Legal Reference

Sawedoff Shotguns

Supreme Court - United States v. Miller

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The strange case of United States v. Miller

By Dr. Michael S. Brown
web posted August 6, 2001

In a recent letter attacking Attorney General Ashcroft's gun policy, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) misquoted a section of a 1938 Supreme Court decision known as United States v. Miller. Gun rights advocates loudly protested and offered the correct quote which is more favorable to gun rights.

The Miller case is important, because it was the last time the Supreme Court ruled directly on a Second Amendment defense. It is unusual in that people on both sides of a political debate claim that it supports their position. Some say that it reaffirms an individual right to own firearms and some say it does just the opposite.

With the extreme polarization of the modern gun debate, this case has assumed an importance far beyond what anyone expected in 1938. It should come as no surprise that behind this strange state of affairs is a very strange court case.

The story begins with the National Firearms Act of 1934, which was the first federal law regulating firearms. Prior to that time, it was generally believed that the Constitution did not grant the federal government this power

The Firearms Act levied a prohibitive $200 dollar tax on machine guns and sawed off shotguns. Government officials claimed that these were the weapons of choice for the criminal gangs that evolved during prohibition.

This law was enacted during a period when a determined effort was being made to expand federal police power at the expense of the states. A crafty legislative tactic of that time was to construct new federal criminal laws as commerce measures, which could be justified as revenue producers in the event they were challenged by supporters of state's rights.

Some have speculated that the 1934 Firearms Act was passed to provide job security for federal agents who were threatened with unemployment by the repeal of alcohol prohibition in 1933.

Like most criminal cases, U.S. v. Miller involved some rather unsavory characters.

Jack Miller, a bank robber and moonshiner with many enemies, felt the need to carry a sawed off shotgun without paying the tax. He and his associate, Frank Layton, had the misfortune to be caught transporting it from Oklahoma to Arkansas and were arrested in June of 1938 by federal agents on charges of violating the Firearms Act.

They were brought before United States District Court Judge Heartsill Ragon in Fort Smith, Arkansas who encouraged them to plead not guilty and appointed an attorney to represent them. He then found in their favor, declaring that the relevant section of the Firearms Act was in violation of the Second Amendment and therefore unconstitutional.

Federal law enforcement authorities were not pleased. Judge Ragon's decision threatened the expansion of federal power, so the case was quickly appealed to the Supreme Court.

The resulting decision issued in May of 1939 stated that "in the absence of any evidence" the Supreme Court could not say that a sawed off shotgun had any relationship to the militia. The critical point here is the absence of evidence.

The record shows that no arguments were made and no evidence presented on behalf of Jack Miller or the Second Amendment. The Justice Department attorneys were able to present their case without any opposition.

Miller had no resources to finance his argument against the government's appeal and it is doubtful that he had any interest in defending Constitutional rights. In fact, he died before the decision was rendered. His body was discovered in April of 1939, with multiple .38 caliber bullet wounds. His own .45 pistol lay by his side with four rounds expended. Perhaps he had a legitimate need for that shotgun after all.

Frank Layton must have decided that it wasn't his job to act as a constitutional test case. After the government's successful appeal, he entered a guilty plea and was placed on four years probation by the original Judge Ragon.

Today it seems bizarre that a Supreme Court case could be decided without the court hearing both sides of the argument. Yet this was the perfect opportunity for advocates of greater federal power to advance their agenda. With no opposition, they could not lose.

But the right to keep and bear arms was too deeply enshrined in American culture for the court to bury it completely as modern gun control advocates like Senator Feinstein would have us believe.

The Supreme Court opinion, written by Justice James Clark McReynolds, was notable in that it did not completely cave in to the government demands. It is a rather short document that is easily available on the web, so you need not accept another person's opinion about it. Read it yourself.

The court finding simply said that no evidence had been presented to prove that a sawed-off shotgun was a useful military weapon. Of course that was literally correct, since Miller's side never showed up in court.

After stating the court's opinion, McReynolds included passages from various historical sources to show that the militia consists of all able-bodied men who have a right, perhaps even a duty, to own firearms suitable for military service. There was little reason to include these references unless McReynolds wished to protect the Amendment from further encroachment.

The case was returned to the lower court where Miller, if living, could have made further arguments on his own behalf. He could have easily and correctly argued that short-barreled shotguns had been popular military weapons in the trenches of the First World War. It was lucky for the federal government that he was dead.

The end result was a confusing decision that is often used to support both sides of the gun rights debate. The anti-gun lobby can say that it permits reasonable regulation of firearms. Gun rights advocates can say that it supports the right to own military style weapons. With this unsatisfying legal precedent by the highest court, it is no wonder that the court system has not taken the Second Amendment seriously.

Beginning with Cases v. United States in 1942, the court system conducted a steady degradation of the Second Amendment that was often based on misinterpretations of the Miller case. Each time the Miller opinion was distorted by a lower court, the new opinion became part of case law and made it easier for the next case to further erode Second Amendment protections.

Since judges are generally members of society's elite, it is not surprising that they would be hostile to the idea of ordinary people bearing arms for personal defense or to protect against tyranny.

Law schools ignored the Second Amendment, because it was not politically correct. Students were told that it was not worthy of study, as it applied only to the obsolete right of states to form militias. The few idealistic lawyers who challenged the prevailing view quickly discovered that this was not a smart career move.

It was not until the 1990's that legal scholars began to conduct serious research into the intent of the Second Amendment. The overwhelming majority has concluded that it does indeed guarantee an individual right to keep and bear arms. This is gradually becoming more difficult for the legal establishment to ignore.

Legal experts say that sometime in the next few years the Supreme Court will end its half-century of neglect and once again rule on a Second Amendment case.

U.S. v. Miller will no doubt be mentioned countless times in the media and it will be misrepresented almost every time by self-serving politicians and biased or poorly informed journalists.

Just remember what a strange case it was.

Dr. Michael S. Brown is an optometrist and member of Doctors for Sensible Gun Laws. He may be reached at rkba2000@yahoo.com.


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SNIP

United States v. Miller involved a criminal prosecution under the National Firearms Act of 1934 (NFA). Passed in response to public outcry over the St. Valentine's Day Massacre, the NFA requires certain types of firearms (including but not limited to fully automatic firearms and short-barreled rifles and shotguns) to be registered with the Miscellaneous Tax Unit (later to be folded into what eventually became the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, or ATF) of the Bureau of Internal Revenue (ancestor of today's Internal Revenue Service), with a $200 tax paid at the time of registration and again if the firearm is ever sold. This was widely interpreted as a prohibitive measure, as the $200 tax was levied upon items which at the time were relatively common and typically cost less than ten dollars. The United States Department of the Treasury nonetheless claimed that it was a revenue-collecting measure.

SNIP

Jack Miller and Frank Layton were suspected bank robbers and moonshiners being watched by agents of the Department of the Treasury. On April 18, 1938 Miller and Layton were arrested for transporting an unlicensed sawed-off shotgun (defined as "having a barrel less than eighteen inches in length") across state lines while engaged in interstate commerce, in violation of the NFA. This was after the fact that the Treasury had "staked out" Mr. Miller and Mr. Layton's property in suspicion of moonshining. The Treasury, after a day-long stake, found that the distillery was not functional and had in fact been shut down for some time and had the boiler removed. The Treasury then found the sub-eighteen inch shot gun in Mr. Miller's truck on the seat. It is said that the Treasury, in fear of embarrassment for the distillery mishap, took the two men in on charges for not paying their taxes on the shortened shotgun.

This was a federal case and was therefore heard by the United States District Court for the Western District of Arkansas. On January 3, 1939, U.S. District Court Judge Heartsill Ragon agreed with the defense's claim that the NFA was intended to restrict the individual ownership and possession of arms, in conflict with the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution.

The defendant's argument at the trial court was reported (in the text of the Supreme Court opinion) to be as follows:

The National Firearms Act is not a revenue measure but an attempt to usurp police power reserved to the States, and is therefore unconstitutional. Also, it offends the inhibition of the Second Amendment to the Constitution, U.S.C.A.-'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.'
The trial court agreed, ruling that Section 11 of the National Firearms Act violated the Second Amendment. The trial court threw out the indictment. The United States Attorney, Clinton R. Barry, appealed to the Supreme court.

SNIP

On March 30, 1939 the Supreme Court heard the case. Attorneys for the United States argued four points:

  1. The NFA is intended as a revenue-collecting measure and therefore within the authority of the Department of the Treasury.
  2. The defendants transported the shotgun from Oklahoma to Arkansas, and therefore used it in interstate commerce.
  3. The Second Amendment protects only the ownership of military-type weapons appropriate for use in an organized militia.
  4. The "double barrel 12-gauge Stevens shotgun having a barrel less than 18 inches in length, bearing identification number 76230" was never used in any militia organization.

Neither the defendants nor their legal counsel appeared at the U.S. Supreme Court.

On May 15, 1939 the Supreme Court, in a unanimous opinion by Justice McReynolds, reversed and remanded the District Court decision. The Supreme Court declared that no conflict between the NFA and the Second Amendment had been established, writing:


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THE MISCONSTRUCTION OF UNITED STATES V. MILLER

--by Howard J. Fezell, Esq.

United States v. Miller, 307 U.S. 174, 86 S. Ct. 816 (1939), lends considerable support to the proposition that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to keep and bear arms. However, through selective quotation numerous appellate courts have cited Miller as authority for their claim that the Second Amendment guarantees only the collective right of States to maintain militias.

Miller involved the indictment of Jack Miller and a cohort for unlawfully transporting a short-barrelled shotgun in violation of the National Firearms Act of 1934.

When the case was at trial level, Millerís attorney filed a motion to dismiss the indictment (a demurrer) on the grounds that the portion of the National Firearms Act under which Miller had been charged violated the Second Amendment. The trial judge granted the motion and the charges against Miller were dismissed. Jack Miller promptly departed to parts unknown.

The United States, however, filed an appeal directly to the Supreme Court. When the case was argued only the government was represented -- and only its side of the case was presented to the Justices.

The Supreme Court in Miller did not say that the decision of the lower court was wrong. Instead, it reversed the trial courtís decision and sent the case back to the trial courts for further proceedings on the question as to whether a short- barreled shotgun is the type of firearm that had utility for militia use.

The individual nature of the Second Amendment right asserted by Jack Miller was never questioned by the Supreme Court. This is a critical point in analyzing Miller. If the Second Amendment guaranteed only a right of States the Court would have summarily disposed of Millerís claim on the grounds that it lacked standing to assert it.

What the Supreme Court in Miller was concerned about was whether the shotgun he was charged with transporting had "some reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well-regulated militia." 307 U.S. at 178, 59 S. Ct. at 818.

The Court in Miller discussed the historical background of the militia in America. What the Court actually said concerning the militia was as follows:

"The Constitution as originally adopted granted Congress power-- ĎTo provide for calling forth the militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions; To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress.í With obvious purpose to assure the continuation and render possible the effectiveness of such forces the declaration and guarantee of the Second Amendment were made. It must be interpreted and applied with that in view.

"The Militia which the States were expected to maintain and train is set in contrast with the troops which they were forbidden to keep without the consent of Congress. The sentiment of the time strongly disfavored standing armies; the common view was that adequate defense of country and laws could be secured through the Militia--civilians primarily, soldiers on occasion.

"The signification attributed to the term Militia appears from the debates in the Convention, the history and legislation of Colonies and States, and the writings of approved commentators. These show plainly enough that the Militia comprised all males physically capable of acting in concert for the common defense. ĎA body of citizens enrolled for military discipline.í And further, that ordinarily when called for service these men were expected to appear bearing arms supplied by themselves and of the kind in common use at that time." 307 U.S. at 178-79 (italics added)

The importance of the Miller decision cannot be understated. According to Prof. Sanford Levinson of the University of Texas:

"Miller can be read to support some of the most extreme anti-gun control arguments, e.g., that the individual citizen has a right to keep bear bazookas, rocket launchers and other armaments that are clearly relevant to modern warfare, including of course, assault weapons." Levinson, "The Embarrassing Second Amendment," 99 Yale L.J., 637, 654-55 (1989)

However, gun-prohibitionists and anti-gun judges routinely cite the italicized portion of the first paragraph, above, while conveniently ignoring the italicized portions of the third paragraph. See, e.g., Stevens v. United States, 440 F.2d 144 (6th Cir., 1971). Stevens cites United States v. Miller for the proposition that "Since the Second Amendment right Ďto keep and bear armsí applies only to the right of the State to maintain a militia and not to the right of the individual to bear arms, there can be no serious claim to any express constitutional right of an individual to possess a firearm." Id. at 149. Stevens, however, quotes no language from Miller that would support this conclusion. The same is true of United States v. Warin, 530 F. 103, 106, (6th Cir. 1976) (quoting Stevens); United States v. Kozerski, 518 F. Supp. 1082, 1090 (D.N.H. 1981) (quoting Warin); and Krisko v. Oswald, 655 F. Supp 147, 149 (E.D.pa. 1987) (quoting Stevens).


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An Oklahoma Gangsterís Impact On U.S. Gun Laws

Posted: Jan 29, 2008 12:52 PM MST

The only U.S. Supreme Court decision that specifically dealt with the right of the people to keep and bear arms, is about to get a second look. News On 6 anchor Scott Thompson reports the high court is going to take up a new Second Amendment case. When it does, it may turn a small-time hood from Oklahoma into a household name.

During the Great Depression, the only thing more common than dust storms in Oklahoma may have been criminal legends. Charles "Pretty Boy" Floyd was the subject of a song written by Woody Guthrie. Hollywood immortalized Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker in the movie "Bonnie and Clyde." Machine Gun Kelly earned the FBI's title of "Public Enemy Number 1."

But none of them can claim the distinction Claremore's Jack Miller can.

"Yes, this obscure figure in Oklahoma history that people know very little about was a major figure in a U.S. Supreme Court case," said author and historian R.D. Morgan.

Morgan writes non-fiction books about Oklahoma outlaws in the 20's and 30's, and the lawmen who tracked them down. He says Jack Miller's claim to fame is a surprising one.

"I'm sure today he would be just absolutely shocked that he would be famous or infamous for a Supreme Court ruling," said R.D. Morgan.

Morgan says Jackson "Jack" Miller spent a lot of time in the gambling halls in and around Claremore.

"He was a flamboyant character, drank too much, certainly involved in the bootlegging trade for a while. He was a big talker, an exuberant personality," said R.D. Morgan.

So how did a con man from Claremore end up with his name on a landmark Supreme Court decision? The journey began when he joined the Irish O'Malley gang, and started carrying a sawed-off shotgun.

"The O'Malley gang was the last of the big super gangs of the 1930's, they had robbed over a dozen banks," said R.D. Morgan.

Jack Miller liked to carry his shotgun while working as the gang's lookout and getaway driver. Their crowning achievement came in 1934, when they robbed the Okemah National Bank and the 1st National Bank of Okemah simultaneously.

"Of course, a double bank robbery is a rare occurrence, a successful one in American history," said R.D. Morgan. "Investigators dubbed the Okemah robberies as one of the slickest pair of robberies in the history of the state."

The feds eventually tracked down every member of the O'Malley gang, and granted Miller immunity so he'd testify against them. But that's not what committed Miller's name to history. Jack Miller's name ended up in the U.S. Supreme Court, thanks to his sawed-off shotgun. He and a friend were arrested for transporting it across state lines, after driving from Claremore to Arkansas.

A lower-court judge sent it directly to the U.S. Supreme Court.

"The first major federal firearms statute, the national firearms act of 1934, was unconstitutional because it violated the second amendment rights to keep and bear arms," said Oklahoma City University professor Michael O'Shea.

Congress had passed the National Firearms Act to target gangsters and the weapons they used. It required a $200 tax stamp on Tommy guns and sawed-off shotguns. Since Jack Miller and his buddy hadn't bothered to buy one of those stamps, they gave the High Court its first chance to rule on the issue of gun control.

"Not only is their name immortalized in this case, but what the Supreme Court said about their case is now sort of likely to play a role in this case at the top of the national headlines," said Michael O'Shea.

The U.S. Supreme Court overruled the lower court, voting unanimously to uphold the National Firearms Act. Oklahoma City University law professor Michael O'Shea says many experts are surprised the "United States versus Miller" ruling has held up so long. It was written by James Clark McReynolds, one of the least popular justices in history, a man not known for writing thoughtful opinions. Also, Jack Miller's attorney didn't bother going to Washington D.C., to argue for his client.

"Yeah, especially to decline to even file a brief on your client's behalf. You know, that's, it could be argued that that was, you know, legal malpractice," said Oklahoma City University professor Michael O'Shea.

And O'Shea also says the decision didn't answer most of the questions surrounding the Second Amendment.

"The fact that it sort of carefully throws in all these, has the minimum amount of analysis and just kind of throws in this grocery list of citations to authorities that point in different directions making it clear that, you know, everybody's got something to grab onto to support their view," said Michael O'Shea.

The incident that preserved the United States versus Miller decision happened under what is now Oologah Lake. Before the case could be sent back to the lower court, Miller's bullet-riddled body turned up on the bank of Spencer Creek in Rogers County. He apparently died at the hands of a fellow robber, as did his U.S. Supreme Court case.

"The case went away, and for the next, you know, nearly 70 years, no gun control case got no constitutional challenge to gun control got to the Supreme Court," said Michael O'Shea.

For the last seven decades, Miller has rested in this grave in Claremore, forgotten by just about everyone but legal scholars and historians. One of those historians believes that would be okay with the shotgun-toting getaway driver and snitch.

"The law was something I'm certain Jack Miller never thought much about, except how to get out of jail," said author and historian R.D. Morgan.

Jack Miller's case will make headlines again in about a month, when the U.S. Supreme Court finally takes up another Second Amendment challenge to gun control. It's a case called D.C. versus Heller, and centers on the handgun ban in Washington, D.C.


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Guns in Court The 1939 Supreme Court case of United States v. Miller is the best thing that the gun-prohibition groups have left, legally speaking.

Mr. Kopel is research director of Independence Institute. Along with Andrew McClurg and Brannon Denning, Mr. Kopel is co-author of the law-school textbook Gun Control and Gun Rights, to be published by New York University Press in the spring of 2002.

May 30, 2001 11:30 a.m.

Astute media-watchers have been noticing that the Washington Post, despite its liberal reputation, has been getting ever more objective and careful in its news reporting. Meanwhile, the New York Times, despite its reputation for objectivity and accuracy, has been getting ever sloppier, and trending further and further left in its reporting ó as documented by Smartertimes.com An excellent illustration of the Post's rise and the Times' degeneration can be seen in their contrasting treatment of the recent letter from Attorney General John Ashcroft to the NRA announcing his belief that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to arms.

Both papers provided background to the Ashcroft letter by discussing United States v. Miller, the last Supreme Court case that analyzed the Second Amendment at length. The Washington Post described the case with perfect accuracy: "In the 1939 U.S. v. Miller decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that there was no constitutional right to own a sawed-off shotgun because it had no 'reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well-regulated militia.'"

The Times, on the other hand, misrepresented the case, applying the spin which gun prohibition groups so often use about Miller: "Mr. Ashcroft's letter, sent last Thursday in response to an inquiry from the N.R.A., rejects another interpretation ó applied by the Supreme Court in its last major ruling on the amendment, in 1939 ó which holds that the Constitution guarantees only a collective right to guns through state and federal militias, not an individual's right."

Note that the Post quoted directly from the Miller case, whereas the Times did not--and indeed could not, because the Miller Court never says what the Times claims.

Miller nowhere explicitly says that the Second Amendment does or does not guarantee an individual right or a collective right.

It is logically impossible, by the way, for a "collective right" to exist unless the individuals who belong to the collectivity possess an individual right. Otherwise, a "collective right" would be like "collective property" in a Communist country ó meaning no right at all, but instead the government's destruction of the right.

Miller grew out of a 1938 prosecution of two bootleggers, Jack Miller and Frank Layton, for violating the National Firearms Act by possessing a sawed-off shotgun without having paid the required federal tax. The federal district court dismissed the indictment on the grounds that the National Firearms Act violated the Second Amendment [26 F. Supp. 1002, 1003 (W.D. Ark, 1939).]

Freed by the district court's ruling, Miller and Layton promptly absconded, and thus only the government's side was heard when the case was argued before the Supreme Court. Since a federal statute had been found unconstitutional, the federal government was allowed to take the case directly to the Supreme Court, under the law of the time.

If the Second Amendment only protected the National Guard, then the Supreme Court would have thrown Jack Miller's case out of court for lack of standing, since Miller, an Oklahoma bootlegger, was plainly not a member of the National Guard. Yet the Supreme Court has never ruled that individuals cannot raise Second Amendment claims. Instead, the Supreme Court sent the case back to the trial court for fact-finding about whether Miller's particular firearm (a sawed-off shotgun) was a militia-type weapon. Miller and Layton being long-gone, the district court never heard the case again.

The Supreme Court's decision was consistent with the main line of state court precedent from the nineteenth century, which said that the right to arms in state constitutions and in the Second Amendment applied to everyone, but the right included only arms suitable for militia-type use (e.g., a rifle) but not arms suitable only for brawling (e.g., brass knuckles). For example, in 1891 the West Virginia Supreme Court construed the Second Amendment to protect an individual's right to own:


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SNIP

Yet in that century which saw such a flurry of innovations in the law through notable case law, it is ever so peculiar that the Supreme Court only heard one Second Amendment case during the 20th century Ė United States v. Miller.

There is a legal maxim that "bad cases make bad law." "Bad cases" are those cases with fact patterns which are distorted from the norms of everyday life and lead to absurd results. However, oftentimes "bad cases" are exactly the kinds of cases which are sought to be brought before the Court, so that questionable, but highly desirable, legal results can be foisted upon the people. Such was Miller.

The backdrop of the Miller case is the late 1930s. Amongst FDRís usurpatious New Deal legislation was The National Firearms Act, which made illegal certain types of firearms (relevant here is a shotgun with a barrel less than 18 inches) without a stamp purchased from the Federal government. The stamp for the shotgun cost $200, while a shotgun at that time cost around $20. (I will refrain from exploring the utterly delicious irony that this country was founded by individual gun owners who revolted against having to pay outrageous taxes to the government in the form of stamp purchases.)

What made the case "bad" was that two men with extensive criminal backgrounds, Jack Miller and Frank Layton, were the defendants in the case. The duo was charged with

unlawfully, knowingly, willfully, and feloniously transport in interstate commerce from the town of Claremore in the State of Oklahoma to the town of Siloam Springs in the State of Arkansas a certain firearm, to-wit, a double barrel 12-gauge Stevens shotgun having a barrel less than 18 inches in length, bearing identification number 76230, said defendants, at the time of so transporting said firearm in interstate commerce as aforesaid, not having registered said firearm . . . and not having in their possession a stamp-affixed written order for said firearm . . . contrary to the form of the statute in such case made and provided, and against the peace and dignity of the United States.
Miller and Layton claimed that The National Gun Act was violative of the Second Amendment and the Federal District Court for the Western District Arkansas agreed. The Feds appealed to the Supreme Court.

While this was a "bad case" in that it featured putative gangsters claiming a right to firearms, what makes it worse is that the case was decided, 1930s show-trial style, without an appearance by Miller and Layton before the Court or even a brief submitted by their lawyers. Even with the scales thus tipped in their favor, the best the Feds could get from the Supreme Court was a ruling that there was no evidence presented by the (absent) Defendants that a "sawed-off" shotgun was the type of weapon which would be used in a militia. Therefore, as the Second Amendment protections had as their predicate "a well regulated militia," Congress was free to regulate this weapon which was not shown to have a militia purpose. All this despite the fact that the shotgun had had a prominent place in the Civil War and additionally that the federal government had purchased 19,600 shotguns as late as World War I.

The rule established by Miller would seem to be that if a weapon has a military application, then the right to possess such an arm should not be infringed upon. But, needless to say, it was not interpreted in that way. Instead Miller was read as an imprimatur for gun control which reached its zenith in 1976 when the District of Columbia passed the most restrictive gun control law in the nation Ė a law which a young Congressman from Texas, Ron Paul, stated was "flat-out illegal" and would "be thrown out" when challenged in the court system. While Paulís prediction has yet come to pass, it may yet come to fruition in the case of Parker v. District of Columbia

SNIP


Source First E-mail

A summary of the case from what I dug up on google.

The National Firearms Act of 1934 levied a $200 dollar tax on machine guns and sawed off shotguns which at the time cost $10 to $20.

Jack Miller and Frank Layton were arrested in June of 1938 by federal agents on charges of violating the Firearms Act when they were caught transporting a sawed off shotgun without a tax stamp from Oklahoma to Arkansas.

They were brought before United States District Court Judge Heartsill Ragon in Fort Smith, Arkansas who encouraged them to plead not guilty and appointed an attorney to represent them. He then found in their favor, declaring that the relevant section of the Firearms Act was in violation of the Second Amendment and therefore unconstitutional.

Federal law enforcement authorities appealed the case directly to the Supreme Court which was legal at the time.

One source said the defendants lawyer represented them pro bono, and while he was told of the Supreme Court case, he didnít have the resources or the time to go to Washington D.C. and argue the case. Another source said that the defendants were not given the time to find legal representation for the case, and that the government should be punished for not giving them the time. Other sources said the defendants didnít really care if someone represented them in the case because they were out of jail and free.

Neither the defendants nor their legal counsel appeared at the U.S. Supreme Court. The record shows that no arguments were made and no evidence presented on behalf of Jack Miller or the Second Amendment. The Justice Department attorneys were able to present their case without any opposition.

The Supreme Court in Miller did not say that the decision of the lower court was wrong. Instead, it reversed the trial courtís decision and sent the case back to the trial courts for further proceedings on the question as to whether a short-barreled shotgun is the type of firearm that had utility for militia use.

Back in the lower court Jack Miller was dead so he didnít have anything to say in the final case. If Jack Miller was living, he could have made further arguments on his own behalf. He could have easily and correctly argued that short-barreled shotguns had been popular military weapons in the trenches of the First World War.

Back in the lower court Frank Layton entered a guilty plea and was placed on four years probation by the original Judge Ragon.


Source Second E-mail

> A summary of the case from what I dug up on google.

Unfortunately, it's still inaccurate in important ways.

> They were brought before United States District Court
> Judge Heartsill Ragon in Fort Smith, Arkansas who
> encouraged them to plead not guilty and appointed an
> attorney to represent them. He then found in their
> favor, declaring that the relevant section of the
> Firearms Act was in violation of the Second Amendment
> and therefore unconstitutional.
Nope, and this is crucial. He didn't "find" anything. He didn't even hold the trial. He issued a "demurrer," which in common language means he kicked the case out of court. It's not even a summary judgement. It just means "don't waste my time, you don't have a case."
> Federal law enforcement authorities appealed the case
> directly to the Supreme Court which was legal at the
> time.
And that's not an interesting fact, since they could get to the same court with the same complaint today, only today they'd have to go through an intermediate court or two on the way, but hell, it's your tax money so no problem!
> One source said the defendants lawyer represented them
> pro bono, and while he was told of the Supreme Court
> case, he didnít have the resources or the time to go
> to Washington D.C. and argue the case. Another source
> said that the defendants were not given the time to
> find legal representation for the case, and that the
> government should be punished for not giving them the
> time. Other sources said the defendants didnít really
> care if someone represented them in the case because
> they were out of jail and free.
The real story is that Miller was free, gone, couldn't be reached, and certainly had no incentive to pay a lawyer for a case that couldn't affect his real-world freedom one way or the other.
> Neither the defendants nor their legal counsel
> appeared at the U.S. Supreme Court. The record shows
> that no arguments were made and no evidence presented
> on behalf of Jack Miller or the Second Amendment. The
> Justice Department attorneys were able to present
> their case without any opposition.
And again, this is a misstatement of the action. At the point where the goob took their complaint to the Supreme Court, the goob was hot to get Miller convicted. The Supremes essentially responded with, "Screw what you want. This is an APPEAL. Appeals are to judge whether the lower court made a PROCEDURAL error, not to give you a second shot at the defendant. The issue before this court is, was the judge right in throwing out this case because the NFA is obviously contrary to the Second Amendment? We find he was in error because no one has made a determination from evidence that the sort of guns controlled by the NFA would be covered by the Second Amendment. This ruling doesn't say whether or not this is so. This ruling doesn't say whether or not Miller is guilty. It says that the judge has to go ahead and hear evidence in Miller's case."

As such, Miller didn't NEED representation before the Supreme Court. He was not on trial, and he was not even in direct jeopardy. Now, the Second Amendment surely could have used an amicus in front of the court, but that wasn't Miller's duty or his lawyer's.

You will notice a big parallel between how the goob tried to frame the argument in Miller and how the DC goob tried to frame the argument in Heller. Both times, the Supremes bitch-slapped them, saying, "It's not about what YOU want. Now it's about what WE want."

> The Supreme Court in Miller did not say that the
> decision of the lower court was wrong. Instead, it
> reversed the trial courtís decision
Once more, there was no decision!
> and sent the case
> back to the trial courts for further proceedings on
> the question as to whether a short-barreled shotgun is
> the type of firearm that had utility for militia use.
>
> Back in the lower court Jack Miller was dead so he
> didnít have anything to say in the final case. If Jack
> Miller was living, he could have made further
> arguments on his own behalf. He could have easily and
> correctly argued that short-barreled shotguns had been
> popular military weapons in the trenches of the First
> World War.
>
> Back in the lower court Frank Layton entered a guilty
> plea and was placed on four years probation by the
> original Judge Ragon.
Right, all of the above is right, except to add that Layton copped his plea to get probation on some other charges for which he was again in the clink by the time the Supreme Court decision came down. So the trial was never held, the evidence was never heard, Layton never got a good defense, and the question of whether guns addressed by NFA are protected under the Second Amendment was NEVER DECIDED.