Federal Court Rules Citizens Do Not Have 
               Individual Right to Bear Arms
Friday, December 06, 2002      AP  /  FOX-News
SAN FRANCISCO A federal appeals court, upholding California's assault-weapons ban, decided that the Second Amendment does not guarantee individuals the right to bear arms.

The three-judge panel's unanimous ruling Thursday conflicts with Attorney General John Ashcroft's interpretation of the Second Amendment and with a 2001 ruling by the federal appeals in New Orleans.

The decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco said the amendment's right to bear arms is intended to maintain effective state militias and is not an individual right.

"The historical record makes it equally plain that the amendment was not adopted in order to afford rights to individuals with respect to private gun ownership or possession," Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is the same federal court that ruled earlier this year that the phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance violates the separation of church and state.

National Rifle Association spokesman Andrew Arulanandam said it was too early to know how Thursday's ruling will affect the gun rights debate, but he said the NRA was disappointed.

"For 131 years we've been standing steadfastly to protect the freedoms of all law abiding Americans and stand steadfastly that the Second Amendment is an individual right and will continue to do so," Arulanandam said.

The amendment reads, in full: "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."

In its ruling last year, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans said the Second Amendment does protect an individual's right to bear arms, but that those rights are subject to narrowly tailored restrictions.

Ashcroft has said that the Second Amendment gives individuals the right to bear arms, compelling a flood of defendants to petition federal judges to vacate their weapons convictions.

Judges, however, have balked at the petitions and upheld the laws prohibiting felons from possessing firearms and other gun prohibitions.  Many of those cases are on appeal.

Attorneys for the gun owners who sued in the case decided Thursday did not return telephone calls seeking comment on whether they would appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The appellate court said the high court's guidance on the gun control issue has been "not entirely illuminating."

In 1939, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a federal law prohibiting the interstate transport of sawed-off shotguns. The Supreme Court found that the weapon in question was not suitable for use in the militia and therefore not constitutionally protected.

In Thursday's case, weapons owners challenged 1999 amendments to the 1989 California law that outlawed 75 high-powered weapons with rapid-fire capabilities.

The initial law, enacted in response to a 1989 schoolyard shooting in Stockton that killed five children and wounded 30, banned certain makes and models of firearms.  The amendments banned additional "copycat" weapons based on a host of features, instead of particular models.

"While I respect the rights of Californians to pursue hunting and sports shooting, and of law-abiding citizens to protect their homes and businesses, there is no need for these military style weapons to be on the streets in our state," said Bill Lockyer, California's attorney general.

Following California's lead, several states and the federal government have passed similar or stricter bans.

The 9th Circuit has been known for rulings to the left of its peers.

In June, another 9th Circuit panel ruled that the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance was an unconstitutional government endorsement of religion. Reinhardt voted with the majority in that 2-1 ruling, which is on hold pending appeal.  

The case is Silveira v. Lockyer, 01-15098.