Guest post frmo our pal sunshine shooter from the pro gun millennial blog
First things first, I’d like to acknowledge my primary source, here. If this interests you, I highly suggest you click the link and read it for yourself. I’m saving the PDF to my own machine or use later.
To understand why the Miller case is such a big deal, you have to understand what it deals with: The National Firearms Act. The NFA (as it’s known) is an absolute miscarriage of justice. It is what makes rifles and shotguns require such long barrels, its what makes silencers so expensive and machine guns functionally illegal. The NFA is also the basis around which all gun control in this country is built upon.
The National Firearms Act of 1934 was written and enacted in response to the explosion in crime in due to Prohibition and the black market for booze that arose. The Valentines Day Massacre in Chicago in 1929 was basically an extreme example of the problems of the entire Prohibition era. The NFA was originally meant to functionally outlaw machine guns and pistols, while leaving people’s hunting arms alone. There is a whole history there about how we almost lost all reasonable access to pistols, but that’s for another day.
So, who is this Miller guy and what did he do? Jack Miller was part of a pretty notorious bank robing gang in the area known as the O’Malley gang. Miller got caught and snitched on his cohorts in return for full immunity. Less than a year later, he had fallen in with a small town “hood” named Frank Layton, and returned to his felonious ways.
In April of 1938, Jack Miller and Frank Layton were caught crossing the Oklahoma border into Arkansas. They were pulled over and the police found a shotgun with a barrel under 18″ in their possession and no registration or tax stamp to accompany it. The police report indicates that the evidence in the vehicle lead them to believe that they were on their way to rob a bank. Consider the situation that the police were in: Here’s a dude who is a known bank robber, and a successful one. He got out of any punishment for his many crimes because he snitched on his mates, and it looks like he’s about to start doing it again. Wouldn’t you throw the entire book at him? I probably would.
This is a common tactic in law enforcement. Pull someone over that you know is a bad dude. You may not have much to put them away on that’s really important, but there are usually a handful of nuisance laws (seatbelts, broken tail light, etc.) that you can use to get them into cuffs over. It’s basically how they got Al Capone. Dude was a mob boss and murderer, but they couldn’t make it stick. So, the government arrested and jailed him for tax fraud of all things. Same thing here, just not as extreme.
The prosecutor in Arkansas had been at the trial that Miller testified at, so he really knew who we has dealing with. But here’s the interesting thing: The prosecution wasn’t trying to prove Miller & Layton were in possession of an untaxed short barreled shotgun, but that they transported it over state lines.
Miller and Layton both plead guilty to the NFA violation, but the US District Court Judge refused to accept it. Miller and Layton then objected to the constitutionality of the NFA entirely under the Second and Tenth Amendments, which the District Judge accepted. The judge then put out an opinion [ruled] accepting the challenge, which means Miller and Layton were acquitted. As you can imagine, if you pay attention to modern day SCOTUS cases, the US promptly appealed to the Supreme Court, who accepted the appeal.
The Supreme court heard the case on March 30th, 1939, and issued a decision on May 15th, 1939. They decided that the NFA was constitutional in regards to both the 10th and 2nd Amendments, setting a precedent that both expanded the federal governments power and allowed infringements upon our right to keep and bear arms. This of course opened the door to any and all forms of gun control to follow, from the mundane to the extreme. It is no exaggeration to say that we live in the world this one court case created.
Messed Up Part #1
The first part about this case that’s messed up is what happened in the federal court in Arkansas. The Distric Court judge in question, one Hiram Ragon, was actually a proponent of the NFA. Why did a pro-gun control judge rule that gun control was unconstitutional? Because he knew how the system works. Miller and Layton were from Oklahoma, being held in Ft. Smith, AR for court, and not necessarily rich for the day. The Supreme Court case would be heard in Washington DC, which is over 1,100 miles away. Ragon knew that neither Miller nor Layton would be able to afford the trip, nor the lawyers, to actually plead their case, whereas the government would have no such issues arguing the case in DC. He figured that neither defendant would show up, giving the prosecution no resistance to their case, meaning US v Miller would be decided against Miller with absolutely no contest. The case was decided 8-0 (1 not participating), so Ragon called it correctly.
Another thing is that since the case went to the Supreme Court of the United States, it meant that Ragon’s decision of “NFA is unconstitutional” for his district would be replaced by “NFA is constitutional” for the entirety of the US. Ragon augmented his ability to create case law in his district into the ability to create case law for the entire nation, in this instance. This is known as a “pro gamer move”.
Messed Up Part #2
Miller and Layton were in violation of the NFA in regards to a short barreled shotgun. The court ruled that since a short barreled shotgun has no useful purpose in the military (of the late-30’s), such weapons are not protected by the 2nd Amendment. Firstly, shotguns were used by the US military in Europe in WWI, roughly 20 years previous, and were in arsenals at the time of the ruling, rendering the court’s own logic false.
Secondly, the main focus of the NFA was to get machine guns out of the hands of crooks and everyday citizens. There wasn’t a man alive at the time who would have said that machine guns weren’t heavily used by all contemporary armies, including the US. If Miller had a Tommy Gun in his car instead of a sawed-off shotgun, he probably would have been acquitted in federal court. Don’t think about that too much, it isn’t good for your blood pressure.
Messed Up Part #3
In case it wasn’t obvious, Judge Ragon was a completely biased, political creature. Before he was a Circuit judge, he was a member of Congress, where he pushed for gun control legislation. When he was on the Ways and Means committee, he helped push through Roosevelt’s New Deal. Ragon’s support of the New Deal was how he got the appointment (by Roosevelt) to the 5th District court, where the Miller case was tried.
There are a lot of messed up things about this case. Hopefully the Bruen [New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc. v. Bruen] decision will help to reverse some of the constant trampling of our individual rights that has occurred over the past century, but that is a slow fight against an entrenched enemy. We’ve made some good progress and we have the momentum, butthere is nothing easy about regaining rights once they’ve been taken.
And one last thing I personally took away from my research: Politics has always been the realm of underhanded, slimy, yellow-bellied, rotten-to-the-core liars and cowards. If there ever was a time where it wasn’t such, it was probably ended by the beginning of the 1800’s.
Stay vigilant, and we’ll see you next Friday.