U.S. High Court lets stand Philly ruling on gun ownership by people convicted of minor crimes

The U.S. Supreme Court has let stand last year’s decision by a federal appeals court in Philadelphia allowing people convicted of relatively minor state crimes to apply to legally own guns.

The Pennsylvania case was one of two Second Amendment appeals that the nation’s high court rejected on the last day of its current session.

The case involved last September’s decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in which the full circuit ruled 8-7 in the combined appeals of Daniel Binderup, of Manheim, Lancaster County, and Julio Suarez of Gettysburg.

The Third Circuit majority ruled that the federal law banning convicted criminals from owning firearms involves “serious crimes” rather than state misdemeanors and other minor crimes that happen to carry statutory sentences of at least two years.

Both Binderup and Suarez were convicted of misdemeanor crimes and neither spent a day in jail. Binderup has not been arrested since his original 1996 case; Suarez has not been arrested since 1998. Both men said they wanted to own and keep a gun in their home to protect themselves and their families.

The Third Circuit ruling set up a legal framework for people to seek permission to legally own a gun at home by proving they were not convicted of a serious crime. A prosecutor then could try to rebut that claim by showing that the person would pose a risk to the public or likely would commit future crimes.

The justices also declined to hear the Justice Department’s appeal of a case out of California’s Ninth Circuit, Peruta et al. v. California, which involved a challenge to the authority of the San Diego County Sheriff’s Office to sharply restrict the ability of people to carry concealed firearms in public.

The Supreme Court’s decision in the Third Circuit case did not explain why the majority would not hear the appeal; Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor voted to accept the Justice Department’s appeal of the Third Circuit’s decision.

The Supreme Court majority also did not explain why it rejected the Ninth Circuit case. Justice Clarence Thomas, joined by Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, wrote an eight-page dissent arguing that the court should have accepted the appeal.

In 2008, the Supreme Court ruled that the Second Amendment gave individuals the right to keep guns at home for self-defense. Since then, the high court has rebuffed efforts to clarify when state laws may restrict the right to carry concealed or unconcealed guns in public.

Alan M. Gottlieb, president of the Second Amendment Foundation, which backed the Binderup-Suarez appeal, said in a statement Monday that “we were confident that our case would once again prevail before the Supreme Court.”

Still, Gottlieb hailed the fact that the Third Circuit’s holding remains the law in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Shira Goodman, executive director of CeaseFirePA, which campaigns against gun violence, said that the Third Circuit’s decision probably would not affect a lot of cases.