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U.S. can’t ban gun sales to people indicted on felony charges, judge says

Handguns for sale at a Houston gun store this month. (Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

A federal law barring people under felony indictment from purchasing guns is unconstitutional, a federal judge in Texas ruled Monday in an early test of a watershed decision by the Supreme Court expanding firearm access.

U.S. District Judge David Counts found that the law’s prohibitions clashed with the high court’s June decision in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, in which a 6-3 conservative majority ruled that law-abiding Americans have a right to carry a handgun outside the home for self-defense.

The 25-page opinion by Counts, a Donald Trump appointee, invoked the language of originalism, the conservative legal theory that judges should interpret the Constitution based on how it was understood when it was adopted.

The judge said he found little historical evidence that the law barring those under felony indictment from obtaining a firearm “aligns with this Nation’s historical tradition.”

“The Second Amendment is not a ‘second class right,’ ” Counts wrote. “After Bruen, the Government must prove that laws regulating conduct covered by the Second Amendment’s plain text align with this Nation’s historical tradition. The Government does not meet that burden.”

Accordingly, he said, the law was unconstitutional.

The Justice Department said it intended to appeal the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit.

The case arose from the indictment of Jose Gomez Quiroz of West Texas, who bought a .22-caliber semiautomatic handgun in 2021 while facing state charges of burglary and jumping bail.

According to the ruling, Quiroz denied at the time of sale and background check that he was under indictment. After waiting a week, he picked up the weapon from a retailer in Alpine, Tex.

Soon after, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System alerted authorities that the purchase was illegal.

Federal prosecutors charged Quiroz in March with making a false statement during a firearm purchase and illegal receipt of a firearm by a person under indictment.

After a jury convicted him on both counts, Quiroz asked the court to reconsider his case in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Bruen.

The government’s attorneys contended that prosecutors were permitted to impose a range of restrictions on indicted defendants, including detention and pretrial release conditions.

But Counts said the Supreme Court’s ruling had “changed the legal landscape” on firearm restrictions. He found that prohibiting Quiroz from receiving the gun while under indictment amounted to a form of prior restraint that violated the Second Amendment.

“There are no illusions about this case’s real-world consequences — certainly valid public policy and safety concerns exist,” the judge wrote. “Yet Bruen framed those concerns solely as a historical analysis. This Court follows that framework.”

A federal public defender representing Quiroz did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

The ruling comes a few weeks after another significant court decision on firearm access, in which a different federal judge in Texas struck down a state law barring adults under 21 from carrying handguns.

U.S. District Judge Mark T. Pittman found last month that the Constitution did not put an age restriction on the right to bear arms, meaning adults 18 to 20 should not be prevented from carrying handguns outside the home.

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