Association of New Jersey Rifle and Pistol Clubs Inc. v. Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, No. 12-3621; Third Circuit; opinion by Rakoff, U.S.D.J., concurrence by Jordan, U.S.C.J.; filed September 13, 2013. Before Judges Jordan, Vanaskie and Rakoff, District Judge, sitting by designation. On appeal from the District of New Jersey, No. 2-06-cv-00402. [Sat below: Judge Hayden.] DDS No. 46-8-xxxx [26 pp.]

Section 926A of Title 18 of the U.S. Code confers protection on those who wish to engage in the interstate transportation of firearms. The provision amended a far more expansive entitlement to "transport an unloaded, not readily accessible firearm in interstate commerce," which was passed just two months earlier as part of the Firearms Owners' Protection Act. The question here is whether § 926A, as amended, creates a right enforceable by the appellant, the Association of New Jersey Rifle and Pistol Clubs Inc., pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

The association's cause of action seeks injunctive relief pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 that would enjoin the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and Scott Erickson (collectively, the Port Authority) from enforcing certain New Jersey statutes, which prohibit possession of a firearm without a permit and possession of hollow-point ammunition, against nonresident members of the association "who are entitled to transport firearms through New Jersey pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 926A." The association seeks this relief because, it alleges, the Port Authority enforces these state gun laws at Newark Liberty International Airport against nonresident members of the association, who are thus "coerced and intimidated into taking one of two courses of action: (i) When traveling with firearms … they avoid Newark Airport and other Port Authority sites to avoid unlawful arrest and/or detention … even though they have a right … to travel unmolested through such locations with firearms; or (ii) … they refrain from possessing firearms when traveling through Newark Airport and other Port Authority sites…."

The district court granted the Port Authority's motion for summary judgment, holding that § 926A does not create a right enforceable under § 1983.

Held: Section 926A benefits only those who wish to transport firearms in vehicles — and not, therefore, any of the kinds of "transportation" that, by necessity, would be involved should a person like those represented by the association wish to transport a firearm by foot through an airport terminal or Port Authority site.

Determining whether a federal statute creates a federal right enforceable under § 1983 is a two-step process. The first step is to determine whether the federal statute creates a federal right. To make this determination, three requirements must be met. Plaintiff here has failed to satisfy even the first requirement of the first step of the process, i.e., that Congress intended that § 926A benefit this particular plaintiff. This is evident from the plain meaning of the statute.

Although the unwieldy sentence that comprises § 926A is drafted in a roundabout way, on a careful reading its language is clear and unambiguous. It begins by establishing a clear positive entitlement: a person who meets its requirements "shall be entitled" to transport firearms in certain circumstances. But the part of the sentence that immediately follows expressly conditions this entitlement as only being operative "if, during such transportation the firearm is unloaded, and neither the firearm nor any ammunition being transported is readily accessible or is directly accessible from the passenger compartment of such transporting vehicle."

It is plain from the latter condition that the statute protects only transportation of a firearm in a vehicle, and requires that the firearm and ammunition be neither readily nor directly accessible from the passenger compartment of such vehicle. Moreover, if there were any doubt about the statute's vehicular limitation, the final part of the sentence that follows — the "Provided" clause — again makes clear that only vehicular transportation is included in the statutory grant. It states: "Provided, That in the case of a vehicle without a compartment separate from the driver's compartment the firearm or ammunition shall be contained in a locked container other than the glove compartment or console." This clause, on its face, presupposes transportation of the firearm in a vehicle.

It follows from this plain meaning that an ambulatory plaintiff who intends to transit through Newark Airport is outside the coverage of the statute. But it is precisely such people whose alleged rights under § 926A the association seeks here to vindicate.

In light of the plain meaning of the statute, fully corroborated by the legislative history, the circuit panel holds that § 926A benefits only those who wish to transport firearms in vehicles — and not, therefore, any of the kinds of "transportation" that, by necessity, would be involved should a person like those represented by the association wish to transport a firearm by foot through an airport terminal or Port Authority site.

Here, the association seeks injunctive relief that would permit its nonresident members to travel "unmolested" through Port Authority sites such as airports. Self-evidently, such travel must occur outside a vehicle, and thus will, in every instance, bring the association's members outside the particular class of persons to whom Congress intended to confer a right under § 926A. Consequently, the association has no federal right to invoke and thus cannot avail itself of § 1983.

The circuit panel affirms the judgment of the district court.

Jordan, U.S.C.J., concurring in the judgment, writes separately to state that the majority set forth a plausible reading of § 926A, but he is not as convinced that the statute is clearly limited to vehicular travel. He writes that the statute can reasonably be construed as a comprehensive defense for people traveling with firearms. Nonetheless, because Congress did not, in enacting § 926A, unambiguously confer on travelers any right redressable under § 1983, he would affirm the decision of the district court on that basis.

For appellant — Richard E. Gardiner. For appellees — Thomas R. Brophy (Port Authority of New York and New Jersey).