132 F.3d 272 (6th Cir. 1997), 95-2150, National Rifle Ass'n of America v. Magaw

Docket Nº:95-2150.
Citation:132 F.3d 272
Party Name:NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION OF AMERICA, a New York not-for-profit corporation; Michigan United Conservation Clubs, a Michigan non-profit corporation; Olympic Arms, a Washington corporation; Calico Light Weapons Systems, a California corporation; D.C. Engineering, Inc., a Michigan corporation; Ammo Dump, a Michigan corporation; Glenn Duncan; Charles
Case Date:November 21, 1997
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

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132 F.3d 272 (6th Cir. 1997)


not-for-profit corporation; Michigan United Conservation

Clubs, a Michigan non-profit corporation; Olympic Arms, a

Washington corporation; Calico Light Weapons Systems, a

California corporation; D.C. Engineering, Inc., a Michigan

corporation; Ammo Dump, a Michigan corporation; Glenn

Duncan; Charles Duncan; James E. Flynn; James J. Fotis;

and Craig D. Sandler, Plaintiffs-Appellants,

Navegar, Inc., a Florida corporation; Thomas L. Heritier, Plaintiffs,


John W. MAGAW, Director, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and

Firearms; United States of America, Defendants-Appellees.

No. 95-2150.

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

November 21, 1997

Argued Jan. 27, 1997.

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David T. Hardy (argued and briefed), Tucson, AZ, James H. Warner (briefed), Office Of General Counsel, National Rifle Association, Fairfax, VA, for Plaintiffs-Appellants.

Mark B. Stern (argued and briefed), Andrea Newmark, Michael Hluchaniuk, Asst. U.S. Atty., Sandra M. Schraibman, U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Division, Appellate Staff, Washington, DC, for Defendants-Appellees.

Before: CONTIE, RYAN, and BOGGS, Circuit Judges.

CONTIE, J. , delivered the opinion of the court, in which BOGGS, J., joined. RYAN, J. (pp. 295-298), delivered a separate opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part.


CONTIE, Circuit Judge.

This case presents a pre-enforcement challenge to the constitutionality of Title XI of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, Pub.L. No. 103-322, 108 Stat. 1796 (1994) (the "Crime Control Act" or "the Act"). Two non-profit gun rights associations, three firearms manufacturers, one manufacturer of ammunition feeding devices, two federally licensed firearms dealers, and five individual plaintiffs originally sought declaratory and injunctive relief under the Declaratory Judgment Act, alleging that portions of the statute were unconstitutional. The defendants are John Magaw, the director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms ("BATF"), and the United States of America.

In a first amended complaint filed in June 1995, plaintiffs sought a declaratory judgment

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that certain provisions of the Act exceeded Congress' power under the Commerce Clause, violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and were vague in violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. Plaintiffs also sought an injunction preventing enforcement of the provisions of the statute alleged to be unconstitutional. The United States filed a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) on the ground that the complaint did not set forth a justiciable "case or controversy," as required by Article III of the United States Constitution. Defendants argued that plaintiffs did not have standing to sue because they had not alleged an actual or imminent injury, and that the suit was not ripe for adjudication because there was no pending or impending criminal prosecution of any plaintiff based on the criminal provisions being challenged. The district court granted defendants' motion and dismissed the action on standing and ripeness grounds. National Rifle Ass'n of America v. Magaw, 909 F.Supp. 490 (E.D. Mich. 1995). Eleven plaintiffs-appellants (hereinafter, "plaintiffs") filed a timely notice of appeal. 1

For the following reasons, we affirm in part and reverse in part.

I. The Crime Control Act

The Gun Control Act of 1968, as amended, 18 U.S.C. §§ 921-930 (the "GCA"), imposes a comprehensive regulatory scheme on the manufacture and distribution of firearms. On September 13, 1994, Congress passed the Crime Control Act, which amends the GCA. It prohibits, for a period of ten years, the manufacture, transfer, or possession of semiautomatic assault weapons and the transfer or possession of large capacity ammunition feeding devices. 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(v)(1), 922(w)(1). The term "semiautomatic assault weapon" is defined as any of the firearms known by nine categories of specified brand names or model numbers. 2 18 U.S.C. § 921(a)(30)(A). Another section of the Act defines the prohibited firearms by generic features, including semiautomatic rifles that have "an ability to accept a detachable magazine" and have at least two of five other specified characteristics. 18 U.S.C. § 921(a)(30)(B). The Act exempts certain weapons from its prohibitions, as listed in § 922, Appendix A, and described in § 922(v)(3). In section 922(w)(1) of the Act, the transfer or possession of any "large capacity ammunition feeding device" is outlawed for a period of ten years. Section 921(a)(31)(A) defines such a device to include ammunition magazines manufactured after the date of the enactment of the Act, which can hold more than ten rounds of ammunition. 3

The statute contains various exceptions to the general prohibitions, including a "grandfather" provision that permits the possession or transfer of semiautomatic assault weapons and large capacity ammunition feeding devices that were lawfully possessed on the date of enactment. 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(v)(2), 922(w)(2). Persons convicted of knowingly

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violating these provisions of the Act are subject to fines and prison sentences of up to five years. 18 U.S.C. § 924(a)(1).

Prior to passage of the Act, the BATF, a division of the Treasury Department, sent a letter on September 6, 1994, to all federally licensed firearms manufacturers, advising them of the statute's prohibitions and exemptions. The Act became effective on September 13, 1994. Following passage of the Act, the BATF sent a subsequent letter on September 26, 1994, advising manufacturers that certain component parts lawfully possessed on or before September 13, 1994 were not "grandfathered" under the law and could not be assembled into a complete semiautomatic assault weapon for sale in ordinary commercial channels. The letter informed the manufacturers that BATF inspectors would conduct a final inventory of their semiautomatic assault weapons to determine the number lawfully possessed on the date of enactment of the Act.

The eleven plaintiffs-appellants who bring this appeal may be divided into several categories. The federally licensed corporations--D.C. Engineering, Inc., Olympic Arms, Inc., and Calico Light Weapons Systems, Inc.--manufacture firearms or ammunition feeding devices. The firearms dealers, Ammo Dump and Glenn Duncan, hold a federal firearms license and conduct a firearms business in the sale and repair of weapons. We will designate the manufacturers and firearm dealers as the Group I plaintiffs. A second group consists of the individual plaintiffs--Charles Duncan, James E. Flynn, James J. Fotis, and Craig D. Sandler, who wish to possess prohibited products (Group II plaintiffs). We will designate as the third group the nonprofit gun rights associations, the National Rifle Association ("NRA") and Michigan United Conservation Clubs ("MUCC"), whose members wish to own, possess, and transfer firearms prohibited by the statute (Group III plaintiffs). Because we believe that each group of plaintiffs presents different concerns in regard to the doctrines of standing and ripeness, we will treat each group separately. 4

Plaintiffs' complaint specifically alleged that the definitions of "semiautomatic assault weapon" contained in §§ 921(a)(30)(A), (B) of the Act were unconstitutionally vague and denied them due process of law (Counts I, II, and VI); that Congress exceeded the scope of its constitutional power under the Commerce Clause by enacting the prohibitions in §§ 922(v)(1), 922(w)(1) of the Act (Count III); that the ban on certain semiautomatic assault weapons, as designated in § 921(a)(30), and the protection of others, as designated in § 922(v)(3) and § 922, Appendix A, was arbitrary and capricious, violating the Equal Protection Clause (Count IV), and was not rationally related to any legitimate federal interest (Count VII); and that BATF's interpretation of the terms "frame" and "receiver" in § 921(a)(3)(B) for purposes of the grandfather provision at § 922(v)(2) was arbitrary and capricious (Count V). 5 The district court found that plaintiffs' complaint did not present a justiciable "case or controversy" as required by Article III of the Constitution.

II. Justiciability Requirements

We review issues of justiciability pursuant to Article III de novo. Kelley v. Selin,

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42 F.3d 1501, 1507 (6th Cir.), cert. denied, 515 U.S. 1159, 115 S.Ct. 2611, 132 L.Ed.2d 855 (1995).

Article III of the Constitution confines the federal courts to adjudicating actual "cases" and "controversies." U.S. Const. art. III, § 2. The threshold question in every federal case is whether the court has the judicial power to entertain the suit. Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 498, 95 S.Ct. 2197, 2204-05, 45 L.Ed.2d 343 (1975). Federal judicial power is limited to those disputes "which confine federal courts to a role consistent with a system of separated powers and which are traditionally thought to be capable of resolution through the judicial process." Flast v. Cohen, 392 U.S. 83, 97, 88 S.Ct. 1942, 1951, 20 L.Ed.2d 947 (1968). As the Supreme Court explained in Valley Forge Christian College v. Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Inc., 454 U.S. 464, 471-76, 102 S.Ct. 752, 757-61, 70 L.Ed.2d 700 (1982), the "case or controversy" requirement defines, with respect to the Judicial Branch, the idea of separation of powers on which the Federal Government is founded. In an attempt to give meaning to Article III's...

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