While 2022 may be in the rearview mirror, the year provided America with a close look at the deep divide between state attorneys general, with Democrats and Republicans on opposite sides of Second Amendment issues.
One side took actions supporting the Second Amendment and the other side supported restrictions on the right to keep and bear arms.
Underscoring the the year came to an end with a coalition of 23 attorneys general signing an amicus brief supporting federal efforts to ban the possession of firearms from which serial numbers have been removed, according to a press release from the office of New York AG Letitia James.
But go back several months and recall how 25 attorneys general—all Republicans—signed onto an amicus to the U.S. Supreme Court, supporting a challenge by the Second Amendment Foundation and Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms to the ban on so-called “assault weapons” by the state of Maryland.
The high court ultimately granted certiorari to the Maryland case, known as Bianchi v. Frosh, but then immediately vacated the lower court ruling and remanded the case for further review under the new Second Amendment guidelines set down in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen.
At the time the pro-rights brief was submitted, SAF founder and Executive Vice President Alan Gottlieb issued a statement: “We are truly gratified that the top law enforcement officers in fully half of the states in our country have signed onto this amicus brief. The fact that all of these top legal officers support our challenge to Maryland’s egregious law should carry considerable weight, and underscore the validity of our case.”
The attorneys general signing onto that brief—representing half of the states—were led by Arizona AG Mark Brnovich and West Virginia AG Patrick Morrisey. They are joined by their colleagues in Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and Wyoming.
On the other hand, joining New York’s James were the attorneys general from California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Washington, the District of Columbia, and the Northern Mariana Islands.
The distinction between the groups can be underscored by what was in the amicus to the Supreme Court last spring. In it, the AGs observed, “(C)alling the Affected Firearms ‘assault weapons’ is a misnomer. Law abiding individuals use them in a variety of peaceful civilian activities, and the guns are no more lethal than many other rifles chambered in similar calibers that Maryland’s ban does not reach. There is nothing sinister about citizens bearing the Affected Firearms. Indeed, many of these firearms advantage individuals who find standard guns more challenging to operate. In short, law-abiding citizens bearing the Affected Firearms benefit public safety, counterbalance the threat of illegal gun violence, and help make our streets safer.”
On the other side, James issued a statement justifying her group’s support of a ban on so-called “ghost guns.”
“Serial numbers are common-sense tools to track dangerous weapons and help keep guns out of the hands of bad actors,” James said in the press release. “Declaring this gun safety measure unconstitutional could have dangerous impacts on the vast majority of American states, including here in New York.”
James and her colleagues were alarmed that a federal judge in West Virginia ruled “that a federal ban on possessing a gun with its serial number removed is unconstitutional,” according to Reuters.
“U.S. District Judge Joseph Goodwin in Charleston on Wednesday found that the law was not consistent with the United States’ ‘historical tradition of firearm regulation,’ the new standard laid out by the Supreme Court in its landmark ruling,” Reuters said, referring to the Bruen decision.
As 2023 unfolds, the contrast between Democrat and Republican attorneys general could become even more stark as the lower courts act on the four remanded cases, and new gun rights cases now making their way up the federal court ladder. Of particular importance will be challenges to new gun control laws in New York and New Jersey, and the lawsuits challenging Oregon’s Measure 114 and neighboring Washington’s ban on so-called “large capacity” magazines.
While none of these are state-level cases, attorneys general can weigh in with amicus briefs as explained above. How the high court may, or may not, be influenced remains to be seen.