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So what’s stopping them? The big case that the Supreme Court decided today, New York State Rifle & Pistol v Bruen, had nothing to do with federal statutes. As far as can be seen in the Supreme Court’s filings, the Department of Justice didn’t bother with the case enough to enter any amici briefs in the case, either. The issue at hand — requiring otherwise qualified citizens to prove a need to bear arms in public — exists solely at the state level, since the federal government doesn’t issue permits on common firearms.
Regardless, someone at the DoJ thought this non-sequitur was a snappy comeback of sorts:
The Department of Justice today released the following statement from spokeswoman Dena Iverson following the Supreme Court’s decision in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc., et al. v. Bruen, Superintendent of New York State Police, et al.:
“We respectfully disagree with the Court’s conclusion that the Second Amendment forbids New York’s reasonable requirement that individuals seeking to carry a concealed handgun must show that they need to do so for self-defense. The Department of Justice remains committed to saving innocent lives by enforcing and defending federal firearms laws, partnering with state, local and tribal authorities and using all legally available tools to tackle the epidemic of gun violence plaguing our communities.”
Did they just hear about this case this morning? If the DoJ had some input to give, it should have submitted its own amicus brief. One has to assume that they took a pass precisely because this case has literally nothing to do with federal law enforcement of statues currently on the books. In fact, Justice Samuel Alito made the only passing reference to federal statutes in the controlling opinion or concurrences, and then only to note tangentially that this decision doesn’t impact federal law:
The dissent cites statistics on children and adolescents killed by guns, see post, at 1, 4, but what does this have to do with the question whether an adult who is licensed to possess a handgun may be prohibited from carrying it outside the home? Our decision, as noted, does not expand the categories of people who may lawfully possess a gun, and federal law generally forbids the possession of a handgun by a person who is under the age of 18, 18 U. S. C. §§922(x)(2)–(5), and bars the sale of a handgun to anyone under the age of 21, §§922(b)(1), (c)(1).
Even Justice Stephen Breyer doesn’t mention anything about federal law enforcement in his dissent. At all. The Bruen case has literally nothing to do with the DoJ, at least not in its legitimate law-enforcement capacity.
So why push out this non-sequitur statement? Either Merrick Garland wants to be seen as somehow responsive to progressive hair-pulling over this limited and straightforward decision, or the White House wants Garland to put himself and his DoJ out there for support. Either way, it’s sheer political pander, but it does raise one point (via Twitchy):
Thank you Mitch McConnell for blocking Merrick Garland from being on the SCOTUS!!
— Señia (@SeniaVJ) June 23, 2022
This is an embarrassing take for a man whom Democrats posit as aggrieved for not getting confirmed to the Supreme Court, even if it came from one of Garland’s aides.
But if the DoJ is suddenly fired up to start “enforcing and defending federal firearms laws,” they can start by prosecuting people who try to game the background-check system despite being knowingly barred from firearms ownership. The GAO took note in 2018 of a lack of prosecutions for people who submit false applications. In 2017, the ATF referred 12,700 denied purchases (out of a total 112,090) for criminal investigation, but the DoJ only prosecuted twelve of them. The Free Beacon reported on the same issue in 2016, which eventually prompted the GAO review. Has this improved under Garland? I sincerely doubt it, but now would be a good time for the DoJ to produce the data on that question.
Besides that, Garland can also focus on enforcing federal law by finally enforcing 18 USC 1507, which makes demonstrating at the residence of a federal judge a felony. It certainly looks pretty strange to see the DoJ lecturing Supreme Court justices on enforcing the law when Garland and his team have been completely derelict in their duty to stop the intimidation campaigns aimed at these same justices. Strange, and entirely partisan.