Supreme Court Lets Stand Ban on Machine Gun Ownership


The Supreme Court on Monday declined to recognize a constitutional right to own machine guns sought by the National Rifle Assn., which had described a lower court’s ruling in the matter as “the first ban on firearms possession by law-abiding citizens in American history.”

Without dissent, the high court let stand an appeals court ruling which upheld a 1986 federal law banning the manufacture, sale or ownership of new machine guns except by police or government agencies. The appeals court dismissed the notion that the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution gives individuals a right to possess guns which have been banned by the government.

Gun control advocates called the court action the “worst legal defeat ever” for the NRA.

The Supreme Court issued neither a formal ruling nor a written opinion in the case. But its refusal to even consider the appeal undercuts the NRA’s legal stance that the 2nd Amendment unconditionally gives individuals a right “to keep and bear arms.”


The court’s action similarly undercuts a pending NRA challenge to a California law banning ownership of assault weapons such as Uzi submachine guns. Before a federal judge in Fresno, NRA attorneys contended that the law was unconstitutional. In September, U.S. District Judge Edward Dean Price dismissed the legal complaint, but NRA attorneys have asked him to reconsider the issue.

In the case addressed Monday, (Farmer vs. Higgins, 90-600), a gun collector from Smyrna, Ga., applied to the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms in October, 1986, for permission to make and register a new machine gun. When the bureau rejected the application, the collector, J. D. Farmer, filed suit in federal court. After losing in the appeals court in Atlanta, attorneys affiliated with the NRA appealed the case to the Supreme Court.

Barbara Lautman, director of the Center to Prevent Handgun Violence, said the high court’s action shatters the NRA’s “myth that the 2nd Amendment right to keep and bear arms guarantees an unlimited right to own guns.”

Richard Gardiner, the NRA’s director of state and local affairs, stressed the high court’s refusal to hear the appeal did not constitute a ruling on the 2nd Amendment. He also noted that the court did not consider “a prohibition against firearms ownership” across the board.


In other actions, the court:

--Agreed to decide whether localities can go beyond federal regulations to limit the spraying of pesticides. The Wisconsin Supreme Court said federal officials have the sole authority to regulate pesticides. (Wisconsin Public Intervenor vs. Mortier, 89-1905)

--Heard arguments on whether an author who published “deliberately altered” quotations must defend herself in a libel trial. (Masson vs. Malcolm, 89-1799)

--Refused to hear appeals from eight members of the sanctuary movement who were convicted in 1986 of smuggling Central Americans into this country. (De Aguilar vs. U.S., 89-6214)