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No Relief for Dealer Who Kept 'Legal Shotgun' for Illegal Purpose

By Robyn Hagan Cain | Last updated on

We've read a lot of appeals from paroled criminals who want to keep their guns. They're starting to blur together. Every time we spot another felon-in-possession Second Amendment defense in a published opinion, it raises the same questions: Haven't the courts already resolved this issue? Why is this a published opinion?

This week, we started to dismiss a Second Circuit Second Amendment defense in a similar fashion. Ron Bryant was sentenced to 81 months in prison for possession with intent to distribute cocaine base and unlawful possession of a firearm in a drug trafficking crime. Bryant moved to vacate the firearm conviction, arguing that he had a right to possess a "legal shotgun" under Heller.

And then we came to the Second Circuit's ruling, which made us chuckle: Sure, people have a right to possess a "legal shotgun." They just don't have a right to possess a legal shotgun for the illegal purpose of drug trafficking.

Police seized bags of cocaine and the shotgun in question and while executing a search warrant on Bryant's home. Bryant, pursuant to a proffer agreement, admitted that he was selling narcotics from his residence and using the shotgun recovered by the police for protection in his narcotics-peddling activities.

Before he was sentenced, the Supreme Court issued its Heller ruling; Bryant decided that it could be his get out of jail free card. He argued that the "conclusion to be drawn from" Heller was "that any restrictions on gun possession that 'burden the right of self-defense' by imposing serious criminal sanctions for firearms possession in the home are constitutionally suspect." Since the courts cannot constitutionally assume that all people charged with violating 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1) "pose a risk of future violence," Bryant asserted that §924(c) was unconstitutional as applied because his conviction burdened his constitutional right to keep and bear arms in defense of his own home.

The Second Circuit, however, noted that while Bryant may have purchased and possessed the shotgun for the "core lawful purpose" of self-defense, his Second Amendment right to continue in that possession was not absolute. Once Bryant engaged in "an illegal home business," he was no longer a law-abiding citizen using the firearm for a lawful purpose and his conviction for possession of a firearm didn't burden his right to bear arms.

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