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U.S. v. CARTER, NO. 12-5045

Decided: April 30, 2014

The Fourth Circuit held that Carter’s conviction under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(3), for possession of firearms while being an unlawful user of, and addicted to, marijuana, did not violate his Second Amendment right to bear arms.

Police came to Carter’s apartment after receiving complaints of drug use on the premises.  Carter allowed the police to enter his apartment where they found evidence of marijuana use.  He would later admit to being a long-term user of the drug.  Carter also told the police that there were two firearms in his closet that he claimed to have purchased for protection.  The police seized Carter’s firearms, and he was subsequently convicted under § 922(g)(3).  The Court remanded the case to give the Government an opportunity to present “empirical evidence or data” to show that there was “a reasonable fit” between § 922(g)(3), and a substantial government interest, thereby justifying the infringement on Carter’s Second Amendment right to bear arms.  Carter appealed the District Court’s ruling in favor of the Government.

The Court reasoned that § 922(g)(3) did not violate Carter’s constitutional rights because the Government satisfied an intermediate scrutiny inquiry.  The Government showed “‘a reasonable fit’ between § 922(g)(3), and ‘a substantial [or important] government objective.’”  First, the Government satisfied the “substantial government interest” prong by showing that it had a substantial interest in protecting the community from gun violence.  Then, the Government satisfied the “reasonable fit” prong because it presented empirical evidence that established a reasonable fit between the law and the Government’s substantial interest in protecting the community from gun violence.  The Court disagreed with Carter’s argument that the Government’s empirical evidence was too general – suggesting a connection between violence and drug use in general, as opposed to marijuana specifically.  The Court reasoned that the Government’s empirical evidence “amply demonstrate[d] a connection between marijuana use specifically and violence.”  According to the Court, the Government’s empirical evidence satisfied the reasonable fit prong even though it did not show that marijuana use “caused” increased gun violence because the Government did show a “correlation” between marijuana use and gun violence.  Finally, although empirical evidence was necessary to satisfy the “reasonable fit” prong, the District Court was not precluded from also using “common sense” to support its judgment.

Full Opinion

James Bull Sterling