Federal Court Strikes Down Lifetime Gun Ban for Drunk Driving Conviction

A federal judge in the United States has determined that a man’s almost two-decade-old conviction for drunk driving has no bearing on his right to keep and bear arms.

Edward A. Williams was found guilty of DUI in 2005, a misdemeanor punishable by up to five years in prison as a first-degree offense.

Due to his health condition, he will be able to complete his 90-day to 2-year sentence at home.

Under federal law, 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1), he lost his right to possess a firearm as a result of his conviction.

In 2017, he filed a lawsuit to restore his gun rights, citing a violation of his Second Amendment rights by the permanent loss of such rights for a non-violent misdemeanor conviction. He lost.

Williams, with the help of the Firearms Policy Coalition, asked the Supreme Court to reconsider its decision in Bruen. Trump appointee and U.S. District Judge John Milton Younge declared today that a person’s Second Amendment rights cannot be taken away because of a prior conviction for driving under the influence.

In no way does the Court dispute the dangerousness of drunk driving or of combining firearm use and alcohol consumption, and it acknowledges that Plaintiff’s offenses were serious and his conduct during his convictions in 2004 and 2005 dangerous. However, that legislatures have historically labelled certain groups and conduct dangerous for the purposes of disarmament…does not, in of itself, create a historical analogue to the present-day prohibition on firearm possession by those convicted of DUIs.

The Range Court had rejected the argument that status based restrictions on ‘dangerous’ groups identified as such by the legislature would constitute an appropriate analogy to Section 922(g)(1) today. …(noting that legislatures are not empowered to “eviscerate the general right to publicly carry arms for self-defense” with overbroad categorizations). Historical regulations on persons deemed dangerous do not present a sufficient historical analogue without showing that the regulated conduct itself is analogous to Plaintiff’s.

Similarly, the Court finds the Government’s argument that Section 922(g)(1) can be appropriately applied to Plaintiff because of historical regulations on the possession of a firearm by a presently intoxicated person unavailing. The Government points to several regulations permitting the disarmament of drunk or intoxicated persons. … None of these regulations allude to disarmament lasting beyond the individual’s state of intoxication, and none provided for permanent disarmament, as Section 922(g)(1) does.

Certainly, this Court agrees that using a firearm while intoxicated is dangerous, but historical regulations which momentarily disarmed certain individuals for temporary mental incapacity cannot be considered similar to the sanction of permanent disarmament for past DUI convictions. As noted in Range, “government confiscation of the instruments of crime,” including to prevent an imminent crime, “differs from a status-based lifetime ban on firearm possession.”

As stated in Bruen, the Court must consider the “how and why” behind Second Amendment restrictions to determine whether the modern articulation is relevantly similar to its proposed historical analogue. …The language in the regulations offered by the Government suggests an interest in protecting the public from an inevitable danger caused by allowing a presently intoxicated person to use a firearm. … Section 922(g)(1)’s prohibition on firearm possession for those convicted of a DUI cannot, without significant speculation by the Court, be considered as having a substantially similar purpose.

Ultimately, Judge Younge concluded:

…the Government has not carried its burden in proving that the United States’ tradition of firearm regulation supports stripping an individual of their right to possess a firearm because they had previously driven while intoxicated. The application of Section 922(g)(1) to Plaintiff, therefore, constitutes a violation of his Second Amendment rights, and the Court finds that Plaintiff is entitled to the requested relief. 

Read the full ruling here.