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Media Alerts - Association of New Jersey Rifle and Pistol Clubs Inc. v. Port Authority of New York and New Jersey - Third Circuit
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September 19, 2013
  Association of New Jersey Rifle and Pistol Clubs Inc. v. Port Authority of New York and New Jersey - Third Circuit
Headline: Non-Resident Gun Owners Do Not Have Enforceable Rights under 18 U.S.C. § 926A Allowing Them to Carry Firearms While Walking Through State Airports

Area of Law: Federal Preemption and Statutory Construction

Issue: Whether recently amended section 926A of Title 18 of the United States Code creates a federal right enforceable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, protecting a non-resident citizen's right to ambulatory travel through a State while possessing a firearm not licensed in that State?

Brief Summary: Plaintiffs argued that section 926A of the United States Code creates a federal right protecting the ambulatory travel of a person carrying an unlicensed firearm through the New Jersey Airport. In order to determine whether the statute created a federal right preempting any relevant state law, the Court evaluated the statute under the Blessing analysis. The Court held that the plain meaning of the statute and the legislative history clearly indicate that the statute does not confer protection to such persons. Accordingly, it affirmed the District Court's judgment in granting defendants' motion for summary judgment.

Significance (if any):

Extended Summary: Plaintiffs, the Association of New Jersey Rifle and Pistol Clubs Inc., brought a suit in federal court seeking injunctive relief pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, enjoining Defendants, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and Scott Erickson, from enforcing New Jersey statutes prohibiting possession of a firearm without a permit and possession of hollow-point ammunition, against non-resident members of the Association. Plaintiffs argued that, under 18 U.S.C. § 926A, such members were entitled to transport their firearms through New Jersey, specifically in the Newark Airport. The District Court granted Defendants' motion for summary judgment, holding that section 962A does not create a federal right enforceable under section 1983.

Section 926A confers the following protection upon those who wish to engage in the interstate transportation of firearms:

Notwithstanding any other provisions of any law or any rule or regulation of a State or any political subdivision thereof, any person who is not otherwise prohibited by this chapter from transporting, shipping, or receiving a firearm shall be entitled to transport a firearm for any lawful purpose from any place where he may lawfully possess and carry such firearm to any other place where he may lawfully possess and carry such firearm if, during such transportation the firearm is unloaded, and neither the firearm nor any ammunition being transported is readily accessible or is directly accessible from the passenger compartment of such transporting vehicle: Provided, That in the case of a vehicle without a compartment separate from the driver's compartment the firearm or ammunition shall be contained in a locked container other than the glove compartment or console.

Whether a federal statute creates a federal right that is enforceable under section 1983 is a two-step process. The first step is to determine whether the statute creates a federal right. This demands that three requirements be met: (1) Congress must have intended the provision benefit the plaintiff; (2) the plaintiff must demonstrate that the right is not so vague and amorphous that its enforcement would strain judicial competence; and (3) the statute must unambiguously impose a binding obligation on the State. If all three requirements are met, a rebuttable presumption arises that the statute creates an enforceable right. The second step of the test shifts the burden onto the defendant who must overcome the presumption by showing that Congress either expressly or impliedly foreclosed the section 1983 remedy for that particular right. Implied foreclosure means that Congress created a comprehensive enforcement scheme that is incompatible with individual enforcement under section 1983.

The Third Circuit concluded that Plaintiffs failed to meet even the first requirement of the analysis, that Congress intended that section 926A benefit persons traveling on foot through a state airport. The Court reasoned that the plain language of section 962A protects only the transportation of a firearm in a vehicle. It noted that the positive entitlement, a person who meets its requirements shall be entitled to transport firearms, is subsequently qualified by a condition that "neither the firearm nor any ammunition . . . is readily or is directly accessible from the passenger compartment of such transporting vehicle." Moreover, the "Provided" clause of the statute addresses the case of a vehicle without a compartment, presupposing transportation of the firearm in a vehicle. Accordingly, an ambulatory plaintiff intending to travel through an airport with a firearm is outside the coverage of the statute. Next, the Court examined the legislative history of the statute, concluding that it strongly supported the view that only the vehicular transportation of firearms and ammunition are protected.

Finally, the Court cited a decision reached by a dived panel of the Second Circuit. In that decision, the majority held that section 962A does not create an enforceable right because its terms are too vague and amorphous to satisfy the Blessing analysis.

The full opinion can be found here: http://www2.ca3.uscourts.gov/opinarch/123621p.pdf

Panel: Jordan and Vanaskie, Circuit Judges, and Rakoff, District Judge

Argument Date: May 31, 2013

Date of Issued Opinion: September 13, 2013

Docket Number: No. 12-3621

Decided: Affirmed

Case Alert Author: Mark J. Grossman

Counsel: Richard E. Gardiner, Esq., for Appellant; Thomas R. Brophy, Esq., for Appellee

Author of Opinion: Rakoff, District Judge

Circuit: Third Circuit

Case Alert Circuit Supervisor: Professor Mary E. Levy

    Posted By: Susan DeJarnatt @ 09/19/2013 12:04 PM     3rd Circuit  

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