Eleventh Circuit Denies Preliminary Injunction Sought by Plaintiffs Who Claim That a Federal Regulation Violates Their Second Amendment Rights

In GeorgiaCarry.Org v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 788 F.3d 1318 (11th Cir. 2015), the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision to deny the plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction because the plaintiffs failed to show a substantial likelihood that their case would succeed on the merits.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (“the Corps”) manages numerous recreational facilities throughout the United States, including the campgrounds surrounding Lake Allatoona. A federal regulation, 36 C.F.R. § 327.13, prohibits the possession of loaded firearms at each such recreational facility. One of the plaintiffs, David James, frequently visited the campgrounds on Lake Allatoona and desired to carry a loaded gun while doing so. James holds a Georgia weapons carry license and regularly carries a gun for self-defense. James is also a member of GeorgiaCarry.Org (“GCO”), which is a non-profit organization whose mission is to foster the Second Amendment rights of its members. GCO was also a plaintiff in the suit.

In June of 2014, the plaintiffs sued the Corps seeking a declaratory judgment, as well as preliminary and permanent injunctions. Specifically, the plaintiffs sought to enjoin the Corps from enforcing the firearm regulation on the grounds that it violated the Second Amendment. The District Court for the Northern District of Georgia denied the plaintiffs’ request for preliminary injunction, and the plaintiffs appealed. On appeal, the Eleventh Circuit laid out the relevant legal standards, explaining that in order to obtain a preliminary injunction, the moving party must establish four conjunctive elements, including: “substantial likelihood of success on the merits.”

The plaintiffs argued, in essence, that 36 C.F.R. § 327.13 is unconstitutional per se because it destroys the Second Amendment right to bear arms for the purpose of self-defense on the Corps recreational properties. In support of their argument, the plaintiffs cited District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008) and Peruta v. County of San Diego, 742 F.3d 1144 (9th Cir. 2015). In Heller, the Supreme Court struck down a statute that outlawed the possession of firearms in homes throughout Washington, D.C. In Peruta, the Ninth Circuit struck down a statue that required a person to cite a specific threat in order to obtain a concealed carry permit for San Diego County. Broadly speaking, in these cases, the Supreme Court and Ninth Circuit held that the relevant statute violated Second Amendment rights because it prevented citizens from keeping and bearing arms for the lawful purpose of self-defense.

Here, the Eleventh Circuit disagreed with the plaintiffs’ argument. First, the court distinguished Heller and Peruta by noting that Washington, D.C. and San Diego County are much broader geographical areas than the Corps recreational facilities. Next, the court stated that the plaintiffs’ presence at Lake Allatoona is voluntary, and that the plaintiffs would face less firearm restrictions in national parks or Georgia state parks. The court also outlined the additional facts it would need in order to conduct a full constitutional analysis.

Ultimately, the court held that the plaintiffs’ argument failed because they did not demonstrate a substantial likelihood of success on the merits. As a result, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of the plaintiffs’ preliminary injunction.

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