MADISON, Wis. (AP) – People living in the United States illegally have a constitutional right to bear arms but are still barred from doing so by a separate law, a federal appeals court ruled.
The three-judge panel of the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals issued its ruling Thursday in a case involving Mariano Meza-Rodriguez. His family brought him to the United States from Mexico illegally when he was four or five years old, according to the 7th Circuit ruling. Now an adult, he was arrested in 2013 after a bar fight in Milwaukee. Police found a .22-caliber bullet in his shorts pocket.
Federal law prohibits people in the country illegally from possessing guns or ammunition. Meza-Rodriguez argued that the charges should be dismissed because the law infringes on his Second Amendment right to bear arms. U.S. District Judge Rudolph Randa rejected that contention on the broad grounds that the Second Amendment doesn't apply to people in the country illegally. Meza-Rodriguez was ultimately convicted of a felony and deported.
The 7th Circuit panel, however, ruled unanimously Thursday that the term "the people" in the Second Amendment's guarantee that the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed also applies to those in the country illegally. The ruling, which applies in Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin, conflicts with opinions from three other federal appellate courts in recent years that found the Second Amendment doesn't apply to people in the country illegally.
"We see no principled way to carve out the Second Amendment and say that the unauthorized (or maybe all noncitizens) are excluded," Chief Judge Diane Wood wrote.
But the panel upheld Meza-Rodriguez's conviction, saying the federal ban on people in the country illegall possessing weapons remains valid. Wood wrote that the right to bear arms isn't unlimited and the government has a strong interest in preventing people who have already broken the law by coming to the country illegally from carrying guns.
Meza-Rodriguez's attorney, Joseph Bugni, said the decision contradicts itself. He plans to ask all nine active 7th Circuit judges to review the case together. If Meza-Rodriguez doesn't prevail at that level he'll go to the U.S. Supreme Court, Bugni said.
Judge Joel M. Flaum, a member of the panel, wrote in a concurring opinion that he doubts the Second Amendment applies to people in the country illegally. He acknowledged that the decision conflicts with other federal rulings and said the panel shouldn't have addressed the broader constitutional question since the possession ban is clearly legal.