Clarence Thomas on Gun Control

Supreme Court Justice (nominated by Pres. Bush Sr. 1991)


Interpreting Commerce Clause to ban guns is unconstitutional

In the Lopez case, the Supreme Court held that Congress lacks authority under the Commerce Clause to criminalize the possession of a firearm in a school zone. The majority opinion, authored by Chief Justice William Rehnquist, concluded in essence that, because firearm possession in a school zone is non-economic activity that has, at best, an attenuated connection to interstate commerce, it is not subject to Congress's Commerce Clause authority.

Justice Thomas agreed that the law was unconstitutional, but authored a separate opinion explaining that the Supreme Court's post-New Deal era interpretation of the Commerce Clause gives Congress nearly limitless power.

Source: The Freedom Agenda, by Sen. Mike Lee, p.185-186 , Jul 18, 2011

Felons may possess guns unless state explicitly prohibits it

The only limitation that Massachusetts law imposed on petitioner’s possession of firearms was that he could not carry handguns outside his home or business. In my view, state law did not “expressly provide that petitioner may not possess firearms,” and thus petitioner cannot be sentenced as an armed career criminal.

Petitioner’s prior convictions qualify as violent felonies only if the “restoration of his civil rights” by operation of Massachusetts law “expressly provided that petitioner may not possess firearms.“ In 1994, [that was not so]. To the contrary: Petitioner was permitted to possess shotguns, rifles, and handguns. Indeed, Massachusetts provided petitioner with a firearm identification card that enabled him to possess such firearms.

The Court rejects this on the basis of ”a likely, and rational, congressional policy“ of prohibiting firearms possession by all ex-felons whose ability to possess certain firearms is in any way restricted by state law. I respectfully dissent.

Source: 1998 SCOTUS case Caron v. US, 97-6270, dissenting opinion , Jun 22, 1998

Right to gun ownership is individual, not collective.

Justice Thomas joined the Court's decision on District of Columbia v. Heller on Jun 26, 2008:

Overturning DC's handgun ban, the court ruled that the Second Amendment protects the individual right to own a gun for private use--not only in connection with service in a militia. The 5-to-4 decision, District of Columbia v. Heller, left unanswered questions, but also much room for continued gun regulation, short of an absolute ban.

HELD: Delivered by Scalia; joined by Roberts, Kennedy, Thomas, Alito

The Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home. The Antifederalists feared that the Federal Government would disarm the people in order to disable the citizens' militia, enabling a politicized standing army or a select militia to rule. The response was to deny Congress power to abridge the ancient right of individuals to keep and bear arms.

DISSENT #1: Stevens, joined by Souter, Ginsburg, Breyer

The Stevens dissent rests on four main points of disagreement:
  1. that the Founders would have made the individual right aspect of the Second Amendment express if that was what was intended
  2. that the "militia" preamble demands the conclusion that the Second Amendment touches on state militia service only
  3. that many lower courts' later "collective-right" reading of the Miller decision constitutes stare decisis
  4. and that the Court has not considered gun-control laws (e.g., the National Firearms Act) unconstitutional.

DISSENT #2: Breyer, joined by Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg

Justice Breyer filed a separate dissenting opinion that, even with an individual-rights view, the DC handgun ban and trigger lock requirement would nevertheless be permissible limitations on the right. The Breyer dissent concludes, "there simply is no untouchable constitutional right to keep loaded handguns in the house in crime-ridden urban areas."
Source: Supreme Court case 08-HELLER argued on Mar 18, 2008

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Other Justices on Gun Control: Clarence Thomas on other issues:
Samuel Alito(since 2006)
Amy Coney Barrett(since 2020)
Stephen Breyer(since 1994)
Neil Gorsuch(since 2017)
Ketanji Brown Jackson(nominated 2022)
Elena Kagan(since 2010)
Brett Kavanaugh(since 2018)
John Roberts(since 2005)
Sonia Sotomayor(since 2009)
Clarence Thomas(since 1991)

Former Justices:
Merrick Garland(nominated 2016)
Ruth Bader Ginsburg(1993-2020)
Anthony Kennedy(1988-2018)
Antonin Scalia(1986-2016)
John Paul Stevens(1975-2010)
David Souter(1990-2009)
Sandra Day O'Connor(1981-2006)
William Rehnquist(1975-2005)

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Page last updated: Mar 21, 2022