By Roger J. Katz, Attorney at Law and Stephen L. D'Andrilli
This is a follow-up to our recent post on Congressman Chris Collins’ bill, titled the “Second Amendment Guarantee Act” (H.R. 3576) (“SAGA”).
New York, NY -(Ammoland.com)- In our previous post we explained some major failings of Congressman Chris Collins’ bill as drafted.
In our next post we will set down our own suggestions for a possible redraft of pertinent federal legislation that, in our humble opinion, will, we feel, more adequately accomplish Congressman Collins’ objective, and transcend it.
Even so, we are mindful that drafting firearms legislation on the federal level—even with the best of intention and care—can invite unintended consequences. But, before we proceed with a suggested redraft of H.R. 3576, some explanation is in order—hence the need for this interim article.
Second Amendment Guarantee Act
There are several problems with the Second Amendment Guarantee Act as drafted. The bill, in its present form, does not, in our estimate, accomplish the immediate goal the bill’s sponsors hope, trust, and pray it would accomplish, namely the toppling of New York’s Safe Act, and, by extension, the toppling of similar restrictive, draconian firearms’ legislation, such as Maryland’s Firearm Safety Act—an Act the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit gave its “good housekeeping seal of approval” on in the disastrous Kolbe decision ((Kolbe vs. O’Malley, 42 F. Supp. 3d 768 (D. Md. 2014); vacated and remanded, Kolbe vs. Hogan, 813 F.3d 160 (4th Cir. 2016); rev’d en banc, Kolbe vs. Hogan, 849 F.3d 114 (4th Cir. 2017)). In Kolbe Plaintiffs challenged the constitutionality of Maryland’s “assault weapon” ban and “LCM” ban. In revisiting the three Judge panel's decision in that case, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit–hearing the case “en banc”–held that Maryland’s Firearm Safety Act ban on “assault weapons” and“LCMs” did not infringe the Second Amendment. In so holding, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ignored U.S. Supreme Court precedent, essentially overriding and shredding the U.S. Supreme Court Majority Opinions in the seminal Second Amendment Hellercase (554 U.S. 570, 128 S. Ct. 2783, 171 L. Ed. 2d 637 (2008)) and in the subsequent seminal Second Amendment McDonald case(McDonald v. Chicago, 561 U. S. 742, 780, 130 S. Ct. 3020, 177 L. Ed. 2d 894 (2010)). Hopefully, Kolbe will be taken up by the U.S. Supreme Court and overturned by the high Court. If so, that will, in our estimate, accomplish more—and accomplish more directly and categorically and unequivocally—to defeat Maryland’s Firearm Safety Act and to defeat similar legislation, like New York’s notorious “Safe Act”—than Congressman Collins’ bill will do on the Legislative front, even if the Congressman’s bill were, in its present form, enacted. But, we do not see Collins’ Second Amendment Guarantee Act, even in the language of the present, weak and equivocal form ever moving out of Committee to full House Debate, and eventual House vote, absent concerted effort on the part of the public urging House Republicans to move the bill along.
Our previous comments concerning what we see as failings in the Second Amendment Guarantee Act as presently drafted are not meant to cast aspersions on the bill or on the bill’s sponsors. Quite the contrary, we commend Congressman Collins for his efforts, commend those who drafted the bill, and we commend those U.S. Representatives who signed on to the bill—assuming those U.S. Representatives who signed on to the bill are truly serious in pressing forward with their efforts to strengthen the Second Amendmenton the federal level.
But, we are faced with two disturbing, incontrovertible realities that must be recognized and dealt with.
Notwithstanding his goal in introducing his bill (H.R. 3576) in the House—overturning New York’s Safe Act—we wonder whether Congressman Collins and the other sponsors of the bill have the heart to see their actions through to completion. If introduction of the bill is mere grandstanding to serve a political end but nothing more—namely to illustrate that Congressman Collins and others who signed on as sponsors to the bill are strong supporters of the Second Amendment—the introduction of a bill that goes nowhere and is not really intended to go anywhere serves does not serve the interests of the American people but, rather serves only the interests of Legislators themselves who seek to secure their political futures. Legislators must have the courage and strength and fortitude of their conviction to see their initial efforts through. Otherwise, the American public should be circumspect–as we are circumspect–in applauding what may amount to, at most, half-hearted efforts to “look good” to a Legislator’s base. We have already seen how numerous national handgun carry reciprocity bills are still stuck in Committee. Why is that? Were the sponsors of those bills intent on seeing their actions through? If so, why has there been no action on those bills? Not one of those bills, to the extent that we are aware, has moved even one step beyond the initial stage of Congressional introduction of the bill even though the most recent has been introduced in Congress a couple of months ago, and others have been introduced several months ago; and all of them languish in Committee.
We see no House or Senate Committee action. We see no House or Senate debate. We see no amendment to any one of those bills. We see no House or Senate vote. We see nothing concrete beyond introduction of a bill.
From what we can see and deduce from a disturbing inaction on the part of Congress is that no action on any one of these pro-Second Amendment bills is expected anytime soon, if ever. So, from this experience, we ask: Why should anyone expect Congressional movement on Congressman Collins’ bill? The question is rhetorical. For, no one should expect action on Congressman Collins’ bill. There must exist, then, an urge to action, and that urge, or nudge, will have to come, it is apparent, from the outside—from the public.
Don’t expect House members to act on the bill. But, why is that? Why must the public urge Congress to act? Why can’t these Legislators follow through on their actions? Apart from introduction of pro-Second Amendment bills, accompanied by muted Press Releases, nothing is ever accomplished. Of course, we cannot expect the mainstream media—a tool of powerful, ruthless, nefarious, internationalists who seek nothing less than destruction of our Second Amendment—to herald enactment of pro-Second Amendmentbills. But this means those Legislators who do truly support a strengthened Second Amendment must work all the harder to see their initial efforts through to completion.
Even if the Second Amendment Guarantee Act were enacted, still, as drafted, the Act guarantees nothing, to our mind, that is concrete. The Act as drafted is extraordinarily brief, modifying one and only one Section of Title 18 of the U.S. Code. While brevity is preferable over length for length’s own sake, simplicity in construction is not a good thing if ambiguity, vagueness, and critical gaps in legal drafting exist.
In this instance, H.R. 3576 is truncated, vague and ambiguous and therefore invites the antigun crowd to challenge it, or, simply, to ignore it. were the bill enacted, as restrictive State firearms legislation may claim the bill–as federal law–is too indefinite to be considered, from a legal perspective, inconsistent with State law. Thus, contrary to the assertions of Congressman Collins Press Release, the Second Amendment Guarantee Act, in its present form, would not, then, likely accomplish what Congressman Collins and the other sponsors of it believe it would accomplish. There is too much wiggle room in it. Apart from inviting a challenge by restrictive gun law States, there is nothing in Congressman Collins' bill that would legally prevent States from continuing to enforce their restrictive gun Statutes.
WHY THE SECOND AMENDMENT GUARANTEE ACT IS AN IMPERFECT BILL THAT LIKELY WOULD NOT ACCOMPLISH WHAT CONGRESSMAN COLLINS SAYS IT WOULD ACCOMPLISH WERE IT TO BE ENACTED
Apart from the reality that no Committee action on this bill is to be expected, we again emphasize that, even if, by some miracle, this bill made it out of Committee, passed the House and then moved to the Senate where it received a super majority of votes, leading to enactment, it is highly doubtful that the bill would, in its present form, operate as an automatic repeal of restrictive gun laws such New York’s Safe Act or Maryland’s Firearm Safety Act, or of any other draconian State restrictive firearms Act that openly, glaringly infringes on the right of the people to keep and bear arms.
HOW DOES CONGRESSMAN COLLINS’ BILL MODIFY EXISTING FEDERAL LAW?
The bill (H.R. 3576), as written, operates as a redraft of one and only one federal firearms’ Statute: A Statute that may be construed as a federal firearms’ preemption Statute—in a sense, an “anti-preemption” Statute, given the weak wording of it. The preemptionStatute, Section 927 (Effect on State Law) of Chapter 44 (Firearms), of Title 18 (Crimes and Criminal Procedure) of the U.S. Code, as enacted, reads as follows:
“No provision of this chapter [18 USCS §§ 921 et seq.] shall be construed as indicating an intent on the part of the Congress to occupy the field in which such provision operates to the exclusion of the law of any State on the same subject matter, unless there is a direct and positive conflict between such provision and the law of the State so that the two cannot be reconciled or consistently stand together.”
Section 927 of Title 18 of the U.S. Code, as written, basically tells States that, on the matter of firearms, generally, States have a free hand to regulate the field unless there is a direct and positive conflict and the two cannot be reconciled or stand together. The operative words, here, are ‘unless,’ and ‘direct and positive conflict,’ and ‘the two cannot be reconciled or stand together.’
Congressman Collins bill rewrites that Section to read:
“A State or a political subdivision of a State may not impose any regulation, prohibition, or registration or licensing requirement with respect to the design, manufacture, importation, sale, transfer, possession, or marking of a rifle or shotgun that has moved in, or any such conduct that affects, interstate or foreign commerce, that is more restrictive, or impose any penalty, tax, fee, or charge with respect to such a rifle or shotgun or such conduct, in an amount greater, than is provided under Federal law. To the extent that a law of a State or political subdivision of a State, whether enacted before, on, or after the date of the enactment of this subsection, violates the preceding sentence, the law shall have no force or effect. For purposes of this subsection, the term ‘rifle or shotgun’ includes any part of a rifle or shotgun, any detachable magazine or ammunition feeding device, and any type of pistol grip or stock design.”
This redraft of one Section of Title 18, namely, Section 927, is, in this instance, insufficient to defeat the Safe Act’s “assault weapons”ban, or to defeat “assault weapons” bans of any other State, because, among other things, there is nothing in federal law that talks about “assault weapons.” Pay particular attention to the words of the bill that read:
“A State or a political subdivision of a State may not impose any regulation, prohibition, or registration or licensing requirement with respect to the design, manufacture, importation, sale, transfer, possession, or marking of a rifle or shotgun that has moved in, or any such conduct that affects, interstate or foreign commerce, that is more restrictive. . . with respect to such a rifle or shotgun . . . than is provided under Federal law.”
The problem is that federal law is silent or essentially silent on the matter of regulation of any firearm other than those defined asmachine guns, as ‘machine gun’ is mentioned and defined with particularity in the Internal Revenue Service Code [Title 26 of the U.S. Code] and in Title 18 of the U.S. Code [18 U.S.C. § 922(b)(4)] which sets forth, with particularity, the intention of Congress to regulate destructive devices, machine guns, and short-barreled rifles and shotguns: “[i]t shall be unlawful for any licensed importer, licensed manufacturer, licensed dealer, or licensed collector to sell or deliver–to any person any destructive device, machinegun (as defined in section 5845 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1954  [26 USCS § 5845]), short-barreled shotgun, or short-barreled rifle, except as specifically authorized by the Attorney General consistent with public safety and necessity; . . .” So, then, by the very language of Congressman Collins’ bill, States such as New York would, arguably, remain free to regulate, through registration and transfer, all manner of firearms—rifles, shotguns, and handguns—apart from those clearly identified as and defined in the U.S. Code.
Because federal law is essentially silent on the regulation of rifles, shotguns, and handguns, it does not follow, logically or legally, from the language of the proposed modification to Section 927 of Title 18 of the U.S. Code, that States are categorically prohibited from regulating any firearm other than machine guns, as defined in 26 USCS § 5845(b), short-barreled shotguns, short-barreled rifles,and destructive devices, as the expression, ‘destructive device,' is defined in 26 USCS § 5845(f). Thus, if H.R. 3576 were enacted, NY Safe and other draconian State gun laws that operate to ban, within the State, weapons defined in State law as ‘assault weapons' and components of firearms defined in State law as ‘large capacity magazines' (‘LCMs') could very well remain effectively untouched and, therefore, unaffected in accordance with the modified Section 927 of Title 18 of the U.S. Code, because by the very language of the Congressman Collins' bill, NY Safe and other similar restrictive gun laws of other States remain may be arguably considered to beconsistent with or might otherwise be construed as capable of being reconciled with provisions of federal law. New York’s NY Safe and Maryland’s Firearm Safety Act, and similar draconian firearms legislation existent in other States would therefore remain intact. Hence, States might find that a Tenth Amendment challenge or other challenge to H.R. 3576 may be necessary. Yes, the Second Amendment Guarantee Act could survive a Tenth Amendment challenge, but its impact on State firearms’ laws would be nugatory. States would simply ignore the Second Amendment Guarantee Act as they could still register and regulate the transfer of firearms or ban outright many categories of weapons—including and especially, those defined as ‘assault weapons’ under State law, which the Second Amendment Guarantee Act was targeting. Thus, any guarantee of movement of, say, assault weapons in interstate traffic, would still be subject to heavy State regulation in intrastate traffic. One’s guarantee of exercise of one’s Second Amendment right of the people to keep and bear arms would then end up as an empty gesture.
MUCH WORK IS NEEDED TO MAKE THE SECOND AMENDMENT GUARANTEE ACT AN EFFECTIVE ACT, ENABLING A PERSON, WHO IS NOT UNDER DISABILITY, TO LAWFULLY OWN FIREARMS THAT SEVERAL STATE STATUTES PRESENTLY PROHIBIT, NAMELY AND SPECIFICALLY, THOSE DEFINED AS ‘ASSAULT WEAPONS.’
The Second Amendment Guarantee Act is an extensive redraft of Section 927 of Title 18 of the U.S. Code, only. But, had the bill been drafted effectively, to preclude a State from banning an entire category of firearms defined as “assault weapons,” Congressman Collins could have done so and should have done so by modifying not only Section 927 of Title 18 of the U.S. Code, but by modifying, explicitly, Sections 921, 922, and 926 of Title 18 of the U.S. Code, and modifying, as well, Section 5845 of the Internal Revenue Service Code (of the U.S. Code), 26 USCS § 5845, concentrating more expressly on guaranteeing one's right to own and possesssemiautomatic weapons, the bane of antigun legislators and antigun groups–as they deposit ever more semiautomatic weapons into the category of ‘assault weapons'–prohibiting the average law-abiding citizen from legally holding any of them.
AN IMPORTANT CAVEAT TO MODIFYING ANY FEDERAL FIREARMS LEGISLATION
As we cautioned at the beginning of this article, Federal legislation operates across the board. If done improperly, the fundamental right of the people to keep and bear arms could be substantially curtailed or, at least, negatively impacted, and decidedly and decisively impaired.
Consider: Federal law preempts State regulation of machine guns, “short-barreled” rifles and shotguns, and “destructive devices”altogether. The federal Government regulates ownership and possession of these firearms, together with destructive devices, through the Justice Department, the Internal Revenue Service, and through the Justice Department's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE). Would Americans be willing to accept federal registration of firearms defined as “assault weapons” for the privilege of lawfully owning and possessing them? Well, for residents of New York and Maryland and similar States that ban possession of assault weapons, outright, and that ban various components of firearms, except for those firearms and, possibly, those components of firearm that have been grandfathered in, federal registration of firearms defined as “assault weapons”may seem a small price to pay. But, for those of us who reside in States that do not presently impose bans on possession of weapons that other States routinely proscribe, such residents of States that do not impose bans on or registration of so-called assault weaponsmay not see that legislation, such as the Second Amendment Guarantee Act, a great and wonderful thing to be enacted. For, once enacted, H.R. 3576 must then be implemented and, if federal preemption truly does supersede State law regulation of firearms, we could expect the Justice Department, the Internal Revenue Service, and the Bureau of Tobacco, Alcohol, Firearms, and Explosives of the Justice Department (BATFE), to regulate the ownership and possession and transfer and licensing of “assault weapons,” just as it now regulates the ownership and possession and transfer and licensing of machine guns, short-barreled rifles and shotguns, and destructive devices. That would likely—and conceivably, inevitably—entail the creation of a massive registry of the names and whereabouts of Americans who seek to own and possess all manner of firearms. Thus, there are hidden costs associated with federal firearms preemption Statutes.
The best thing that can be said about State regulation of firearms is that the impact of draconian firearms legislation is limited jurisdictionally to that particular State. Thus, the NY Safe Act, while impinging awfully–indeed, catastrophically–on one’s right to keep and bear arms in New York, has, fortunately, no legal force or effect in, say, Ohio, or Texas, or Wyoming.
Congressman Collins’ bill, as written, is too open-ended and, if it were enacted, as is, we believe that it would be of little, if any, benefit to those individuals living in States that have stringent firearms’ laws in place and, further, Congressman Collins' bill could, actually harm those that live in States with more permissive firearms’ laws. Moreover, even if the federal Government enacts laws that tend to strengthen the Second Amendment—which would be an anomaly anyway—remember full well: what the federal Government giveth, the federal government can taketh away. Thus, Congressman Collins’ Second Amendment Guarantee Act must be redrafted with the aim of emphasizing the word, ‘Guarantee.’ It must not be an empty gesture or worse, something that manifests as the inverse to the loftiness of its title or as something that devolves into a massive firearms’ registration and eventual firearms confiscation scheme–which could happen in the event Democrats gain control of both Houses of Congress, as Democrats, given the chance, would do their damnedest to repeal outright–or with a tweaking of a word, here and there, transform the Second Amendment Guarantee Act into a nightmare–a new federal assault weapons ban; and THAT, would definitely not be a good thing.
Thus, one should always be mindful of the adage: “Be careful what you wish for”—certainly, one should be ever mindful of negative consequences–definitely where federal government agencies are given the opportunity to tinker with the Second Amendment.
Keep in mind, Government agencies are tasked with implementing federal law through the promulgation of Administrative Rules, published in the Code of Federal Regulations, and these bureaucratic agencies of the Federal Government charged with drafting and then implementing rules to effectuate Congressional intent through Congressional legislation, often do so with a very, very heavy hand, creating and implementing rules that go well beyond the parameters of and intention of Congress. The Devil is an artful twister of one's desires, no matter how carefully a person calibrates his stated wishes.**
*The Arbalest Quarrel has written extensively on the Kolbe case and will continue to do so.
**As a deadly serious example of what we are talking about here, take a look at the excellent comedy, “Bedazzled,”–the original, 1967 version with Dudley Moore and Peter Cooke, not the remake of that film. For another example, see the Arbalest Quarrel article, “The Flaws in Judge Garland's Reasoning,” posted on the Arbalest Quarrel website on April 14, 2016.
About The Arbalest Quarrel:
Arbalest Group created `The Arbalest Quarrel' website for a special purpose. That purpose is to educate the American public about recent Federal and State firearms control legislation. No other website, to our knowledge, provides as deep an analysis or as thorough an analysis. Arbalest Group offers this information free.
For more information, visit: www.arbalestquarrel.com.