In State v. Ross, the WA Court of Appeals held that the Second Amendment does not bar the state from criminalizing the possession of firearms by felons. Consequently, Washington’s Unlawful Possession of a Firearms in the First Degree statute is constitutional.
Mr. Ross was convicted of Unlawful Possession of a Firearms in the First Degree. His conviction was based on a prior 2010 conviction for second degree burglary. Unfortunately for Ross, his burglary conviction is a defined “serious offense” under WA’s Sentencing Reform Act.
Ross appealed. He argued that under the Second Amendment and New York State Rifle & Pistol Ass’n v. Bruen, Washington’s Firearms Statute RCW 9.41.040(1) was unconstitutional as applied.
COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS
The Court began with a critique of the Second Amendment right to bear arms. The Court recognized, however, that the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited. In District of Columbia v. Heller, the U.S. Supreme Court identified several longstanding prohibitions, including possession by felons:
“Although we do not undertake an exhaustive historical analysis today of the full scope of the Second Amendment, nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.” ~WA Court of Appeals quoting District of Columbia v. Heller.
Next, the Court of Appeals analayzed the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in New York State Rifle & Pistol Ass’n v. Bruen. In Bruen, the Supreme Court considered and struck down New York’s regulatory licensing program requiring applicants to prove that they had “proper cause” to carry a handgun in public.
The WA Court of Appeals emphasized that Bruen was intentionally drafted to be limited in its scope. As a result, Bruen did not overrule Washington’s own time-stested caselaw on the subject matter:
“Indeed, at least 11 times the majority referenced the Second Amendment right of “law-abiding” citizens . . . Of the six justices in the majority, three wrote or joined in concurring opinions clarifying the scope of their decision. We hold that consistent with Heller, McDonald, and Bruen, the Second Amendment does not bar the state from prohibiting the possession of firearms by felons as it has done in RCW 9.41.040(1). RCW 9.41.040(1) is facially constitutional.” ~WA Court of Appeals.
Next the WA Court of Appeals adressed Ross’s argument that because his underlying crime of second degree burglary was nonviolent, RCW 9.41.040(1) was unconstitutional as applied.
“We disagree for two reasons,” said the Court. First, Ross’s attempt to distinguish violent and nonviolent felons is of his own construct. There are no prior court opinions distinguishing violent felons from nonviolent felons. Second, the legislature has defined second degree burglary as a violent crime:
“The prohibition on possession of firearms under RCW 9.41.040(1)(a) applies to any person previously convicted of “any serious offense.” A “serious offense” is defined by the same statute to include “[a]ny crime of violence.” RCW 9.41.010(42)(a). And a “crime of violence” is defined to include burglary in the second degree . . . Ross offers no support for the proposition that the legislature did not intend to define burglary in the second degree as a serious offense and a crime of violence.” ~WA Court of Appeals
With that, the WA Court of Appeals upheld Mr. Ross’s conviction.
Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a Firearm Offense or any other crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.