Academic journal article Boston College Law Review

Commonwealth V. Runyan: Safe Storage Laws in the Crossfire of Second Amendment Litigation

Academic journal article Boston College Law Review

Commonwealth V. Runyan: Safe Storage Laws in the Crossfire of Second Amendment Litigation

Article excerpt

Introduction

For most of U.S. history, the Supreme Court rarely considered whether the Second Amendment1 substantially curtails the ability of state legislatures to restrict the ownership and use of firearms, as the Second Amendment was not deemed applicable to the states.2 Relying on nineteenth-century Supreme Court precedents, which held that the Second Amendment did not limit the powers of the states, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (the "SJC") decided in the 2010 case Commonwealth v. Runyan that the Second Amendment does not limit the state's power to enforce laws restricting the use and ownership of guns.3 Only three months after Runyan was decided, its primary holding was invalidated by the Supreme Court in McDonald v. City of Chicago, which incorporated the Second Amendment into the Fourteenth Amendment.4 McDonald made the Second Amendment's guarantee of an individual right to bear arms for self-defense fully applicable against the states.5 The Massachusetts safe storage statute at issue in Runyan imposes criminal liability on gun owners who fail to store their firearms in locked containers or bound by trigger locks when not in the control of an authorized user. Perhaps anticipating the incorporation of the Second Amendment into the Fourteenth Amendment, the SJC stated in dicta that the statute complies with the Second Amendment because the law allows an individual to bear arms for self-defense in the home.6

In his dissent from the McDonald decision, Justice Stevens warned that the application of the Second Amendment to the states would "invite[] an avalanche of litigation that could mire the federal courts in fine-grained determinations about which state and local regulations comport with the Heller right-the precise contours of which are far from pellucid-under a standard of review we have not even established." 7 The safe storage statute analyzed in Runyan is currently the most restrictive in the nation.8 This Comment asserts that this statute likely remains constitutional after McDonald, and it is, therefore, unlikely that other states' safe storage laws will be held invalid if challenged during this Second Amendment "avalanche."9

Part I of this Comment describes the facts of Runyan and reasoning behind the court's decision that the Second Amendment is inapplicable against the states.10 Part II analyzes the constitutionality of the Massachusetts safe storage statute in light of McDonald's incorporation of the Second Amendment against the states via the Fourteenth Amendment.11 Finally, Part III discusses the validity of safe storage laws of other states.12

I. Runyan Before Incorporation of the Second Amendment

Runyan was decided by the Massachusetts SJC on March 10, 2010, nearly two years after the U.S. Supreme Court decided District of Columbia v. Heller, which had interpreted the Second Amendment as granting an individual right to bear arms, and only three months before the Supreme Court decided McDonald v. City of Chicago, which would incorporate the Second Amendment against the states.13 This was a particularly confusing period in Second Amendment jurisprudence, as on the one hand it was clear that the Supreme Court was prepared to interpret the right to bear arms far more broadly than it had in the past.14 On the other hand, it was unclear exactly how broad the right would become- even to members of the Supreme Court.15 Taking advantage of this opportunity, gun rights advocates petitioned the SJC in Runyan to treat the Second Amendment as incorporated into the Fourteenth Amendment, so that Massachusetts would be forced to recognize an individual right to bear arms for self-defense.16 As the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights guarantees only a collective right to bear arms for the common defense,17 the court in Runyan was forced to decide if the Second Amendment is applicable to the states and, if so, whether the Massachusetts law governing the safe storage of firearms violates the Amendment's more expansive right to bear arms. …

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