Case challenging interstate handgun purchase bans appealed to SCOTUS

A long-running challenge to the federal law prohibiting handgun sales to out-of-state residents has been docketed with the nation’s highest court.

The legal challenge came from a Washington, D.C. couple — Andrew and Tracey Hanson — who tried to buy handguns from a federally licensed firearms dealer in Texas but could not due to federal law adopted in the 1960s. Together with FFL holder Frederic Mance, the couple joined with gun rights advocates of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms in taking the government on, arguing that since the advent of federal background check systems the law makes little sense.

“The ban on interstate handgun sales was adopted decades ago, prior to the advent of the National Instant Check System that is now in place,” said Alan Gottlieb, CCRKBA chair. “The Hansons have essentially been denied the ability to legally purchase a handgun from a licensed retailer because of this prohibition.”

Lower courts have disagreed with that concept, holding that handguns often have additional regulatory pitfalls in many states, and that gun dealers cannot be expected to be familiar with the law used in distant areas.

First filed in a Fort Worth federal court in 2014, court documents show the Hansons visited Mance’s gunshop in Texas but could not by law take possession of a handgun there. Mance could have shipped handguns bought by the couple in Texas to D.C.’s only FFL that handles interstate transfers but that dealer charges $125 per transfer in addition to shipping costs and other fees. With that, the plaintiffs argued the law — which does not apply to rifles or shotguns — stymies the entire interstate handgun market because it prejudices handgun sales and artificially inflates prices as not all dealers are willing to perform interstate transfers, and when they do there is are typically extra costs involved.

U.S. District Court Judge Reed O’Connor in 2015 agreed with the original filing saying, “the federal interstate handgun transfer ban is unconstitutional on its face.”

O’Connor’s ruling was subsequently overturned earlier this year by a three-judge panel of the U.S. 5th Circuit with Circuit Judge Priscilla Owen saying for the majority that: “It is unrealistic to expect that each of them can become and remain knowledgeable about the handgun laws of the 50 states and the District of Columbia, and the local laws within the 50 states.” The court followed up by narrowly voted 8-7 in July against setting that ruling aside and holding a retrial before the full circuit, thus queuing up the current challenge to the Supreme Court.

“This case has been in the system for quite some time,” Gottlieb said. “We’re hopeful that the Supreme Court, with its new makeup, will grant our request for review.”

The plaintiffs in the case are represented by noted Second Amendment attorney Alan Gura.

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