A three-judge panel unanimously on Tuesday stood behind federal gun laws that make it illegal for someone who is an illegal alien to possess a firearm.
The panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit upheld the conviction of Mexican national Victor Manuel Torres, 33, for possessing a firearm while “being an alien . . . illegally or unlawfully in the United States.” Long codified under federal law, those in the country illegally are prohibited firearms possessors, which Torres challenged on constitutional grounds. The judges, a mix of appointments from both Democrat and Republican administrations, were not moved by his argument.
“In sum, the government’s interests in controlling crime and ensuring public safety are promoted by keeping firearms out of the hands of unlawful aliens—who are subject to removal, are difficult to monitor due to an inherent incentive to falsify information and evade law enforcement, and have already shown they are unable or unwilling to conform their conduct to the laws of this country,” said Judge N.Randy Smith, for the majority. Smith, an appointment by President George W. Bush, was joined in the ruling by Judges Sidney R. Thomas and Sharon L. Gleason, who were appointed by Presidents Clinton and Obama, respectively.
Torres, who was born in Mexico, crossed the border illegally as a child with his parents and attended school in the San Jose area. After expulsion from high school as a teenager due to gang activity, his parents sent him back to Mexico to live. Illegally crossing the border again as an adult in 2005, he worked with his father in landscaping and married a U.S. citizen in San Jose but did not become a citizen. Questioned by police in a parking lot while attempting to sell a stolen bicycle in 2014, officers found a backpack in his truck that contained a loaded .22-caliber handgun, bolt cutters, and what appeared to be two homemade silencers.
Admitting to being an active member of the infamous Sur Santos Pride street gang after his arrest, Torres told authorities the backpack and its contents belonged to a fellow gang member that he refused to identify. Accordingly, he was found guilty and sentenced to 27 months in federal prison, a conviction he appealed arguing that Second Amendment protections apply to unlawful aliens.
However, as noted by Smith in this week’s 22-page ruling, even “assuming that unlawful aliens do hold some degree of Second Amendment rights, those rights are not unlimited.”