Judge rules federal ban on guns with removed or altered serial numbers unconstitutional

A judge ruled on Wednesday that a federal law banning the possession of a firearm with an “altered, obliterated or removed” serial number is unconstitutional based on the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling expanding gun rights.

US District Judge Joseph Goodwin, a nominee of former President Bill Clinton, ruled that there is no historical precedent that guns without a serial number are more dangerous or unusual than ones with a serial number. Therefore, the law is unconstitutional.

The law that was contested prohibits any person from transporting a gun with the serial number “altered, obliterated, or removed,” across state lines. It also prohibits them from possessing such a gun if it has ever been transported across state lines.

The judge contended that he is abiding by the Supreme Court’s June decision in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, according to The Hill. That ruling struck down a New York law placing additional limits on who can carry a gun outside the home.

New York required that an applicant had to demonstrate a “special need” to carry a firearm outside the home beyond self-defense. The court ruled that the mandate violates the Second Amendment right to bear arms.

Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in his majority opinion in the Supreme Court ruling that the regulations on guns should be “consistent” with historical patterns of regulating firearms.

“Only if a firearm regulation is consistent with this Nation’s historical tradition may a court conclude that the individual’s conduct falls outside the Second Amendment’s ‘unqualified command,’” Thomas wrote.

Goodwin asserted in his decision that a gun without a serial number was not considered more dangerous or unusual than other firearms in 1791 because serial numbers were not commonly used at the time. That was the year that the Second Amendment was ratified as part of the Bill of Rights.

Serial numbers were first required by the federal Gun Control Act of 1968 so that guns could be traced. They were implemented in an effort to prevent illegal gun sales.

“Any modern regulation that does not comport with the historical understanding of the right is to be deemed unconstitutional, regardless of how desirable or important that regulation may be in our modern society,” Goodwin stated in his decision.

“While I recognize there is an argument … that firearms with an obliterated serial number are likely to be used in violent crime and therefore a prohibition on their possession is desirable, that argument is the exact type of means-end reasoning the Supreme Court has forbidden me from considering,” he wrote.

The government made its argument concerning the regulation being constitutional because it claimed it is a “commercial regulation” that does not infringe on the right to keep and bear arms.

The judge ruled that the law is not a commercial regulation due to the fact that it criminalizes the possession of firearms without a serial number, regardless of whether it is sold or not.

The case came about after a traffic stop in Charleston, VA where police found a gun without a serial number in a man named Randy Price’s possession. Price had reportedly been convicted in Ohio of involuntary manslaughter and aggravated robbery, making him a felon.

The judge upheld the restriction on felons possessing a gun but ruled in favor of being able to own a gun without a serial number on a constitutional basis.

Price’s attorney, Lex Coleman, called the decision “thoughtful, measured, and accurate,” according to Reuters.

A spokesperson for the office of US Attorney William Thompson in Charleston, which is prosecuting the case, announced that his office was “reviewing the ruling and assessing options.”

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