Gun Free School Zone
Before I can appropriately discuss the opinion given by the US Supreme Court Justices; I feel that at first I must explain the background of what happened and the question that was brought before the justices of the US Supreme Court and the facts of the case. During this paper I will try to give some background information as well as the various opinions related to this issue. I will attempt to analyze and discuss the overall final outcome as issued by the courts in 1995.
On March 10, 1992 Alfonzo Lopez Jr. , who was then a 12th-grade student (senior), arrived at Edison high School in San Antonio, Texas, carrying on his person a concealed . 38 caliber handgun and five bullets. Acting on an anonymous tip, the school authorities confronted Alfonzo, who readily admitted to having the weapon. He was arrested and charged under Texas law with firearm possession on school property. The next day the state charges were dropped and federal agents charged Alfonzo with federal charges of violating the Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990.
The question that was brought before the courts: Is the Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990, forbidding individuals from knowingly carrying a gun in a school zone, unconstitutional because it exceeds the power of Congress to legislate under the Commerce Clause? (The Oyez Project, 2010). One of the most important sections of Article I is section 8. It carefully lists the powers the Framers wished the new Congress to possess. These specified or enumerated powers contain many key provisions that had been denied to the Continental Congress under the Articles of Confederation.
For example, one of the major weaknesses of the Articles was Congress’s lack of authority to deal with trade wars. The Constitution remedied this problem by authorizing Congress to “regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States. ” Congress was also given the authority to coin money. Enumerated Powers are defined as Seventeen specific powers granted to Congress under Article I, section 8, of the U. S. Constitution; these powers include taxation, coinage of money, regulation of commerce, and the authority to provide for a national defense (O’Connor ; Sabato, 2008).
The facts behind the case are: Alfonzo Lopez Jr. , a 12th grade high school student, carried a concealed weapon into his high school in San Antonio, Texas. He was charged under Texas law with firearm possession on school premises. After being charged under state law, the next day, the state charges were dismissed by federal court . Federal agents charged Lopez with violating a federal criminal statute, the Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990 (from here on out referred to as the act). The act forbids “any individual knowingly to possess a firearm at a place that [he] knows… s a school zone. ” Lopez was found guilty following a bench trial and sentenced to six months’ imprisonment and two years’ supervised release. “The District Court denied his motion to dismiss the indictment, concluding that 922(q) is a constitutional exercise of Congress’ power to regulate activities in and affecting commerce (FindLaw,2010). Later the Court of Appeals held that, taking into account of what is characterized as inadequate congressional conclusions and legislative history, 922 is invalid as beyond Congress’ power under the Commerce Clause.
Alfonso Lopez Jr. (here on out known as the respondent) and his legal team petitioned the Court of Appeals to dismiss the charges bases on the Act exceeds Congress’ Commerce Clause authority. In no rational logic can the connection be made between the possession of a gun or any firearm in a school zone and economic activities affecting commerce. Section 922 is a criminal statute that by its terms has nothing to do with “commerce” or any other type of economic enterprise, no matter how broadly the terms of Section 922 are defined by the defense.
Secondly, 992(q), contains no jurisdictional component which would ensure that the firearms possession in question has the requisite Page II nexus with the interstate commerce (Cornell University Law School, 2010). In order for the respondent, which was a local student at his school; to get his case dismissed he would have to prove that either he recently moved with interstate commerce or that he had some sort of tie to interstate commerce.
In order for the court to uphold the respondents claim that 922 is justified because the possession of the firearm in a local school zone does indeed substantially influence interstate commerce, they would have to have the Supreme Court pile conjecture upon conjecture in an approach that would suggest reasonable to convert congressional Commerce Clause authority to a general police authority of the nature possessed only by the States. The Chief Justice that presided over this case was C. J. Rehnquist, the other presiding Justices were J. O’Connor, J. Stevens, J. Souter, J. Breyer, JJ. Thomas, J. Kennedy, J. Scalia, and JJ.
Ginsburg. Chief Justice Rehnquist delivered the opinion over the case with Justices O’Connor, Scalia, Kennedy, and Thomas filed concurring opinions. Whereas, Justices Breyer, Stevens, Souter, and Ginsburg filed a dissenting opinion. Before I go into the opinion that Rehnquist delivered I would like to go in to some of the opinions that the other Justices’ had stated as to their dissenting opinions. Justice Breyer reasons for his dissenting opinion focuses mainly on the threat that firearm possession in and near schools poses to the educational process and the potential economic consequences flowing from that threat.
More specifically, he states
gun-related violence is a serious problem;
that problem, in turn, has an adverse effect on classroom learning;
that adverse effect on classroom learning, in turn, represents a substantial threat to trade and commerce (Cornell University Law School, 2010). Justice Souter continues by stating that The Court observed that the Gun-Free School Zones Act operates in two areas traditionally subject to legislation by the States, education and enforcement of criminal law.
The suggestion is either that a connection between commerce and these subjects is remote, or that the commerce power is simply weaker when it touches subjects on which the States have historically been the primary legislators. Neither suggestion is tenable. As for the remoteness, it may or may not be wise for the National Government to deal with education, however Justice Breyer has surely demonstrated that the commercial prospects of an illiterate State or Nation are not rosy… (Cornell University Law School, 2010).
Justice Stevens stated that the welfare of our future “Commerce with Foreign Nations, and among the several States,” is vitally dependent on the character of the education of our children. He, therefore, agrees entirely with Justice Breyer’s explanation of why Congress has ample power to prohibit the possession of firearms in or near schools – just as it may protect the school environment from harms posed by controlled substances such as asbestos or alcohol (Cornell University Law School, 2010).
Chief Justice Rehnquist delivered the opinion of the Court as: In the Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990, Congress made it a federal offense “for any individual knowingly to possess a firearm at a place that the individual knows, or has reasonable cause to believe, is a school zone. ” The Act neither regulates a commercial activity nor contains a requirement that the possession be connected in any way to interstate commerce. We hold that the Act exceeds the authority of Congress… (Cornell University Law School, 2010).
The courts final opinion simply stated is that yes, the possession of a firearm in a local school zone is not an economic activity that might, through repetition elsewhere, have a substantial effect on interstate commerce. The law is a criminal statute that has nothing to do with “commerce” or any sort of economic activity (The Oyez Project, 2010). The constitutional significance of this particular opinion can be stated as simply as our national laws have supremacy over the laws on the state level, in this particular case the National laws and the State laws were one in the same.
At no time does the possession of firearms on school property have an effect on interstate commerce or any other commerce for that matter. Article I Section 8 gives Congress power under the constitution to regulate commerce along with the authority to provide for a National Defense, however, the Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990 has nothing to do with either of the entitlements of Congress. The Gun-Free School Zones Act is a federal act strictly pertaining to just that gun control in school zone areas.
In my opinion the creation of this act simply helps state and local government agencies enforce the Zero Tolerance Policies that most schools have gone to for firearms, alcohol, and controlled substances. The constitutional significance is that it firmly establishes that in this situation and others like it have no bearing on commerce and therefore Congress were well within their rights in creating this Act and the state and federal government were well within their rights to enforce it.
Although some good arguments were made on the behalf of the respondent and a valid attempt to connect commerce with the possession of firearms on school property or in school zones, that facts are still the facts and they still remain. The possession of a firearm in a local school zone is not an economic activity that might, through repetition elsewhere, have a substantial effect on interstate commerce.
Living in a time of constant turmoil and of society restlessness I am glad that we have the government that we have and that they are the ones making the decisions as to where the lines are drawn and what happens when those lines are crossed. It is unfortunate that on March 10, 1992 that this student felt the need to conceal a gun and bring it to school, however, it is very fortunate for that community that it did not end with the results that other schools have met with.