The Wall Street Journal‘s Law Blog has a description of an egregious gun rights case. It seems that, when Errol Houston was arrested in New Orleans in 2009 on drug and firearm charges, the police seized a properly registered gun that he had. So far, so good—when the police arrest someone, they’re allowed to disarm him, too. However, when the charges were dropped, the city refused to return his weapon to him. He sued for the return, and amazingly, the district court found for the city. Even more amazingly, the Fifth Circuit upheld the ruling, with this…logic…written by Judge Rhesa Hawkins Barksdale:
Just as some regulation of speech–e.g., of obscenity and defamation–is “outside the reach” of the First Amendment, so, too, is some regulation of firearms outside the reach of the Second. The right protected by the Second Amendment is not a property-like right to a specific firearm, but rather a right to keep and bear arms for self-defense.
Houston has not alleged defendants prevented his “retaining or acquiring other firearms.” Therefore, he has not stated a violation of his Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.
Judge Jennifer Walker Elrod dissented. In addition to pointing out the degree of legality of the majority opinion, violating as it does the Supreme Court’s prior rulings in similar cases (vis., District of Columbia v. Heller and McDonald v. City of Chicago), she also correctly explains the nature and meaning of the 2nd Amendment:
In the context of other enumerated constitutional rights, an equivalent per se exception for particular exercises of the right at stake (so long as other exercises of that right are permitted) would be intolerable. Consider, for example, a court holding that the Free Speech Clause affords no protection against the government preventing the publication of a particular editorial in the New York Times because there are plenty of other newspapers that might publish the piece. Or consider a court holding that the Fourth Amendment is inapplicable to the unreasonable seizure of a specific automobile so long as the government does not prevent the owner from borrowing, renting, or purchasing a replacement vehicle. These examples should suffice to show the absurdity of courts recognizing categorical exceptions for each particular exercise of those rights. In carving out such an exception from the Second Amendment, today’s majority impermissibly treats the Amendment as a “second-class right.”
Judge Elrod is right that the accessibility of alternatives is irrelevant—those alternatives are not the item itself, and the item itself remains the legitimate property of the owner.
Both the majority and Judge Elrod miss a larger point, though: the “right of the people to keep and bear Arms” is, indeed, a property right, but it is a different and more fundamental kind that that alluded by Judge Barksdale and accepted by Judge Elrod. This property is one flowing from the endowment imbued in us by our Creator, a property of our being. As such, Judge Elrod is right, but she doesn’t go far enough. It is the regulation of our endowed rights that is the exception, not the possession of this or that particular item in a realization of one or more of those rights.