Appeals court upholds law barring immigrants in U.S. illegally from owning guns

A federal law barring immigrants who are in the country without authorization does not violate the 2nd Amendment right to bear arms, an appeals court panel ruled Tuesday. Above, guns for sale at a store in the City of Industry.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

A law barring immigrants who are in the country without authorization from owning guns does not violate the 2nd Amendment, a federal appeals court decided Tuesday.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected an appeal by Victor Manuel Torres, a San Jose resident who was convicted of violating the federal law.

Torres appealed, arguing that immigrants who are in the country without legal permission have a 2nd Amendment right to own a gun.


The 2nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right of people to bear arms. But the 9th Circuit said that constitutional right was not unlimited, and the federal law was a valid exercise of Congress’ authority.

“The government’s interests in controlling crime and ensuring public safety are promoted by keeping firearms out of the hands of unlawful aliens,” wrote 9th Circuit Judge N. Randy Smith, an appointee of former President George W. Bush.

The panel noted that immigrants who lack documentation are subject to deportation and “are difficult to monitor due to an inherent incentive to falsify information and evade law enforcement.”

These immigrants “have already shown they are unable or unwilling to conform their conduct to the laws of this country,” Smith wrote, joined by 9th Circuit Chief Judge Sidney R. Thomas, an appointee of former President Clinton, and Sharon L. Gleason, a district judge from Alaska appointed by former President Obama.

Torres, born in Mexico in 1985, was age 4 when he entered the country without permission with a younger sister and their mother.

The court said he was expelled from high school in 2000 because he was a member of the Sur Santos Pride gang, which he joined at 14.

In 2002, when he was 16, his parents sent him back to Mexico.

When Torres reached adulthood, he tried three times to enter the U.S. illegally, succeeding on the third time in 2005.

He joined his family in San Jose, worked for his father’s landscaping business and married a U.S. citizen in 2012. He never applied for legal status.

In 2014, Los Gatos police arrested him after discovering he had a stolen bicycle, a loaded revolver, what appeared to be homemade silencers for the gun and bolt cutters.

A jury convicted him, and he was sentenced to 27 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release.

Adam G. Gasner, Torres’ lawyer, said Torres will face deportation after leaving prison.

Gasner said he believed it was unfair that an immigrant in the country without authorization who owns a gun to protect property or obtain food remains subject to a felony conviction.

“The Constitution applies to undocumented people in all other regards,” Gasner said.

He said he has not yet decided whether to appeal.

Twitter: @mauradolan