NRA-ILA’s Office of Litigation Counsel spent 2021 defending the Second Amendment across the country. As new cases were filed, we continued existing court battles for the benefit of America’s law-abiding gun owners. In addition to this brief summary, updates on NRA-ILA’s efforts to defend America’s first freedom are available on our current litigation page.
Supreme Court of the United States
NRA-ILA petitioned the Supreme Court to take two cases this term, and filed a supporting brief in a third.
In April, the Supreme Court agreed to hear New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc. v. Bruen. This NRA-ILA case challenges New York’s law requiring license applicants to demonstrate a “proper cause” to carry a firearm. This unlawful requirement is regularly used to deprive ordinary Americans in the Empire State of their self-defense rights. The case received 43 supporting amicus briefs, including 176 members of the U.S. House of Representatives, 25 U.S. Senators, and 26 Attorneys General. The Supreme Court heard oral arguments on November 3rd, and a decision is likely to arrive during the first half of 2022. The high Court’s ruling will be the first published Second Amendment ruling since it decided McDonald v. Chicago more than a decade ago.
Association of New Jersey Rifle & Pistol Clubs, Inc. v. Grewal is another NRA-ILA-backed case challenging a New Jersey statute criminalizing possession of magazines capable of holding more than ten rounds. In April, NRA-ILA asked the Supreme Court to hear the case and strike down New Jersey’s law under the Second Amendment, and several groups filed amicus briefs in support of the petition. This case is critical in addressing not only New Jersey’s egregious statute on magazine capacity, but a number of other states that have similar laws. We await the Supreme Court’s decision on whether it will accept this important case.
In September 2021, NRA-ILA filed an amicus brief asking the Supreme Court to hear Aposhian v. Garland. This case challenges ATF’s 2018 rule classifying bump stocks as “machine guns.” NRA-ILA argued that ATF’s fickle approach to firearms jeopardizes many Americans who lawfully purchase items. Americans should not face legal jeopardy because the ATF suddenly changed its mind. NRA-ILA’s brief explained how the Constitutional design does not empower ATF to substantively change laws through rulemaking, reserving such powers to a Constitutionally-constrained Congress. Here again, NRA-ILA awaits the Supreme Court’s determination as to whether it will hear the case.
Other Federal Court Challenges
In addition to the Supreme Court, NRA-ILA is actively engaged in several other federal lawsuits across the country. Another NRA-ILA-backed case, Maryland Shall Issue v. Hogan, challenges Maryland’s unlawful “Handgun Qualification License” requirements. In essence, Maryland law requires Maryland residents who wish to legally purchase a handgun to first complete an application, obtain a copy of their fingerprints from a third party, attend a lengthy classroom instruction, pass a live-fire exercise, pay an additional $50 application fee, then wait up to 30 days for the state to process their application. All of these requirements are on top of additional fees, two other background checks, and waiting times imposed when they go to purchase a handgun. The kicker—according to Maryland’s own expert—the law was created to “intimidate” law-abiding citizens and prevent them from exercising their Second Amendment rights. In August, the trial court upheld Maryland’s law, but the case is awaiting appellate review in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.
In New Jersey, NRA-ILA filed a lawsuit challenging New Jersey’s “justifiable need” requirement to obtain a concealed-carry permit. Like other states’ efforts to deter lawful gun ownership, New Jersey’s law improperly requires law-abiding citizens to prove that they have an “urgent necessity for self-protection” before exercising their fundamental self-defense rights; a “generalized fear … for personal safety” is, according to New Jersey, insufficient. This approach of determining who can exercise their rights is blatantly unconstitutional, and NRA-ILA remains dedicated to ensuring that all law-abiding Americans can defend themselves and their families wherever necessary. The case, captioned Mazahreh v. Grewal, is stayed pending the outcome of NYSRPA v. Bruen.
In 2017, an NRA-ILA-backed suit challenged California’s ban against magazines capable of holding more than ten rounds. Although NRA-ILA initially won favorable decisions at the district court and Ninth Circuit levels, the Ninth Circuit later upheld California’s magazine law in November 2021.
In addition to the aforementioned cases, NRA-ILA is also challenging California’s draconian ammunition restrictions—which unlawfully require all Californians to purchase ammunition in a face-to-face transaction and pass one of four different ammunition background checks—via Rhode v. Becerra. Nearby in Washington, NRA-ILA is also challenging Washington’s ban on 18-20 year-olds from purchasing semiautomatic rifles and pistols in Mitchell v. Atkins. Both of these cases have been stayed as well, pending other cases in the Ninth Circuit.
Mitchell is not the only NRA-ILA-backed case challenging restrictions on young adults’ abilities to acquire firearms. NRA-ILA is also challenging a Florida law prohibiting firearm transfers to young adults between the ages of 18 and 20. NRA-ILA appealed that case to the Eleventh Circuit after a federal judge reluctantly upheld the law. NRA-ILA awaits a 2022 decision in this matter.
In August, ILA filed an amicus brief in Gun Owners of America v. Garland. This case represents another significant challenge to ATF’s bias against gun owners, as evidenced by its 2018 bump stock rule. Although the Sixth Circuit originally overturned this rule, an unfavorable decision was rendered by an en banc panel in December 2021. NRA-ILA is continuing its challenge against ATF through its efforts in the Aposhian case.
State Preemption Challenges
NRA-ILA recently secured a number of important victories in preemption cases across the country.
In Colorado, NRA-ILA challenged the City of Boulder’s unlawful bans against commonly owned “assault weapons” and magazines capable of accepting more than ten rounds. After NRA-ILA won a decision in March, Boulder unsuccessfully attempted to appeal the decision in two different courts. And in December, Boulder finally accepted defeat and withdrew its appeal. Because Boulder’s appeal was dismissed with prejudice, Boulder cannot attempt to relitigate this case in the future.
Florida’s preemption statute imposes personal liability upon locally-elected officials who violate state-wide firearm protections. Florida’s statute was challenged by several localities wishing to enact gun control measures, but was rightly upheld in April. NRA-ILA filed an amicus brief in support of Florida on this critical issue, which should give pause to any local officials who attempt to impose burdens upon the Second Amendment in Florida. Florida’s Supreme Court agreed to hear the plaintiffs’ appeal in September, where NRA-ILA expects to continue its support of Florida’s pro-self-defense preemption statute.
In Bass v. Edmonds, Washington’s Court of Appeals sided with NRA-ILA in an important case that ultimately struck two unlawful firearm-storage ordinances. These ordinances—both of which were imposed by the City of Edmonds—required counterintuitive firearm locks and imposed liability for the unlawful acts of criminals seeking to access such weapons. In September, the Washington Supreme Court agreed to hear the city’s appeal. Meanwhile, NRA-ILA is successfully challenging the City of Seattle’s nearly identical storage laws in Alim v. Seattle.
Over in Illinois, the state’s Supreme Court recently heard oral arguments in an NRA-ILA backed challenge to the City of Deerfield’s “assault weapon” ban. When Illinois adopted its preemption statute, it afforded a limited window in which localities could pass gun-control ordinances; Deerfield failed to pass the challenged ordinance within that time period. In November, the Illinois Supreme Court was unable to reach a decision due to an even split among the judges. As a result, Deerfield’s defective law stands.
State Constitutional Challenges
NRA-ILA also invoked state constitutional rights to challenge several laws. In January, NRA-ILA filed suit against Fairfax County, VA, for banning firearms in its 23,584 acres and 334 miles of public parks and trails. NRA-ILA also sued the county for banning firearms in several vaguely-defined areas that fail to adequately inform gun owners of where guns may be carried. The case is currently proceeding through discovery.
Back in Illinois, the Supreme Court recently embraced NRA-ILA’s argument and struck down an unconstitutional tax on firearms and ammunition imposed by Cook County. Just as the First Amendment does not tolerate a special tax upon newspapers for the ink they use, the right to keep and bear arms under the Second Amendment does not tolerate isolated penalties. This unanimous decision represents a major victory for gun owners in Illinois, but Cook County is already attempting to circumvent it with superficial modifications to its tax scheme.
Several states waste no opportunities to restrict gun rights, and COVID was no exception. When COVID first appeared in early 2020, certain states leapt at the opportunity to close gun shops and shooting ranges as “non-essential” businesses. As a coalition with other gun-rights groups, NRA-ILA challenged these closures in California, New York, and New Mexico. NRA-ILA got an early win in New Mexico, but had to take the fight against New York and California up to appellate courts. In California alone, NRA-ILA has challenged closures in Los Angeles, Alameda, Santa Clara, Contra Costa, and San Mateo Counties; most of these counties have since lifted their restrictions. NRA-ILA is currently awaiting final decisions where needed.
NRA-ILA continued to fight for its members’ hunting rights. In April, a federal judge in Arizona sided with NRA-ILA and Safari Club International in a decision supporting hunters’ use of traditional ammunition when hunting in National Forests. This victory carries major implications; a loss here would have granted the federal government the ability to regulate ammunition commonly used by hunters on over 640 million acres, representing nearly 30% of the country. The case was appealed to the Ninth Circuit in April.
Alongside Safari Club International, NRA-ILA has also intervened in three cases challenging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to delist gray wolves in the lower 48 states. Our opponents wish to discard the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision, which rightly returned management of the wolves to the states (which allow better management of not only gray wolves, but every other species). NRA-ILA filed its final brief in October, and is awaiting a decision from the Court.
NRA-ILA is dedicated to defending the Second Amendment wherever its freedoms are threatened. Please stay tuned to nraila.org for future updates on these cases as well as many others.