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Army Corps of Engineers is told to allow guns on its land

LEWISTON, Idaho — Calling it an unconstitutional violation of Second Amendment rights to self-defense, a federal judge has issued a preliminary injunction against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' long-standing ban on carrying loaded firearms on its land.

In a decision filed last week in U.S. District Court, Judge B. Lynn Winmill ordered the corps to stop enforcing the ban immediately. Winmill only has jurisdiction over the District of Idaho, so the injunction only applies to corps land within the state, said Wendy Olson, U.S. Attorney for the district.

Two Lewiston residents joined Colorado's Mountain States Legal Foundation to challenge the ban last year. Alan Baker, a University of Idaho law school graduate and licensed firearms instructor, said the all-out ban simply went too far by restricting the possession of loaded guns in temporary habitations like a tent. And Elizabeth Morris called the ban an infringement of her rights to self-defense when she was on corps property, particularly during her frequent walks on the Lewiston levees.

According to corps regulations, the possession of loaded firearms, ammunition, loaded projectile firing devices, bows and arrows, crossbows, or other weapons is prohibited unless they are in the possession of a law enforcement officer; they are being used for legal hunting or fishing, and are unloaded during transport; they are being used at authorized shooting ranges; or written permission has been received from the corps district commander.

In his decision, Winmill wrote that precedent has established that the Second Amendment protects the right to carry a firearm for self-defense purposes, and that the corps regulation is too restrictive.

"At most, it would allow a person to carry an unloaded firearm so long as he was not also carrying its ammunition," Winmill wrote. "An unloaded firearm is useless for self-defense purposes without its ammunition. Consequently, the regulation does impose a burden on plaintiffs' Second Amendment rights."

Winmill also addressed the issue of keeping a loaded gun in a tent on corps property, calling a tent similar to a home "where a person withdraws from public view, and seeks privacy and security for himself and perhaps also for his family and/or his property."

The judge said that in response to past legal challenges, other government agencies have revised their regulations to allow greater latitude for those who want to carry guns for self-defense. He said the broad ban maintained by the corps needs similar attention.

Olson said the corps has 30 days to file a notice of appeal of Winmill's ruling, but no decisions have been made. If it chooses not to appeal, the corps would let the injunction stand, and even drop enforcement of the ban in other jurisdictions. Or it could begin the process of creating new regulations to bring the corps more in line with other governmental entities, Olson said.

jmills@lmtribune.com
 

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