The Supreme Court has become notoriously skittish about Second Amendment cases in the years after Heller. That may change now after a Third Circuit ruling upheld a ban on firearm ownership for felons, even those convicted of non-violent crimes. In a 2-1 decision, the court ruled that a tax-evasion conviction was sufficient for a lifetime removal of Second Amendment rights:
Lying on her tax returns will cost a woman her right to own a firearm for a lifetime, the Third Circuit affirmed Tuesday.
The case, which was argued before the federal appeals court last year in Philadelphia, centers around Lisa Folajtar, who pleaded guilty in 2011 to making false statements on her tax returns. Since lying to the government is a felony, the conviction carries additional gun restrictions beyond her sentence of probation and a $10,000 fine.
Divided 2-1 Tuesday, the Third Circuit found that “those who commit serious crimes are excluded from the Second Amendment’s protections,” and that reinstating Folajtar’s gun rights would negate the gravity of her offense.
“Consistent with our precedents, we hold that the legislature’s designation of an offense as a felony is generally conclusive in determining whether that offense is serious,” Justice Thomas Ambro, a Clinton appointee, wrote for the majority. “Because we determine the felony here is a serious crime, Folajtar is not protected by the Second Amendment, and her as-applied challenge fails.”
At issue in this case is the Second Amendment’s standing as an individual right, argues Jonathan Turley, the basis for the Heller decision. Folajtar “falls into the still grey area” of Heller, Turley writes, especially since the court recognized the right of states to prohibit felons from owning firearms in McDonald two years later.
If the Second Amendment is a fully incorporated individual civil right, however, the law and the courts should arguably use strict scrutiny in reviewing the constitutionality of laws that infringe on it. Broadly speaking, that requires a formula that requires states to show a valid public interest in play and the use of the narrowest policy to attain it. The public interest in such bans on ex-felon gun ownership is clearly that of public safety, but the application of such bans on non-violent ex-felons would not be a reasonably tailored measure to achieve it. There is no rational basis to assume a danger from someone who filed a false tax return alone, arguably.
Turley believes that newly minted Justice Amy Coney Barrett will want to delve into that very question, and her addition might finally push the court to grant cert in this and other Second Amendment cases:
It is hard to ignore the analogy to one of now Justice Barrett’s prior decisions as an appellate judge in Kanter v. Barr. Rickey Kanter was convicted of one count of felony mail fraud for defrauding Medicare in…