Thursday, January 12, 2006

Meet Machine Gun Sammy

The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence has called out Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito for misleading the Senate Judiciary Committee about the “content and history” of federal gun laws.

Alito, known by the Gun Guys as “Machine Gun Sammy,” wrote a decision that claimed that Congress didn’t actually have the power to regulate machine guns. Of course, any judge who knows his stuff will tell you flat out that’s not true.

In his opinion, Judge Alito wrote that the federal machine gun ban amounted to an unconstitutional exercise of Congressional power under the Commerce Clause.

- Judge Alito wrongly suggested to the Committee that the machine gun ban is indistinguishable from the statute struck down in U.S. v. Lopez, 514 U.S. 549 (1995). The Gun-Free School Zones Act at issue in Lopez banned possession of guns in a particular place; i.e. at or near a school. The machine gun ban, by contrast, prohibits possession of fully automatic weapons in any location.

- Moreover, Judge Alito went far beyond the limited holding in Lopez, and indeed his view in Rybar has been repudiated by the Supreme Court. In June 2005, the Supreme Court issued its latest ruling on Congressional power under the Commerce Clause in Gonzales v. Raich, 125 S.Ct. 2195 (2005), rejecting the theory advanced in Judge Alito’s Rybar dissent. Six Justices, including Justice Scalia, sustained the application of federal drug laws to intrastate medical marijuana use. Based on this ruling, the Supreme Court vacated a 2-1 ruling in the Ninth Circuit case of U.S. v. Stewart, 348 F.3d 1132 (9th Cir. 2003), that had declared the machine gun ban to be unconstitutional. In his exchange with Judge Alito, Senator Kyl cited the Stewart decision, without noting that it had been vacated by the Supreme Court. Judge Alito’s conclusion that the machine gun ban violates the Commerce Clause has now been rejected by every circuit to consider the issue: the Second, Third, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, Ninth, Tenth and Eleventh Circuits.

Whew. That’s a lot of legal jargon, but the point is that Alito argued, for whatever reason, that Congress did not have the right to restrict weapon possession and sales. And, according to all those judges in all those courts, that’s not true. And yet neither he nor the Committee made that clear during the nomination proceedings.

The fact remains: “Machine Gun Sammy” endorsed an interpretation of the law that wasn’t just wrong, it was dangerous to the American people. Machine guns are pointless and deadly things, and we need a judge who understands that bans on them are both legal and necessary. That judge, “Machine Gun Sammy” ain’t. -- The Gun Guys.


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