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Biden Judge Upholds Important Federal Gun Safety Law

Close up of the gun on a police officer's belt
News & Analysis

Judge Regina Rodriguez, nominated by President Biden to the District of Colorado, upheld the federal law that prohibits those convicted of a felony from possessing firearms. Specifically, she rejected a motion to dismiss an indictment under the long-standing federal law by a defendant who claimed that recent pro-gun Supreme Court decisions have made the statute unconstitutional. The November, 2022 ruling was in US v Willis.


What’s the case about?

 Federal prosecutors indicted Joshua Willis for violating the long-established federal law that prohibits firearms possession by anyone convicted of a felony under federal or state law. Willis had several prior felony convictions, all of which were non-violent.

Willis filed a motion to dismiss the indictment against him. He argued that on its face, the felon possession law should now be considered unconstitutional under recent Supreme Court decisions, particularly  the far-right majority’s ruling in the Bruen case. He also claimed that even if the law remains constitutional, it cannot be constitutionally applied to him because his prior felony convictions are non-violent and do no establish that he may be dangerous.

What did Judge Rodriguez decide and why is it important?

Judge Rodriguez rejected Willis’ motion and upheld the indictment and the federal gun safety law. She carefully explained that even based on the “historical” standard required by Bruen, clear “historical evidence” demonstrates that “the people who adopted the Second Amendment would have understood it to prohibit possession of firearms by felons.” She also relied on lower court precedent since Bruen that has held that the felon possession law is “consistent with the Nation’s historical tradition of firearms regulation.” Finally, she rejected the claim about non-violent felonies, finding that the government had “satisfied its burden to demonstrate that Founding-era precedent exists for disarming nonviolent individuals” convicted of felonies, who were considered “unvirtuous.”

Even before Bruen, some far-right judges have argued that the felon possession law violates the Second Amendment. Justice Amy Coney Barrett made just this anti-gun safety claim in dissenting in a case when she was on the Seventh Circuit. Anti-gun safety advocates will continue to push this argument, and it is important that lower court judges like Rodriguez carefully analyze and, as appropriate, provide a clear basis for rejecting it. This ruling by Judge Rodriguez, who is the first federal judge of Asian-American descent to serve in Colorado, serves as an example of an important decision by a fair-minded federal judge nominated by President Biden and a reminder of the importance of confirming more such judges to our federal courts.