Category Archives: Firearms Law

PA Supreme Court Affirms that Castle Doctrine is an Inherent Right

In a decision issued in Commonwealth v Childs on July 19, 2016 relating to the retroactive effect of Pennsylvania’s Stand Your Ground law (HB40 of 2011), the Pennsylvania Supreme Court acknowledged that the Castle Doctrine is an inherent right, dating back to biblical times, and that the Right existed in common law, long before being codified as part of our Stand Your Ground law in 2011.

Specifically, the Court declared:

When this Court addressed the castle doctrine in 1952, we explained that it “has always been recognized as the law in this State” and that the castle doctrine’s acceptance is “universal.” Commonwealth v. Fraser, 85 A.2d 126,128 (Pa. 1952).

The Court went on to explain:

Although the castle doctrine has existed at common law in this Commonwealth essentially since its founding, it was not codified in Pennsylvania until 1972, with the enactment of 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 505. In enacting section 505, the legislature sought “to codify existing case law pertaining to ‘self-defense’ and to cover in a single rule the law governing the use of defensive force.” 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 505 (amended June 28, 2011).

I must admit that it is refreshing to see such a decision which was not decided along party lines and acknowledges inalienable rights.

While the Court did not address whether Stand Your Ground is an inalienable Right, I was previously published in Volume 27, Issue 1, of the St. Thomas Law Review on The Inalienable Right to Stand Your Ground. Hopefully, in the future, we’ll see the Pennsylvania Supreme Court acknowledge that Stand Your Ground is an inalienable Right.

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DDTC Issues Guidance on ITAR Registration

DDTC

On Friday July 22, 2016, the Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (“DDTC”) released a letter issuing guidance on the requirement of firearm manufacturers and gunsmiths to register with DDTC under the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (“ITAR”).

There has been constant discussion on the internet regarding whether an individual who has obtained a federal firearms license (“FFL”) is required to register for ITAR. Some of the Industry Operations Inspectors (“IOIs”) have taken it upon themselves to inform Type 07 FFLs that they must register for ITAR without any guidance from DDTC. There are certain instances where an FFL does not need to register for ITAR.

22 C.F.R. § 122.1 discusses the registration requirements for ITAR.

(a) Any person who engages in the United States in the business of manufacturing or exporting or temporarily importing defense articles, or furnishing defense services, is required to register with the Directorate of Defense Trade Controls under § 122.2. For the purpose of this subchapter, engaging in such a business requires only one occasion of manufacturing or exporting or temporarily importing a defense article or furnishing a defense service. A manufacturer who does not engage in exporting must nevertheless register.

The crux of the registration for ITAR (for most FFLs) lies within the definition of manufacturing. DDTC has not promulgated a definition for manufacturing which is the source of a lot of confusion and misinformation.

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DDTC’s letter states that individuals who “do not actually manufacture ITAR-controlled firearms (including by engaging in the activities described below, which DDTC has found in specific cases to constitute manufacturing) need not register with DDTC – even if they have an FFL from ATF.” This is because the requirements for obtaining an FFL are separate and distinct of the requirements for registering under ITAR.

As DDTC does not have a definition for the term “manufacturing”, it relies on “the ordinary, contemporary, common meaning of the term.”

DDTC’s guidance is only in relation to “domestic (U.S.) activities involving firearms (as defined in Category I(j)(1) of the United States Munitions List (USML) (22 CFR § 121.1)) and related ammunition that are .50 caliber (12.7 mm) or smaller – i.e., firearms in Category I, paragraphs (a) and (b), related items in paragraphs (e)-(h), and ammunition in Category III(a) for those firearms. Activities involving items elsewhere on the USML, including Category I, paragraphs (c) and (d), are not included in the scope of this guidance.”

DDTC has found that the following instances do not require registration.

a)  Occasional assembly of firearm parts and kits that do not require cutting, drilling, or machining;

b)  Firearm repairs involving one-for-one drop-in replacement parts that do not require any cutting, drilling, or machining for installation;

c)  Repairs involving replacement parts that do not improve the accuracy, caliber, or other aspects of firearm operation;

d)  Hydrographic paint or Cerakote application or bluing treatments for a firearm;

e)  Attachment of accessories to a completed firearm without drilling, cutting, or machining—such as attaching a scope, sling, or light to existing mounts or hooks, or attaching a flash suppressor, sound suppressor, muzzle brake, or similar item to a pre- threaded muzzle;

f)  Cosmetic additions and alterations (including engraving) that do not improve the accuracy, caliber, or other aspects of firearm operation beyond its original capabilities;

g)  Machining new dovetails or drilling and tapping new holes for the installation of sights which do not improve the accuracy or operation of the firearm beyond its original capabilities; and

h)  Manual loading or reloading of ammunition of .50 caliber or smaller.

The guidance goes on to clarify that “[a]ctivities limited to the domestic sale or resale of firearms, the occasional assembly of firearms without drilling, cutting, or machining, and/or specific gunsmithing activities that do not improve the accuracy, caliber, or operations of the firearm beyond its original capabilities (as described above) are not manufacturing within the context of the ITAR. If you are not manufacturing, exporting, temporarily importing or brokering defense articles or services, you are not required to register with DDTC.”

Which then begs the question, what does DDTC require the registration under ITAR for?

DDTC states that if you are engaged in any of the following you are required to register for under ITAR.

a)  Use of any special tooling or equipment upgrading in order to improve the capability of assembled or repaired firearms;

b)  Modifications to a firearm that change round capacity;

c)  The production of firearm parts (including, but not limited to, barrels, stocks, cylinders, breech mechanisms, triggers, silencers, or suppressors);

d)  The systemized production of ammunition, including the automated loading or reloading of ammunition;

e)  The machining or cutting of firearms, e.g., threading of muzzles or muzzle brake installation requiring machining, that results in an enhanced capability;

f)  Rechambering firearms through machining, cutting, or drilling;

g)  Chambering, cutting, or threading barrel blanks; and

h)  Blueprinting firearms by machining the barrel.

Of particular interest is the guidance that now offering barrel threading services will result in an FFL being required to register for ITAR. This will certainly put a financial burden on the smaller gunsmiths who are threading barrels as registration for ITAR is $2,250 a year.

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Additionally, the penalties for violating ITAR are significant and able to be applied retroactively. Penalties for each violation of ITAR can result in up to $1,000,000 in fines and 20 years imprisonment. 22 U.S.C. § 2778(c)

DDTC does allow for voluntary disclosures of violations.

“The Department may consider a voluntary disclosure as a mitigating factor in determining the administrative penalties, if any, that should be imposed. Failure to report a violation may result in circumstances detrimental to U.S. national security and foreign policy interests, and will be an adverse factor in determining the appropriate disposition of such violations.” 22 C.F.R. § 127.12.

Lastly, DDTC does have a mechanism for an individual or company to inquire whether the activity they are engaging in requires registration under ITAR. This is an area that myself and Attorney Joshua Prince have experience in. It is certainly advised that a determination from DDTC is sought prior to engaging in the activity (if it is unknown or questionable whether it would require registration under ITAR) in order to mitigate any potential penalties.

 

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Monumental Decision from the Middle District Court of Pennsylvania Regarding Mental Health Commitments and the Second Amendment

Today, Judge John E. Jones, III. of the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania held in Keyes, et al. v. Loretta Lynch, et al. that an individual, who was involuntarily committed on a single-isolated occasion, can successfully challenge a prohibition under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(4).

In this case, both Mr. Keyes and Mr. Yox challenged, inter alia, whether 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(4) violated their Second Amendment rights, as-applied to their specific factual scenarios. Unfortunately, although Mr. Keyes and Mr. Yox’s factual backgrounds were extremely similar, the reason Mr. Keyes was denied the same outcome as Mr. Yox was due to the PA Superior Court’s previous incorrect analysis in In re Keyes, which Judge Jones felt precluded him from addressing Mr. Keyes’ Second Amendment as-applied challenge.

In addressing Mr. Yox’s challenge, the court declared:

Notably, Defendants hardly mention at all in their briefing, much less challenge, the specific facts of Mr. Yox’ case. Defendants reference Mr. Yox’s possession and use of firearms as a member of the military and as a correctional officer only to argue that there is no legal support for the position that his Second Amendment right can be restored “merely by virtue of his employment history.” (Doc. 46, p. 4). That this dismissive treatment of Mr. Yox’s public service [as] ungracious is clear. But more importantly, Defendants avoid addressing the clear irony of Mr. Yox’s situation. It requires a suspension of logic to believe that Mr. Yox is mentally stable enough to possess and use various types of firearms in his professional capacity, including putting his life on the line for his country while on active military duty, but is not mentally stable enough to possess a firearm for self protection in his home.

The court then went on to declare:

Indeed, Mr. Yox provides the perfect test case to challenge § 922(g)(4), as the illogical contradiction of being able to possess firearms in his professional capacities but not being able to possess a firearm for protection in his own home puts in relief a factual scenario where an as-applied Second Amendment challenge to this statute may succeed.

Indeed, if Mr. Yox were not to succeed on his as-applied challenge, we cannot imagine that there exists any person who could.

I must admit that it is extremely refreshing to see Judge Jones acknowledge that those who “are mentally ill” is a distinct and separate category from those who had an single-isolated mental health commitment over a decade ago. I believe we will see a number of federal challenges, some already pending in Pennsylvania, in relation to whether mental health commitments can strip an individual of a constitutional right, especially under Section 302 of the Mental Health and Procedures Act, as it does not provide any form of due process.

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ATTENTION: The 9th Circuit amends the 2nd Amendment…

The last time I checked, neither state government nor the Courts had any power, real or imagined, to amend the U.S. Constitution.  A recent ruling from the 9th Circuit, however, suggests maybe I need to check again.  In a decision that confounds common sense, plain reading of the Constitutional text as much as it creates a legal non-sense, a divided 9th Circuit upheld Cal. Penal Law §25400 and §25655, which generally makes it unlawful to conceal carry firearms in public AND limits a license to conceal-carry to a finding of “good cause” by the issuing sheriff.  Peruta v. San Diego, 2016 WL 3194315 (9th Cir. June 9, 2016).

The procedural history of this case is itself dubious.  First, it should be noted that Peruta technically consisted of consolidated cases wherein plaintiffs challenged essentially the same local (county-level) iteration of §25400 and §25655.  The named plaintiff, Peruta, brought a Second Amendment suit against the County of San Diego.  Interestingly also, this case was the 9th Circuit’s rehearing and reversal of its own decision in Peruta I (742 F.3d 1144 (9th Cir. 2014)) wherein an en banc panel of the 9th had previously found good cause requirements unconstitutional.  The Sheriff of the San Diego, after Peruta I, declined to appeal for a rehearing, but that’s where the state of California intervened – prompting a hearing before the full Court – Peruta II.  San Diego county’s iteration of the good cause requirement defines such as…

…a set of circumstances that distinguish the applicant from the mainstream and causes him or her to be placed in harm’s way.  Simply fearing for one’s personal safety alone is not considered good cause.

The other case – Richards v. Prieto, Cnty. of Yolo, involved the named Plaintiff, Richards, bringing suit on the same grounds as plaintiff Peruta, but against Yolo County’s own version of the good cause requirement.  Amazingly, the County of Yolo does not bother to even define good cause (as if the concept wasn’t vague and arbitrary enough under California state law), rather the County instructs its residents that there are certain circumstances which, definitively, do or do not give rise to good cause.  Among those circumstances:

Victims of violent crime and/or documented threats of violence [yep]

Self protection and protection of family [nope]

Business owners who work all hours in remote areas and are likely to encounter dangerous people and situations [yep]

Personal safety due to job conditions or duties placed on the applicant by their employer [nope]

In a written opinion of truly amazing acrobatics – The 9th Circuit somehow sidestepped the very plain language of the Second Amendment, and also putatively avoided going as far as (explicitly) finding that the Second Amendment ensures no right, whatsoever, to publicly possessing a firearm for self-protection(“That question was left open by the Supreme Court in Heller, and we have no need to answer it here.”)  The problem is, California law also forbids open-carry, pursuant to Cal. Penal Law §26350.  Therefore, as a practical matter now, a private citizen cannot legally possess firearms in public for the purpose of self-protection.  Oh well, the catch-22 there was clearly not a concern for the Court.  Isn’t the narrow grounds approach to jurisprudence refreshing?

Irrespective of whether the reader belongs to the so-called textualist school of judicial philosophy, or that of the living Constitution, the ruling has to be seen as a baffling one.  I could have sworn that the Second Amendment states, in relevant part, “…the right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”  Webster’s Dictionary includes the following definition of the word “bear” as including “to produce” and/or “to bring forth”.  Further, the Constitutional Convention’s inclusion of “bear” after stating “keep” rationally indicates that keeping and bearing are not one in the same thing – that the latter is an additional right, not to be confused with the former.  Sure, the Court engaged in an expansive quest for historical precedent to state’s prohibiting public carrying of weapons, but precedents can be found from the reverse side as well.  The writer finds it indicative of the weakness of the Court’s opinion that a majority of the 9th Circuit’s historical assessment looked to monarchical English history, first and foremost.

Well there you have it, the 9th has effectively taken the “bear” out of “…keep and bear arms…” – an amendment, as I see it.  Who needs Congress or a Constitutional Convention when you have overreaching judges.

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ATF Releases ATF 41F FAQ

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With the implementation date of ATF 41F looming just around the corner (July 13, 2016), the folks over at ATF have released the ATF 41F FAQ. You can find that here. The link also includes the new Form 1, Form 4, Form 5 and Responsible Person Questionnaire.

The FAQ references:

  • How Does Final Rule 41F Change Current NFA Regulations?
  • Who is a Responsible Person?
  • What Do NFA Trust or Legal Entity Applicants Affected by the Change Need to Know?

Earlier this week, The Gun Collective released a new series called, The Legal Brief, where I discussed ATF 41F and its implications. One of the questions that wasn’t quite clear was whether a legal entity would be required to submit a copy of the Form 1/4/5 and responsible person questionnaires to the CLEO or if it would be one or the other.

Based on the question in the FAQ, it would seem that legal entities, such as trusts, corporations, LLCs, etc. will need to submit a copy of the Form 1/4/5 to the CLEO for notification in addition to all of the responsible persons submitting the responsible person questionnaire.

ATF has also confirmed, as if there were any doubt at this point, if the application is postmarked July 12th or earlier, it will be grandfathered in under the current regulations. July 13th and after will require you to comply with ATF 41F.

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Devastating Decision from the Superior Court on “Other Lawful Purpose”

Today, the Superior Court issued a decision in Commonwealth v. Goslin, which addressed the defense in 18 Pa.C.S. § 912 that a weapon could be carried on school property for other lawful purposes.

In this case, Mr. Goslin attended an informal hearing with school officials regarding his son’s possession of a knife on school property. The purpose of the hearing was to “allow the family and student to discuss and answer any questions they may have and the school administration to ask any questions they may have and review the incident as they know it to have been.” During the hearing, Mr Goslin stated “that he had a knife and asked if [the school] would arrest him for having it. At that point, he forcefully placed it on the table in front of people at the meeting.”

Mr. Goslin testified that he carries the knife with him every day “because [he] use[s] it. [He] use[s] it at work, [he] use[s] it to sharpen pencils, [he] use[s] it to open tuna cans when [his] wife forgets to pack [him] a tuna can opener. [He] whittle sticks with [his] sons.” He went on to declare: “It occurred to me at the moment, oh, my goodness, they called the police on my nine-year-old son for having a whittling knife. I actually have a
pocket knife on me now and am I a criminal as well?”

During Mr. Goslin’s trial, he stipulated to possessing the knife on school property but argued that it was possessed for an “other lawful purpose” as provided for by 18 Pa.C.S. 912(c). Specifically, Section 912(c) provides: “Defense.–It shall be a defense that the weapon is possessed and used in conjunction with a lawful supervised school activity or course or is possessed for other lawful purpose.”

Unfortunately, the trial court declared

My view of the plain reading or the plain language in the statute is that the defense is there for some lawful purpose upon which the weapon would be brought onto the school property, that’s not the same thing as saying that the weapon wasn’t brought there for some unlawful purpose. I see a distinction between those two, and I guess I would agree with the position the Commonwealth has taken that that defense is there for someone to bring a weapon onto the property for some legitimate reason pursuant to their presence on the school property, and there are probably lots of things.

 

I think in [Appellant’s] case, if [he] had said he brought the knife that [his] son was accused of having and it was the basis of the hearing, [Appellant] brought it from an evidentiary standpoint for the hearing itself, that to me would be some type of an example of bringing a weapon onto the property for lawful purposes.

 

The hearing was there, it involved that particular item which the school was alleging was a weapon, and if you had said the reason you had it was for that, I could see that’s something that probably the statute would cover. But that isn’t the case here. This is a different weapon. It’s clearly one that’s set forth in the statute as being prohibited. There isn’t a question about you knowing that it was on your person at the time.

The statute is clearly created to prohibit weapons from being brought onto school property unless there is a specific reason as carved out in the statute that they are to be viewed as not violating this criminal provision, but I don’t think [Appellant’s] situation falls within one of those reasons.

As a result, the trial court convicted him and he appealed, pro se. Unfortunately, the Superior Court believed him competent to handle his own appeal and did not appoint an attorney to handle his appeal.

After the Superior Court found the language “other lawful purpose” to be “not explicit,” it looked to the rules of statutory construction and declared that “public policy of maintaining, and acting to ensure, the safety of those who inhabit our schools” was of paramount importance in interpreting the statutory language.

As a result, the Superior Court held:

Appellant appeared in his capacity as a parent, with no purpose to possessing the knife on school property.

Had Appellant been at the school in a capacity which necessitated his possession of the knife, he could avail himself of the “other lawful purpose” defense to possessing the knife on school property. But that is not the case before us. If we were to accept Appellant’s interpretation of Section 912(c), we would be sanctioning the presence of weapons on school property in countless scenarios. Such sanction would be contrary to the intent of the General Assembly, which clearly enacted Section 912 to safeguard public welfare by prohibiting weapons in or near schools. We therefore discern no error by the trial court in convicting Appellant of possessing a weapon on school property, and affirm the June 2, 2015 judgment of sentence.

Learned Judge Dubow’s dissent, on the other hand, correctly reviews the plain meaning of the statute and declares:

Here, unlike the majority, I find that the statutory language is clear and unambiguous and should, therefore, not look beyond its plain language to ascertain its meaning.

 

My review confirms that the plain meaning of Section 912(c) provides two separate defenses: (1) possessing a weapon on school property “in conjunction with a lawful supervised school activity;” and (2) possessing “for other lawful purpose.”

Something that is “other” is “distinct from the one or those first mentioned or understood,” or is “additional.” Webster’s Third New International Dictionary 1598 (1986).

 

A “lawful” act is one that is “allowed or permitted by law.”

 

And, last, a “purpose” is “something that one sets before himself as an object to be attained,” “an end or aim to be kept in view in any plan, measure, exertion, or operation,” or “an object, effect, or result aimed at, intended, or attained.”

By its plain terms, the first clause of this subsection specifically provides as a defense to the charge of Possession of Weapon on School Property the possession of a weapon that is possessed and used in association with a lawful supervised school activity or course.

 

The second clause of this subsection—and the one at issue here— serves as a catchall provision. The “other lawful purpose” language does not restrict the defense provided in section 912(c), as the majority has concluded. Instead, I find that the critical phrase does just the opposite. It expands the defense to include any additional or different lawful reason not otherwise mentioned in the first clause of section 912(c), regardless ofwhether it is school-related. To conclude otherwise renders “possessed for other lawful purpose” redundant with “possessed and used in association with a lawful supervised school activity or course.”

I note that the possession of weapons on school property is obviously a major concern to communities across Pennsylvania. It is, however, for the legislature, and not the courts, to limit the applicability of a defense to any crime. The legislature has not yet done so here and the courts lack the authority to re-write the clear and unambiguous language of Section 912(c). Therefore, I am bound to interpret Section 912(c) broadly, and, consequently, would reverse Appellant’s judgment of sentence and order a new trial. (emphasis added)

Accordingly, under this decision, an individual cannot carry a firearm pursuant to a valid license to carry firearms, even though such would not be a per se unlawful purpose. Rather, in Judge Mundy’s and Judge Strassburger’s judicially activist opinion, one must have an explicitly statutory permitted basis, such as being a law enforcement officer, to have a firearm on school property.

However, all may not be lost. Since this was a 3 judge panel decision, with a dissenting opinion, the Superior Court may be enticed to review the decision en banc, if a proper motion for reconsideration en banc is filed by competent counsel. Otherwise, unless appealed and overturned by the PA Supreme Court, this decision will be controlling.

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Transferring a Sear? Multi Caliber is No Longer Accepted by ATF

atfvan1

It appears that ATF has once again changed the standards for applications to transfer NFA firearms. This time it is in relation to sears.

A letter surfaced, that was dated June 15, 2016, from the NFA branch to an applicant which stated that the firearm description “varies with our records”. The letter went on to state “We no longer accept multiple calibers and have decided that all sears should be registered as N/A.” (Emphasis added). A copy of the letter can be found here.

Consistent with ATF’s approach to almost everything, there is no accompanying explanation as to why “multi” is no longer an acceptable response to the caliber. It appears that ATF has just arbitrarily decided that “multi” was no longer acceptable and that going forward applicant’s should use “n/a”. It would seem from a logical standpoint that because the sear does not have a barrel and cannot be chambered in any caliber, that “n/a” would be the appropriate designation. Unfortunately, we are left to guess as to why this change is being made.

If you plan on submitting an application to transfer a NFA firearm and the firearm is a sear, make sure that you no longer list the caliber as multi, otherwise you’ll most likely be receiving a notice in the mail asking you to correct your form.

 

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