First Circuit Dismisses Gun Law Challenge, Upholds Restrictions

By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on June 24, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Former Supreme Court Justice David Souter graced the First Circuit, sitting by designation, for an appeal involving the Second Amendment. It seems like guns are getting all the press these days.

But Souter's opinion wasn't exactly what we would call a treatise of judicial erudition. The darn thing was only eight pages in Courier font.

Load Indicators

The suit found its way to the First Circuit when two firearms advocacy groups and a gun shop

 appealed a lower court dismissal of their case. The plaintiffs alleged that it was unconstitutional for a Massachusetts gun law to require all guns sold in the state to be equipped with a "load indicator." Certain 3rd and 4th generation Glocks did not feature a "device which plainly indicates that a cartridge is in the firing chamber within [a] handgun."


The "plainly indicates" language is at issue. Appellants had argued vagueness and a violation of due process over the passage of the regulation requiring load indicators on guns. The gravamen of their argument was that vagueness of the term "plainly indicates" makes the whole law impossible to enforce and thus violates due process of gun sellers.

But Souter balked at this theory and noted that the Court had previously upheld such language against previous vagueness challenges. Anyone of "ordinary intelligence" would be placed on fair notice of the requirements of the law, he said.

Want of Standing

The court could have actually left the vagueness issue alone, because a dismissal could have stood simply based on the court's finding that the gun advocacy groups lacked standing to sue. The circuit affirmed the lower court's dismissal based on the gun advocacy group's failure to prove that at least one of its members had individual standing to bring a challenge. This fatal flaw meant that the defendants failed the organizational standing test and their complaint didn't need to be heard on the merits.

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