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Gun rights rejected for undocumented immigrants

Mass Shootings Gun Access
Lynne Sladky/AP
FILE - In this Jan. 9, 2016, file photo, a customer looks at a SIG Sauer hand gun at a gun show held by Florida Gun Shows in Miami. The vast majority of mass shooters have acquired their firearms legally with nothing in their background that would have prohibited them from possessing a gun. But there have been examples of lapses in the background check system that allowed guns to end up in the wrong hands. Very few states also have a mechanism to seize firearms from someone who is not legally allowed to possess one. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File)

In a case stemming from a man brandishing a gun in Tampa, an appeals court Monday rejected a challenge to a federal law that bars undocumented immigrants from having firearms.

A three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the law does not violate the Second Amendment.

“None of this, of course, is to suggest that illegal aliens in the United States have no constitutional rights whatsoever,” said the 17-page opinion, written by Judge Kevin Newsom and joined by Judges Elizabeth Branch and Andrew Brasher. “But consistent with the Second Amendment’s text and history, they do not enjoy the right to keep and bear arms. Accordingly, we hold that (federal law) passes constitutional muster. The law’s ban on firearm possession by illegal aliens does not ‘infringe’ the right that the Second Amendment embodies.”

The legal dispute began in 2019, when Ignacio Jimenez-Shilon, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico who had lived in the United States for more than 20 years, was arrested while drunkenly brandishing a gun outside a taco stand, according to the ruling. A grand jury charged him with violating the law banning possession of firearms by undocumented immigrants.

The ruling said Jimenez did not dispute his guilt but sought dismissal of the indictment “on the ground that a conviction would impermissibly punish him for engaging in conduct protected by the Second Amendment,” Monday’s ruling said.

Jimenez was found guilty of the charge in federal district court, leading to the case going to the Atlanta-based appeals court.

In the appeal, Jimenez argued, in part, that he “lived in the United States for decades and was thus among ‘the people’ whom the Second Amendment protects.”

But the court traced centuries of legal history and addressed a 2008 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a case known as District of Columbia v. Heller.

The Heller ruling is broadly considered a major victory for gun-rights supporters, but it also said certain prohibitions on guns do not violate the Second Amendment and established that the constitutional right to keep and bear arms is “not unlimited.” As examples, the Heller ruling pointed to prohibitions on such things as felons and mentally ill people possessing guns.

“Happily, we needn’t definitively decide whether Jimenez is among ‘the people’ as a general matter,” the ruling said “We can assume for the sake of our decision that he is and resolve this case more narrowly. The reason: We are concerned here specifically with the scope and application of the Second Amendment, which … codified a ‘pre-existing right.’ And as both the Supreme Court and this court have observed, even individuals who are indisputably part of ‘the people,’ such as dangerous felons and those suffering from mental illness, might not partake of that pre-existing right and, therefore, may be prohibited from possessing firearms without offending the Second Amendment. Just so here. Even if Jimenez can lay a legitimate claim to being among ‘the people’ as a general matter, he — as an illegal alien — may be forbidden from bearing arms while living within our borders.”