Supreme Court of the United States
Issue: Whether a felony conviction, which makes it unlawful for the defendant to possess a firearm, prevents a court from ordering that the government (1) transfer non-contraband firearms to an unrelated third party to whom the defendant has sold all his property interests; or (2) sell the firearms for the benefit of the defendant.
Filed December 15, 2014
Tony Henderson v. United States
In 2006, Tony Henderson was charged with federal marijuana distribution in a Federal Court in Florida. Shortly after his arrest by the FBI and release on bond, Mr. Henderson also surrendered nineteen of his own personal firearms to the FBI. He pled guilty to the marijuana charge the following year and served time in prison.
Following his conviction, Mr. Henderson twice requested the FBI allow him to transfer his firearms to another party and both times the FBI refused, citing that Mr. Henderson was a convicted federal felon and was thus unable to legally possess firearms under federal law. Mr. Henderson petitioned the federal court to compel the FBI to return the firearms, eventually taking his case to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. The Appeals Court upheld the FBI’s refusal to return the guns, reasoning, as the FBI did, that Mr. Henderson was a federally-prohibited person. Mr. Henderson then appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States which agreed to hear his case.
The single question in this case is whether the statute barring convicted felons and other federally-prohibited persons from possessing firearms under 18 U.S.C. §922(g) has the effect of also extinguishing all of a prohibited person’s property rights to firearms. Federal appeals courts and state supreme courts have reached differing results on the same question.
Even in spite of Mr. Henderson’s previous wrongdoing, Comm2A along with three other gun rights organizations has filed an amicus brief on his behalf, submitted by Attorney David Jensen, recognizing the enormous impact this case could have on gun owners in jurisdictions like Massachusetts, where a license is needed merely to own firearms, as well as the potential impact on owners of NFA-registered items nationwide.
Throughout our legal history, the concept of property ownership is considered to encompass a number of different rights—for instance, the right to sell or transfer, the right to mortgage, as well as the right to physically possess and control. In this case, the Federal government is attempting to confound the right to possess with ownership as a whole, claiming that they essentially are one in the same. Should this same logic be applied in jurisdictions where a license is needed merely to possess a firearm (Massachusetts, Illinois, New York, and Washington, D.C.) or in circumstances involving NFA items where a party can still own but can no longer possess the said item, mere revocation of such a license would then have the effect of extinguishing all of a gun owner’s property rights in his firearms or NFA items. Considering both the legitimate and erroneous ways the authorities might summarily revoke a gun owner’s license in these states—on the basis of fraudulent restraining orders or retaliatory suitability revocations, for example—a ruling in favor of the government in this case could lead to freighting scenarios where authorities could seize a person’s property while depriving them of the ability to even recoup the value of those guns, even in cases where the gun owner did nothing wrong.
The brief, submitted by Attorney David Jensen, was filed on behalf of Commonwealth Second Amendment, Inc. in conjunction with New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Illinois State Rifle Association, and Illinois Carry.
May 18, 2015 - In a unanimous ruling, the US Supreme Court overturned the lower court decision ruling that Henderson's status as a federally prohibited person didn't not strip him of his property rights in his firearms.
Read the amicus brief submitted by Comm2A.
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