- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 2, 2013

While the debate on restricting guns rages in Congress and state legislatures, firearms advocates are turning to the courts to expand the playing field for carrying concealed weapons — and scoring some victories.

The Second Amendment Foundation won an injunction this week against a New Mexico law that had restricted concealed weapons permits only to citizens, and it went to court in Nebraska to try to halt a similar law there.

It’s the intersection of two of the hottest political issues right now: immigration and gun rights.

“There’s an equal protection issue here that people residing in the United States legally should enjoy the same protections that we have as citizens — specifically the right of self-protection,” said Dave Workman, spokesman for the Second Amendment Foundation, based in Bellevue, Wash.

In the New Mexico case, a federal court Monday enjoined the state’s law, saying that there is no compelling reason for the state to discriminate against noncitizens in the case of gun ownership.

“The citizenship requirement is overinclusive; it encompasses a large number of noncitizens who, by virtue of their status alone, pose no greater risk of harm to public safety,” Judge M. Christina Armijo wrote.

In an odd twist, noncitizens in New Mexico were allowed to carry firearms in the open. It was only concealed permits where they were treated differently.

New Mexico Attorney General Gary K. King’s spokesman declined to comment on the injunction, saying the office has not had enough time to digest the judge’s move.

“Since the matter is ongoing, it is not yet appropriate for us to publicly discuss the case,” said spokesman Phil Sisneros.

The Nebraska challenge, which the Second Amendment Foundation also filed this week, covers much of the same ground. In that case, the group sued on behalf of 68-year-old Carlos Nino De Rivera Lajous, a Mexican citizen who has been a legal resident in the U.S. since 1990.

Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning was named the chief defendant in the lawsuit. His spokeswoman, Shannon L. Kingery, said he has no choice but to defend the law.

“Attorney General Bruning is a staunch supporter of 2nd Amendment rights. However, he is tasked to defend all laws passed by the Nebraska Legislature and he will do so,” she said in an email to The Washington Times.

The intersection between gun rights and immigration has created some interesting partnerships and divisions.

In fact, gun-rights groups used to be split on the matter, with the National Rifle Association in 2011 backing a challenge to a South Dakota law that treated citizens and noncitizens differently, while Gun Owners of America disagreed.

During that debate, Gun Owners of America Executive Director Larry Pratt told Fox News that states should have the right to decide who can carry concealed weapons.

“If the guy wants to enjoy the full benefit of residing in the United States, become a citizen. He’s been here for 30 years, what’s he waiting for?” Mr. Pratt told the website, adding that he suspected the American Civil Liberties Union was trying to carve an opening for illegal immigrants to obtain concealed-weapons permits.

But Michael Hammond, general counsel for the gun owners’ group, told The Washington Times on Tuesday that the organization now supports equal concealed-carry gun rights for legal immigrants.

It’s not clear how many states still treat noncitizens differently in their gun laws.

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