceeds that limit, and therefore it is unconstitutional."

The Lautenberg amendment, passed in 1994, turned domestic misdemeanor offenses into the equivalent of a federal felony. Thus anyone who had pleaded guilty to such a misdemeanor offense became unable to own or use a firearm in his/her occupation. Finally it made possession of a firearm while under a restraining order a federal felony offense.

This was a politically correct law, ostensibly designed to cut down on domestic violence and spousal abuse. It accomplished two things: reducing the number of persons eligible to own firearms and making federal felons out of many police officers, military personnel, and law-abiding gun owners, like Dr. Emerson. In fact the cases that have come before the courts have explained the Lautenberg amendment even further than envisioned by the Congress.

Now the courts have ruled that any statutory definition of domestic violence can be used to enforce this law even if there are no actual Lautenberg definitions. Thus even an argument can be caused for losing one's gun rights.

Additionally the courts have ignored the provision that requires a defendant acquiesces to a domestic violence misdemeanor guilty plea.

SCOTUS by upholding the Fifth Circuit decision has sentenced Dr. Timothy Emerson to another trial. When government appealed Judge Cummings decision, the Fifth Circuit court decided last year that Cummings' opinion on the Second Amendment was correct but disagreed with his declaring the Lautenberg amendment unconstitutional. The judges stated the government could place limitation on that right, reinstated the federal indictment against Emerson, and remanded the case to the District Court for tail. Emerson appealed the reinstatement of the federal indictment to SCOTUS and lost.

This will be Emerson's second trail. He was acquitted of two felony charges in a court case brought by the state of Texas. Thus the Supremes have gotten out of the decision on constitutionality of the Lautenberg amendment for quite a bit longer.

It was one of those gutless Court decisions. The issue is clear and Cummings stated it succinctly. Yet, gun control is a hot political topic and no one wants to get near it. The politicians are staying away across most of the country.The courts are staying as far away as possible, while anti-gun prosecutors like William Meteja are taking advantage of the hiatus to garner more innocent scalps on their belts. It seems our courts are forgetting the presumption of innocence.

Patricia Price
Disabled Consumer Advocate