In the year and a half since the Supreme Court decided New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen and imposed a vague “history and tradition” test for firearm regulations, numerous gun laws have ping-ponged around the legal system while lower courts try to interpret what exactly counts as a valid restriction. (A Massachusetts judge in December summarized the situation well: In a “facetious” comment, he asked: “Should we just wait them out … and see if Bruen goes away?”) With several big cases on the docket this year — including U.S. v. Rahimi, the high-profile challenge to a law meant to protect domestic violence victims — justices are entering another decision-making season that could have major ramifications for how guns are regulated in the United States.
The National Rifle Association — currently on trial for corruption in New York — is a plaintiff in one of these cases. On its face, NRA v. Vullo is about the First Amendment, not the Second. However, The Trace’s Chip Brownlee reports, the Supreme Court’s ruling could affect how regulators can oversee interactions between the gun industry and financial institutions.
Arguably, the gun group is indirectly behind another big case, Garland v. Cargill. That case, centered on a Trump-era ban on machine gun conversion devices, threatens to disrupt the ATF’s ability to regulate other weapons and accessories. As political scientist Robert Spitzer noted in an episode of The Gun Machine, the NRA has had an antagonistic stance toward the ATF effectively since it became an independent agency in the ’70s, targeting the bureau with fear-inducing rhetoric about the government coming for your guns and backing efforts to minimize its funding and authority. Now, there’s Cargill.
While Cargill poses the most direct threat to the ATF’s ability to regulate the gun industry, the Supreme Court is also weighing other cases with broader significance for the power of federal agencies. Justices this week heard two related cases grappling with Chevron deference, a legal doctrine named for a 1984 ruling that gave federal agencies broad latitude to interpret how much power Congress granted them. Cargill calls that doctrine into question, too, asking justices to decide if the ATF exceeded its authority by banning bump stocks. Per the Associated Press, gun groups are supporting the challenge to Chevron.
It’s not clear how the Supreme Court will rule. NBC reported that some conservative justices appeared to be in favor of overturning the Chevron precedent, but they didn’t have visible support from two of their right-wing colleagues, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Amy Coney Barrett. Regardless, the outcome will have major implications for how the government approaches the most pressing issues of our time — gun violence included.
From The Trace
Here’s what our team published this week.
This year, the high court will weigh a law designed to protect domestic violence victims, a ban on machine gun conversion devices, and the free speech rights of the gun industry.
Mothers in Chicago talk about navigating grief in a dark season and turning to each other for support as they memorialize their children.
A new organization that’s representing Mexico in a lawsuit against American gun manufacturers and dealers hopes to accomplish just that.
The trial marks the climax of a series of events that have shaken the NRA’s foundation since The Trace exposed secrecy and self-dealing within the group almost five years ago.
With gun reforms stalled in Congress, several states are looking to tighten their gun laws through ballot initiatives this November.
The secretary of state, Jay Ashcroft, has presented many of this year’s gun reform initiatives as a threat to Second Amendment rights. His wording could sway voters.
What to Know This Week
The Justice Department released a long-anticipated review of the botched law enforcement response to the 2022 mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. The withering, 575-page report details the “cascading failures of leadership, decision-making, tactics, policy and training” that led to delays in confronting the shooter. [The Texas Tribune]
Several years ago, gun influencer Larry Vickers approached the police chief of a 700-person North Dakota town with a request: Could he help Vickers import a machine gun? Now, Vickers is at the center of a federal case over an alleged gun-running operation that targeted small-town police chiefs to illegally import numerous heavily regulated weapons into the U.S. [The Wall Street Journal]
American guns are linked to violence across the globe — and in the Caribbean, home to a rising gun violence epidemic, the problem is especially acute. According to regional officials, about 90 percent of the Caribbean’s murder weapons are purchased legally in the U.S. and then smuggled overseas. [Bloomberg]
Twenty-three children died by gunfire in Philadelphia last year. The stories of their lives and their deaths evince the scale of the city’s gun violence crisis, and how it most often touches Philly’s most vulnerable young people. [The Philadelphia Inquirer]
As in many of the country’s rural areas, far-right extremism is thriving in Upstate New York. In “If All Else Fails,” a podcast launched this month, reporters in the region explore why the movement is gaining ground — and find that, for many, gun rights are the animating factor. [North Country Public Radio]
At the Virginia Capitol, a holiday created to recognize the towering legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., who was assassinated by gunshot, has morphed into an annual open-air debate about firearms policy. [The Washington Post]
Richard Henderson, 45, was a familiar face in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood. He spent a decade working as a crossing guard for a private school there, a school official told Gothamist, greeting everyone with a kind word and a warm smile. Henderson was shot and killed aboard a Brooklyn subway train last weekend, The New York Times reported, after intervening in a dispute between two other passengers. He was a father of three, a grandfather of two, and a husband who was just shy of celebrating 30 years of marriage to his wife. His brothers called him the “glue” of the family, the one who brought everyone together — and the one who made sure everyone had a good time. “He was the one getting everyone dancing, pulling everyone on to the dance floor to get the party started,” his wife said. “He was just an amazing person,” one of his brothers told the New York Post. “He was loved, tremendously loved.”
The Right to Bear Arms: “For most of U.S. history, the Second Amendment was one of the sleepier ones. It rarely showed up in court, and was almost never used to challenge laws. Jack Miller’s case changed that. And it set off a chain of events that would fundamentally change how U.S. law deals with guns.” [Throughline]
“To us, for somebody to get fired, that’s what we would like. Out of this case, I don’t think that’s going to happen.”
— Adam Martinez, whose 8-year-old son, Zayon, survived the 2022 Robb Elementary mass shooting, on the police response to the massacre, to NBC