Sunday, April 20, 2014

MA:Federal Court Rules in Favor of Second Amendment Right for People with Old Marijuana Convictions

The Latin motto on the great seal of the State of Massachusetts, loosely translated, means: "By the sword we seek peace, but peace only under liberty."  It is rather inconsistent with Massachusetts strict firearms laws.  Those laws became a little more reasonable on April 18th, 2014.

A federal judge, relying on both the McDonald and Heller decisions and current Massachusetts law, effectively removed one class of prohibited people from the law.

The case MICHAEL WESSON, THOMAS WOODS, and COMMONWEALTH SECOND AMENDMENT, INC.,  involves two well established men who had out of state marijuana convictions from decades ago.    Massachusetts decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana in 2008.   The Massachusetts 1998 Gun Control Act made prohibited possessors out of people who were convicted of:
 a crime involving the use or sale of firearms, or a violation of any criminal provision of the firearms law or the Controlled Substances Act;
The two men applied for permits to purchase firearms, and were denied under the above provision, because they had the records for marijuana convictions.   They sued, claiming that their second amendment rights were being denied without just cause.   The case was filed in March of 2013.  From The Daily News of Newburyport:

 The suit, filed in U.S. District Court by Michael Wesson along with Thomas Woods of Natick and Commonwealth Second Amendment Inc., claims that Salisbury and Natick town officials violated the two men's constitutional rights by denying them access to firearms based on what is now a civil offense rather than a criminal one, according to court documents.

On April 18th of 2014,  U.S. District Court Judge Richard Stearns ruled for the two men in summary judgement.  From the Boston Herald:

A federal judge yesterday ruled that two Bay State men — previously convicted of marijuana possession in other states — could not be denied the right to have guns in their homes for self-defense purposes based on their prior drug crimes.
Because this is a District Court, I do not think that the case establishes binding precedent on other courts, though it will be cited in the future.  It certainly establishes precedent for permit issuing authorities in Massachusetts.    Comm2A, a local second amendment activist organization, is responsible for promoting this case.

It seems likely that this reasoning would apply to minor violations of firearms law as well.   In many states there are numerous ways to be convicted of minor civil firearms violations.   In Wisconsin, a few years ago, it was common for people to be cited for having a firearm that was not entirely enclosed in a case in a vehicle, for example, before the Walker administration passed the shall issue gun law reform of Act 35.

With the ascendancy of digital records and the Internet, those convictions might well be available to permit issuing authorities in other states.  This case serves as an example that fundamental constitutional rights must not be denied for trivial reasons.

©2014 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice is included.
Link to Gun Watch 

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