A federal judge ruled Monday that legal immigrants have the same right to concealed-carry permits as American citizens, in a New Mexico case that gun rights advocates said strengthens their argument that the Second Amendment is a fundamental personal right.
District Judge M. Christina Armijo said there is no evidence that green card holders, or legal permanent residents, pose a greater danger when carrying concealed firearms than do American citizens, and she ruled it was a violation of the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause to deny them that right.
The case stemmed from a challenge by John W. Jackson, an Australian who immigrated to the U.S. and lives in New Mexico, who sued along with the Second Amendment Foundation.
Alan M. Gottlieb, executive vice president of the foundation, said the discrimination ruling makes it increasingly difficult for gun control advocates to chip away at gun rights.
“It helps build case law,” he said. “If legal aliens have rights, citizens obviously do, too.”
The New Mexico Department of Public Safety, which administers the concealed-carry law, didn’t respond to a request seeking comment on the ruling.
Attorneys for New Mexico argued in court that it wasn’t discrimination to treat legal immigrants differently and, even if it was, it was warranted because it was impossible to conduct full background checks on legal immigrants.
The background check doesn’t cover disqualifying misdemeanor crimes committed in foreign countries.
Judge Armijo said that also is true for American citizens and that treating immigrants differently violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution.
“United States citizens who have traveled or lived abroad are not denied such licenses due to defendant’s inability to run a complete and thorough background check,” Judge Armijo wrote. “Therefore, the court concludes that the citizenship requirement is not narrowly tailored to serve the government’s compelling interest in public safety.”
The ruling doesn’t apply to illegal immigrants, who are barred by federal law from buying or possessing firearms.
The gun rights debate has been on hold in Congress since last year, when President Obama fell short in his push for limits on ammunition magazine sizes and on semi-automatic rifle sales in the wake of the mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn.
Second Amendment supporters have been notching court wins, particularly on the right to carry concealed weapons.
The Supreme Court has ruled that the right to bear arms is a personal right, but federal judges are grappling with whether that right extends beyond someone’s home — one of the key questions in concealed-carry permits.
The Supreme Court declined this year to hear cases that would have raised that issue, and Judge Armijo’s ruling doesn’t speak to that issue either.
State rules on concealed-carry permits and noncitizens vary. A handful of them specifically rule out legal immigrants’ right to carry a weapon or place additional burdens on them for obtaining permits.
Gun rights groups used to be split on the issue.
The National Rifle Association in 2011 backed 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 out an opening for illegal immigrants to obtain concealed-weapons permits.
But by last year, the organization said it supported equal concealed-carry gun rights for legal immigrants.