With its December 11 ruling striking down a Chicago law forbidding individuals from carrying guns in public, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit delivered the Second Amendment Foundation (SAF) a major victoryand handed the group's lawyer, Virginia litigator Alan Gura, yet another big win.
For Gura, a one-time Sidley Austin associate who is now the co-owner of Gura and Possessky, the Second Circuit ruling followed earlier triumphs in a pair of landmark U.S. Supreme Court cases: District of Columbia v. Heller in 2008 and McDonald v. Chicago in 2010. By persuading the Supreme Court to uphold the rights of individuals to own firearms in Heller and McDonaldcases that found the Court weighing the scope of the Second Amendment for the first time in nearly 70 yearsGura burnished his reputation as the gun rights movement's go-to advocate.
"He's clearly proven to be the top Second Amendment lawyer by virtue of the fact that he argued and won both Heller and McDonald," says Cato Institute chairman Robert Levy, whose organization financed the Heller litigation and hired Gura to make its case.
Now, in the wake of the second-deadliest school shooting in U.S. history, Gura's specialized skill is almost certain to face fresh tests.
Led by President Barack Obama, officials across the political spectrum reacted to the killing of 26 people20 of them small childrenat Sandy Hook Elementary School by pushing gun control to the top of the country's legislative agenda. New York moved swiftly to enact bipartisan gun legislation viewed widely as the most restrictive in the nation, and Governor Andrew Cuomo signed it into law on January 15. The next day, the president said he was issuing 23 weapons-related executive orderswhich, among things, would make it easier for the federal government to subject potential gun buyers to background checksand called on Congress to pass an assault-weapons ban.
With the political climate shifting, Gurawho, according to the SAF website, is already acting as lead or cocounsel on 12 cases for the foundationappears ready for the legal battles to come.
Appearing at a January 9 Cato Institute symposium held to discuss former New York Times reporter Craig Whitney's Living with Guns, A Liberal's Case for the Second Amendment, Gura, who declined The Am Law Daily's interview requestmade the patriotic case for protecting gun owners' rights.
"The idea of civilian gun ownership is a positive statement of who we are, not that we're paranoid or fearful, but that we trust ourselves with freedom and to be responsible," he said while expressing his belief that the judiciary is the ultimate check on the kind of legislative excess he sees in efforts to, among other things, restrict the right to carry firearms in public and ownership of certain types of guns. "It is absolutely the job of judges to strike down every stupid unconstitutional thing that the government can come up with to violate people's rights."
Outside the seemingly friendly confines of the Supreme Court, Gura has had a mixed record in getting judges to do that job. In addition to winning at the Seventh Circuit in December, he convinced the same court to issue an injunction in July 2011 prohibiting Chicago from enforcing a ban on shooting ranges within the city limits. (The case was remanded to the U.S. district court, where it is pending while the city attempts to redraft the statute at issue.)
On the flip side, Gura failed to win a reversal of a New York state law requiring applicants to show cause as to why they needed to carry concealed guns in public, with a federal district court judge in White Plains ruling in Westchester County's favor on summary judgment in September 2011.
Gura, who filed a certiorari petition with the Supreme Court after a unanimous three-judge Second Circuit panel affirmed the lower court's decision in November, took issue with that ruling during a January 29 debate at Cornell Law School. "The court determined that the core purpose of the Second Amendment was not so much self-defense but rather self-defense in the home," he said. "There's no basis for that in Heller, but that's what the court held."