US V Rybar on the Second Amendment

Editorial note: This is the Section of U.S. v. Rybar,103 F.3d 273 (3d Cir. 1996) that deals with Rybar’s Second Amendment defence. It addresses the arguments found in the pro-Heller briefs and finds them without merit.

Second Amendment

As an independent basis for his argument that section 922(o)
is unconstitutional, Rybar relies on the Second Amendment of the
Constitution, which provides: “A well regulated Militia, being
necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the
people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” U.S.
Const. amend. II.

In support, Rybar cites, paradoxically, the Supreme Court
decision in United States v. Miller, 307 U.S. 174, 59 S.Ct. 816,
83 L.Ed. 1206 (1939), where the Court upheld the
constitutionality of a firearms-registration requirement against
a Second Amendment challenge. Rybar draws on that holding,
relying on the Miller Court’s observation that the sawed-off
shotgun in question had not been shown to bear “some reasonable
relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well
regulated militia.” Brief of Appellant at 24-25; Miller, 307
U.S. at 178, 59 S.Ct. at 818. Drawing from that language the
contrapositive implication, Rybar suggests that because the
military utility of the machine guns proscribed by section 922(o)
is clear, a result contrary to that reached in Miller is
required, and the statute is therefore invalid under the Second
Amendment.

Rybar’s reliance on Miller is misplaced. The language Rybar
cites is taken from the following passage:

In the absence of any evidence tending to show that
possession or use of a “shotgun having a barrel of less than
eighteen inches in length” at this time has some reasonable
relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well
regulated militia, we cannot say that the Second Amendment
guarantees the right to keep and bear such an instrument.
Certainly it is not within judicial notice that this weapon
is any part of the ordinary military equipment or that its
use could contribute to the common defense.

307 U.S. at 178, 59 S.Ct. at 818.

We note first that however clear the Court’s suggestion that
the firearm before it lacked the necessary military character, it
did not state that such character alone would be sufficient to
secure Second Amendment protection. In fact, the Miller Court
assigned no special importance to the character of the weapon
itself, but instead demanded a reasonable relationship between
its “possession or use” and militia-related activity. Id.; see
Cases v. United States, 131 F.2d 916, 922 (1st Cir.1942)
(susceptibility of firearm to military application not
determinative), cert. denied, 319 U.S. 770, 63 S.Ct. 1431, 87
L.Ed. 1718 (1943). Rybar has not demonstrated that his
possession of the machine guns had any connection with
militia-related activity. Indeed, as noted above, Rybar was a
firearms dealer and the transactions in question appear to have
been consistent with that business activity.

Nonetheless, Rybar attempts to place himself within the
penumbra of membership in the “militia” specified by the Second
Amendment by quoting from 10 U.S.C. section 311(a):

The militia of the United States consists of all able-bodied
males at least 17 years of age and, except as provided in
section 313 of title 32, under 45 years of age who are …
citizens of the United States….

Rybar’s invocation of this statute does nothing to establish
that his firearm possession bears a reasonable relationship to
“the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia,” as
required in Miller, 307 U.S. at 178, 59 S.Ct. at 818. Nor can
claimed membership in a hypothetical or “sedentary” militia
suffice. See United States v. Hale, 978 F.2d 1016, 1020 (8th
Cir.1992), cert. denied, 507 U.S. 997, 113 S.Ct. 1614, 123
L.Ed.2d 174 (1993); United States v. Oakes, 564 F.2d 384, 387
(10th Cir.1977), cert. denied, 435 U.S. 926, 98 S.Ct. 1493, 55
L.Ed.2d 521 (1978); United States v. Warin, 530 F.2d 103, 106
(6th Cir.), cert. denied, 426 U.S. 948, 96 S.Ct. 3168, 49 L.Ed.2d
1185 (1976).

Rybar boldly asserts that “the Miller Court was quite simply
wrong in its superficial (and one-sided) analysis of the Second
Amendment.” Brief of Appellant at 27. As one of the inferior
federal courts subject to the Supreme Court’s precedents, we have
neither the license nor the inclination to engage in such
freewheeling presumptuousness. In any event, this court has on
several occasions emphasized that the Second Amendment furnishes
no absolute right to firearms.
See United States v. Graves, 554
F.2d 65, 66 n. 2 (3d Cir.1977); Eckert v. City of Philadelphia,
477 F.2d 610 (3d Cir.), cert. denied, 414 U.S. 839, 843, 94 S.Ct.
89, 104, 38 L.Ed.2d 74, 81 (1973). Federal attempts at firearms
regulation have also consistently withstood challenge under the
Second Amendment. See, e.g., Hale, 978 F.2d at 1020; Warin, 530
F.2d at 108; United States v. Three Winchester 30-30 Caliber
Lever Action Carbines, 504 F.2d 1288, 1290 n. 5 (7th Cir.1974);
United States v. Johnson, 497 F.2d 548, 550 (4th Cir.1974);
Cases, 131 F.2d at 923. We see no reason why section 922(o)
should be an exception.

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