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SCOTUS Sides With “Three Strikes” Laws in Support of Second Amendment

In a landmark decision, the Supreme Court ruled 6–3 on May 23 in favor of the federal government in a case pivotal to the enforcement of a federal three-strikes gun law aimed at ensuring repeat offenders are appropriately penalized. This ruling reinforces the principle that those who repeatedly break the law, particularly with violent felonies or major drug offenses, should face stringent consequences, thereby protecting law-abiding citizens’ Second Amendment rights.

Justice Samuel Alito, a stalwart defender of constitutional principles, authored the majority opinion in Brown v. United States, consolidated with Jackson v. United States. In a remarkable alignment, the decision saw a blending of ideologies, with one liberal justice joining the majority and a conservative justice siding with the dissenters. This highlights the importance and clarity of the case beyond traditional ideological divides.

Federal law rightly prohibits convicted felons from possessing firearms, and the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA) of 1984 was a significant step to address the disproportionate number of crimes committed by repeat offenders. The ACCA mandates a 15-year minimum sentence for individuals found guilty of illegally possessing a firearm if they have three or more prior convictions for serious drug offenses or violent felonies committed on separate occasions.

The recent Supreme Court ruling ensures that the severity of the law remains intact. It emphasizes that sentences under the ACCA should be based on the laws in effect at the time of the original convictions, maintaining the law’s integrity and original intent to deter habitual criminals. This is a win for those who believe in the Second Amendment and the rule of law, ensuring that dangerous individuals are kept from undermining our right to bear arms.

Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Clarence Thomas, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett stood firm in the majority, reflecting their commitment to upholding strict penalties for career criminals. Conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch joined parts of the dissent, showcasing the robust debate within the court. Justice Elena Kagan and Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, known for their liberal leanings, also contributed to the discourse.

Justice Alito’s opinion clarified that the ACCA’s requirement for a 15-year mandatory minimum sentence remains for those convicted of illegal firearm possession if they have a history of serious drug offenses or violent felonies. The definition of a “serious drug offense” includes state crimes that carry a maximum sentence of at least 10 years and involve a controlled substance as defined by the Controlled Substances Act.

Alito highlighted that state crimes qualify as serious drug offenses if they involved a drug listed on federal schedules at the time of the original conviction, not based on any subsequent changes to those schedules. This prevents loopholes that could otherwise allow habitual offenders to evade justice based on technicalities, thus preserving the stringent measures intended by the ACCA.

The government’s interpretation aligns with the ACCA’s objectives, focusing on the inherent risk and seriousness of certain offenses likely committed by career criminals. This approach ensures that those with a history of significant drug or violent offenses face enhanced penalties, protecting society and upholding the sanctity of the Second Amendment by ensuring firearms do not end up in the hands of dangerous individuals.

Justice Jackson’s dissent argued for applying the drug schedules in effect at the time of the federal firearms offense, a perspective that the majority rightly found unconvincing given the ACCA’s clear intent and context.

This ruling follows the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision in March 2022’s Wooden v. United States, affirming that multiple convictions from a single criminal episode do not count as multiple under the ACCA. The current deliberations on Erlinger v. United States, which question whether a judge or jury should decide on the application of enhanced sentencing, continue to underscore the Court’s dedication to ensuring fair yet firm justice.

In summary, the Supreme Court’s decision is a significant victory for the pro-Second Amendment community, reinforcing the importance of strict penalties for repeat offenders. This decision ensures that the rights of law-abiding citizens to bear arms are protected by keeping firearms out of the hands of those who pose a danger to society.

 

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