Massachusetts’ Highest Court Hastens to Rule Against the Second Amendment
On Wednesday, March 10, 2010 the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (MassSJC) handed down its ruling in COMMONWEALTH vs. Richard RUNYAN (SJC-10480). The Runyan case regarded a lower court’s decision to dismiss a charge of improper gun storage. The lower court dismissed the charges based the ruling in the Heller decision in the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS).
Of important note in this decision, that can only be called an aberration, is the absence of a dissenting opinion. This means that every justice sitting on Massachusetts’ highest court agrees with everything written in the decision.
In a completely surprising and very disturbing opinion the court ruled against the Second Amendment as being an individual right and also ruled incorrectly that Heller did not rule that trigger lock requirements were unconstitutional.
In the opinion of the MassSJC, authored by Justice Gants, the court stated the following:
“The judge's conclusion that the Supreme Court's decision in Heller required a dismissal of the count charging a violation of G.L. c. 140, § 131L (a ), rests on two premises, both of which are in error. First, the decision assumes that the protection of the Second Amendment applies to the States as a matter of substantive due process under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Based on current Federal law, however, we cannot say that the Second Amendment applies to the States, either through the Fourteenth Amendment's guarantee of substantive due process or otherwise.”
Under the holdings of the Heller decision the court clearly stated in statement number 1: “The Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home.” It is technically true that Heller did not “incorporate” the Second Amendment as being applied to the states.
What is also true and very well known is that SCOTUS just heard oral arguments on McDonald v. Chicago. This case has been well publicized as being the first case in United States history to directly address the incorporation status of the Second Amendment. Knowing this case was in the works, why would the MassSJC issue an opinion citing a century’s worth of convoluted anti-civil rights gibberish?
To make matters worse, and even more offensive, the MassSJC in its Runyan opinion continually cited Cruikshank as being the determining factor in ruling against the Second Amendment. “Under Cruikshank, the Second Amendment imposes no limitations on the ability of the Massachusetts Legislature to regulate the possession of firearms and ammunition.”
Cruikshank was a post Civil War 1875 decision handed down by the Supreme Court of the United States. This case is renowned as one of the most racist anti-civil rights cases ever handed. The case was in regards to a massacre at the Colfax Court House where approximately one hundred people guarding the premises, mostly freed black men, where disarmed and murdered by a white mob.
Further citing of Cruikshank in the Runyan decision was found in Foot Note 4 at the end of the opinion. In it the court attempted to say that the Heller decision upheld the findings in Cruikshank. “FN4. The Heller Court stated that the question whether United States v. Cruikshank, 92 U.S. 542 (1875) (Cruikshank ), remains a continuing bar against application of the Second Amendment to the States was "not presented" to the Court. District of Columbia v. Heller, 128 S.Ct. 2783, 2813 n. 23 (2008) (Heller ). Therefore, Cruikshank 's holding that the Second Amendment does not apply to the States has not been affected by the Court's decision in Heller.”
In reading Heller, FN4 of Runyan was not at all accurate and taken completely out of context. What was actually written in Heller was a footnote numbered 23 on page 48: “With respect to Cruikshank’s continuing validity on incorporation, a question not presented by this case, we note that Cruikshank also said that the First Amendment did not apply against the States and did not engage in the sort of Fourteenth Amendment inquiry required by our later cases.”
What the Heller court was saying is that if we believe that the Cruikshank opinion still rules against the Second Amendment than we have to believe it still rules against the First Amendment. It has always been a dark secret for those who still use the case against us that it ruled against the First Amendment Right of Assembly.
In what can only be called selective citing of Heller by the MassSJC, the court stated: “In Heller, the Supreme Court acknowledged that in United States v. Cruikshank, 92 U.S. 542 (1875) (Cruikshank ), it held that "the Second Amendment does not by its own force apply to anyone other than the Federal Government."
Actually the following is the complete statement from Heller regarding that point:
United States v. Cruikshank, 92 U. S. 542, in the course of vacating the convictions of members of a white mob for depriving blacks of their right to keep and bear arms, held that the Second Amendment does not by its own force apply to anyone other than the Federal Government. The opinion explained that the right “is not a right granted by the Constitution [or] in any manner dependent upon that instrument for its existence. The second amendment . . . means no more than that it shall not be infringed by Congress.” 92 U. S., at 553. States, we said, were free to restrict or protect the right under their police powers. The limited discussion of the Second Amendment in Cruikshank supports, if anything, the individual-rights interpretation.
The Massachusetts court conveniently left out the part about individual rights. After reading the Runyan decision, one has to wonder whether anyone on the MassSJC actually read Heller or if they simply relied on someone else’s misrepresentation of it.
The second part of the MassSJC decision was in regards to the mandatory storage of firearms and trigger locks and whether such laws were constitutional. The MassSJC ruling stated: “We conclude that the legal obligation safely to secure firearms in G.L. c. 140, § 131L (a), is not unconstitutional, that the motion to dismiss the count charging its violation was allowed in error, and that the defendant may face prosecution on this count. [FN9]”
This part of the decision makes one wonder if the court even read the Heller decision. In the holdings in Heller, number 3 clearly stated: “3. The handgun ban and the trigger-lock requirement (as applied to self-defense) violate the Second Amendment.” It can’t be anymore clear. The Supreme Court of the United States declared that trigger lock requirements are unconstitutional.
One could not talk about the Runyan decision without mentioning one of the most bizarre parts of any court ruling ever seen. At the end of the ruling in FN8 Justice Gants actually attempts to justify his opinion on trigger locks by equating the time it takes to disengage one with how long it would take to load a musket in 1791.
“FN8. We also note that, even if a firearm were secured in the manner required by G.L. c. 140, § 131L (a ), a gun owner threatened in his or her home today would be able to fire the weapon in self-defense at least as quickly as would a gun owner in 1791, when the Second Amendment was adopted. At that time, laws were in effect requiring that gunpowder be stored separately from firearms, which meant that a law-abiding homeowner acting in self-defense would need time to load and fire a musket or flintlock pistol. See Heller, supra at 2849-2850 (Breyer, J., dissenting). A skilled soldier of that time using specially prepared cartridges required a minimum of fifteen to twenty seconds to load and fire a musket; a less skilled soldier could fire no more quickly than once per minute. Hicks, United States Military Shoulder Arms, 1795-1935, 1 Am. Military Hist. Found. 23, 30-31 (1937). A gun owner today could remove a firearm from a locked container or release a trigger lock more quickly than that.”
Is it the opinion of the Justice that the courts make determinations on our modern day civil rights based on the technologies and abilities of the 1700’s? If that were expanded to every civil right many things we take for granted today would be banned or heavily restricted.
Perhaps though, the most telling part of this abhorrent decision can be found at the end in FN7.
“FN7. We note that the Court in Heller, supra at 2820, declared that its analysis should not be taken to "suggest the invalidity of laws regulating the storage of firearms to prevent accidents." We do not, however, decide whether the defendant's alleged violation of G.L. c. 140, § 131L (a ), could survive a motion to dismiss if the Second Amendment were made applicable to the States through incorporation under the Fourteenth Amendment's due process clause.”
This statement basically tells us that the court was well aware that the McDonald case at the federal level may well incorporate the Second Amendment and that if they waited for that case to be settled, the MassSJC probably could not get away with the ruling they just made. Is it any wonder that lawful gun owners feel they are waiting behind enemy lines to be set free?
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