John Adams Court House
In a move that at first seemed rash, untimely and somewhat twisted/tainted the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court vacated a lower court decision in the case of Richard Runyan who was charged in the Lowell Division of the District Court Department with storing or keeping a firearm that was not "secured in a locked container or equipped with a tamper-resistant mechanical lock or other safety device, properly engaged so as to render such weapon inoperable by any person other than the owner of other lawfully authorized user," in violation of G.L. c. 140, § 131L (a).
Section 131L. (a) It shall be unlawful to store or keep any firearm, rifle or shotgun including, but not limited to, large capacity weapons, or machine gun in any place unless such weapon is secured in a locked container or equipped with a tamper-resistant mechanical lock or other safety device, properly engaged so as to render such weapon inoperable by any person other than the owner or other lawfully authorized user. For purposes of this section, such weapon shall not be deemed stored or kept if carried by or under the control of the owner or other lawfully authorized user.
I wrote extensively about this case earlier in Part I and Part II as I reviewed another case involving of Massachusetts State Police Lt. Richard Bolduc. In both of these cases the lower courts ruled that neither defendant violated c. 140, § 131L (a) by using the United States Supreme Court decision in District of Columbia V. Heller which clearly and unambiguously states:
3. The handgun ban and the trigger-lock requirement (as applied to self-defense) violate the Second Amendment. The District’s total ban on handgun possession in the home amounts to a prohibition on an entire class of “arms” that Americans overwhelmingly choose for the lawful purpose of self-defense. Under any of the standards of scrutiny the Court has applied to enumerated constitutional rights, this prohibition—in the place where the importance of the lawful defense of self, family, and property is most acute—would fail constitutional muster. Similarly, the requirement that any lawful firearm in the home be disassembled or bound by a trigger lock makes it impossible for citizens to use arms for the core lawful purpose of self-defense and is hence unconstitutional.
This unanimous decision by the court seemed rash and untimely because of the pending McDonald V. City of Chicago case because they have decided to rush judgment at their own legal peril or did they?
The only Justice with a slight notion of common sense in this matter was displayed by Chief Justice Margaret Marshall who suggested that the SJC wait to hand down this ruling until after reviewing the McDonald opinion. As Shakespeare’s Falstaff said in Henry The Fourth “Discretion is the better part of valor”, but not in this case as it may now provide for the embarrassment of the SJC by the US Supreme Court when McDonald is handed down. Or will it?
Regardless of the SJC’s incorrect interpretation of the D.C. V. Heller case with respect to what it said concerning Cruikshank, and the fact raised that the McDonald case opinion has not been handed down, the real cruix of this decision is the differences raise between the D.C. storage law struck down and that of the Massachusetts storage law.
The SJC stated in its ruling:
The judge's second erroneous premise was that the provisions of G.L. c. 140, § 131L (a ), are indistinguishable from those held unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in Heller. General Laws, c. 140, § 131L (a ), provides:
"It shall be unlawful to store or keep any firearm, rifle or shotgun ... unless such weapon is secured in a locked container or equipped with a tamper-resistant mechanical lock or other safety device, properly engaged so as to render such weapon inoperable by any person other than the owner or other lawfully authorized user. For purposes of this section, such weapon shall not be deemed stored or kept if carried by or under the control of the owner or other lawfully authorized user."
Under this provision, an individual with a valid firearms identification card issued under G.L. c. 140, § 129C, is not obliged to secure or render inoperable a firearm while the individual carries it or while it remains otherwise under the individual's control. A gun owner may therefore carry or keep a loaded firearm under his or her control in his or her home without securing it with a trigger lock or comparable safety device. The gun owner's obligation to secure the firearm in accordance with the statute arises only when the firearm is stored or otherwise outside the owner's immediate control. [FN6]
We conclude that the legal obligation safely to secure firearms in G.L. c. 140, § 131L (a ), is not unconstitutional, that the motion to dismiss the count charging its violation was allowed in error, and that the defendant may face prosecution on this count. [FN9]
Clearly this decision is a blocking attempt by the court to argue against D.C. V. Heller and a pre-emptive strike against the most likely outcome of McDonald. Whether or not the Massachusetts storage law could be ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court would require a case to be brought forward and this they know is not only very difficult, but now thanks to their ruling, very unlikely.
The reasoning of this decision is also twisted and tainted because of two other factors that might be missed by the average citizen.
After the ruling, Daniel Vice, senior attorney for the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, called the Massachusetts high court ruling "crucial."
“Crucial” only to the Brady Campaign in providing a temporary reprieve to their long string of losses in their continuing attempt to deprive the citizenry of their natural, God given rights.
"It says that the right to have a gun in your home comes with a responsibility, such as keeping guns away from children," Vice said.
Perhaps Daniel Vice should review the case of Massachusetts State Police Lt. Richard Bolduc where Bolduc’s 12-year-old son took an (fortunately) unloaded weapon — a Sig Sauer P226 .40-caliber handgun — from an unlocked bureau, brought it outside in his Sandwich neighborhood, pointed the gun at a 5-year-old girl and pulled the trigger. On February 21, 2009 the case was dismissed against the officer, using the D.C. V. Heller as his defense, the same defense as Richard Runyan, and yet he was returned to full active duty.
In order for the law to be respected, it must apply to every citizen no matter their role or stature in an ordered society. Clearly this is not the case here and leaves much doubt about our legal system.
Further Justices wrote in [FN8 ]foot note 8:
FN8. We also note that, even if a firearm were secured in the manner required by G.L. c. 140, § 131L (a ), a gun owner threatened in his or her home today would be able to fire the weapon in self-defense at least as quickly as would a gun owner in 1791, when the Second Amendment was adopted. At that time, laws were in effect requiring that gunpowder be stored separately from firearms, which meant that a law-abiding homeowner acting in self-defense would need time to load and fire a musket or flintlock pistol. See Heller, supra at 2849-2850 (Breyer, J., dissenting). A skilled soldier of that time using specially prepared cartridges required a minimum of fifteen to twenty seconds to load and fire a musket; a less skilled soldier could fire no more quickly than once per minute. Hicks, United States Military Shoulder Arms, 1795-1935, 1 Am. Military Hist. Found. 23, 30-31 (1937). A gun owner today could remove a firearm from a locked container or release a trigger lock more quickly than that.
Here and very oddly the SJC is attempting to use a dissenting opinion of Justice Breyer in the D.C. V. Heller case to not only argue against the Runyan case, but also against Heller and any future attempt to strike down the existing Massachusetts storage law by claiming that technical advancements of the day shouldn’t grant or streamline the exercise of a civil right. That restricting a pre-existing, God given, right is ok as long as you can still function at a pace equivalent to the time in which that right was recognized by our founding fathers. This is really astounding, shocking, and should really outrage the people of Massachusetts.
Following this same twisted logic by the SJC, Radio, TV, and certainly this column then would not be protected by the First Amendment – yet we know this is not only false it is ridiculous for a court of such high stature to even suggest it.
One thing the SJC made very clear, the battle lines over the Second Amendment have been clearly drawn. The fight will continue and surely would have John Adams wondering what he could have done differently to prevent this.