Gun Rights Group Challenges Federal Restrictions on Machine Guns

Gun Rights Group Challenges Federal Restrictions on Machine Guns

Gun Rights Group Challenges Federal Restrictions on Machine Guns

A case currently pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit could push back against President Obama’s promise to make America safer by disarming civilians. Gun Owners of America (GOA) has filed an amicus brief in this case, U.S. v. Watson.

On its website, GOA provides the following short summary of the relevant issues in Watson:

At issue is the constitutionality of a part of the 1986 McClure-Volkmer legislation, which prohibits the manufacture and possession of machine guns by Americans unless they were registered prior to the date of the Act. 

The case in Watson (submitted on December 9, 2015) involves a family trust that had applied to manufacture an M16 and challenged ATF's eventual denial of that application.

Specifically, the brief filed by the GOA challenges the ruling by the district court that held that regulations on the manufacture of machine guns were deemed constitutional in a prior Third Circuit Court opinion, the opinion in U.S. v. Marzzarella

Dicta in the Marzzarella decision claimed that the U.S. Supreme Court had likewise held in favor of the constitutionality of prohibitions on machine guns. 

The Supreme Court has never issued such a ruling. In fact, the decision in the case of District of Columbia v. Heller (2008) clearly states that “all instruments that constitute bearable arms” are protected from prohibition by the Second Amendment, unless challengers could prove otherwise. As GOA explains in its summary, "Heller noted that the definition of what is and what is not a protected arm does not turn on whether a weapon has a military or nonmilitary use."

In the brief itself, GOA challenges the lower court’s interpretation of Heller and rehearses the history presented in the Heller decision as evidence that machine guns were not excluded in that ruling from the protection of the Second Amendment:

Rather, a fair reading of Heller would support the proposition that such ordinary military equipment is protected and, further, that it is not the only type of arm that is protected. Indeed, Heller notes that in the founding era, the same weapons were used for militia service in defense of the "free state," for private self-defense, and even for hunting, and other purposes. Heller explained that the Second Amendment protects more than ordinary military equipment, and it is a "startling reading" of Heller to twist the passage to support the opposite proposition, as the district court does. [Emphasis in original.]

Pointing to precedent, the GOA summary cites the case of  U.S. v. Miller (1939), wherein the Court “indicated that weapons which are ‘ordinary military equipment’ (like the M16) are protected.” Finally, the GOA declares that “federal court judges continue to use in Second Amendment cases to blatantly permit the ‘infringement’ of a right that ‘shall not be infringed.’”

GOA is correct.

There is nothing in the Second Amendment that excludes ownership of any weapon — machine gun or otherwise —  from within its protection. In fact, the text of the Second Amendment is very clear regarding the government’s ability to qualify this most basic liberty: “the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” (Emphasis added.)

Many “gun rights groups,” though, believe that the government has the right to give and take away the right to own firearms depending on whether the person has complied with “reasonable” federal guidelines.


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