Lane v. Holder, No. 11-1847

Decided: December 31, 2012

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s dismissal of the plaintiff’s complaint based on a lack of standing.  The plaintiffs are individuals and an organization called the Second Amendment Foundation (SAF) who filed a pre-enforcement challenge to the constitutionality of a federal statute restricting interstate transfers of handguns, 18 U.S.C. § 922(b)(3); a federal regulation implementing that statute; and a Virginia law prohibiting Virginia firearms dealers from selling handguns to non-residents of Virginia.  The district court and the Fourth Circuit concluded that the injuries complained of by the plaintiffs are caused by third parties rather than the application of the laws and, therefore, they lack standing.

The relevant statute allows that a buyer may purchase a handgun from an out-of-state source, but that source must be a federal firearms licensee (FFL), and the buyer must arrange for the handgun to be delivered to an in-state FFL, from whom the buyer must retrieve the gun.  FFLs may also sell or deliver a rifle or shotgun to an out-of-state resident if the transferee meets in person with the FFL in the state where she wishes to buy the firearm and if the transfer complies with the laws of the transferee’s and transferor’s states.  Virginia’s statute also prohibits the direct sale or transfer of a handgun to a non-resident.  Lane and the Wellings are residents of Washington, D.C. who wish to acquire handguns from other states.  SAF is a non-profit organization whose purpose includes promoting the exercise of the right to keep and bear arms.  SAF contends that the challenged laws have caused it to spend resources in response.

The individual plaintiffs assert that the laws result in a restriction on the range of retailers available to consumers of constitutionally-protected articles.  However, the Fourth Circuit held that they did not have standing because the laws do not burden the plaintiffs directly and do not actually prevent them from acquiring the handguns they desire.  Further, even if the plaintiffs could allege an injury in fact, it must be traceable to the defendant’s conduct.  Here, the injury the plaintiffs complain of is caused by decisions and actions of third parties.  Finally, the Fourth Circuit held that SAF did not have standing because the injury complained of results from the organization’s own budgetary choices, not any actions taken by the defendant.

Full Opinion

-Jennifer B. Routh

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