Case Summary

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which oversees vast areas of recreational lands that are open to the public, bars visitors outright from exercising their 2nd Amendment right to carry a handgun for self-defense. The Second Amendment right to provide for one’s self-defense while hiking on wide-open federal recreational lands may not be denied outright.

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United States District Court for the District of Idaho

Case History

The Corps of Engineers is the nation’s largest provider of water-based outdoor recreation.  It administers 422 lake and river projects in 43 states, spanning 12 million acres, encompassing 55,000 miles of shoreline and 4,500 miles of trails, and including 90,000 campsites and 3,400 boat launch ramps.  Waters under its control constitute 33 percent of all U.S. freshwater fishing.                     

Ms. Morris was issued an emergency license by the Nez Perce County Sheriff to carry a concealed handgun in 2012 due to threats and physical attacks against her by a former neighbor.  She regularly carries a handgun for self-defense.  She uses Corps-administered public lands near the Snake River in Lewiston, Idaho, to boat with friends, regularly walks the Corps-administered paths in the area with her dog and/or her family, and must travel across Corps-administered public lands to reach Hells Gate State Park.                         

Mr. Baker is a NRA-Certified Home Firearm Safety, Personal Protection In The Home, Rifle, Pistol, and Shotgun Instructor, and also a Utah Concealed Firearms Instructor. He is licensed to carry a concealed handgun in Idaho, Utah, Oregon, and Arizona and regularly carries a handgun for self-defense.  A life-long outdoorsman, he regularly recreates on Corps-managed lands in Idaho, including Dworshak Dam and Reservoir on the North Fork Clearwater River.

Because Corps of Engineer regulations ban functional firearms, even while camped in tents, Ms. Morris and Mr. Baker are subject to criminal prosecution if they exercise their Second Amendment rights.  The Corps of Engineers did not respond to requests from MSLF seeking exemptions from its firearm ban for Ms. Morris and Mr. Baker.  On August 5, 2013, Ms. Morris and Mrs. Baker filed a complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief and a motion for a preliminary injunction asking the district court to immediately end enforcement of the firearms ban.  

On September 5, 2013, federal defendants filed an opposition to the motion for a preliminary injunction.  Ms. Morris and Mr. Baker filed their reply on September 23, 2013.  On November 1, 2013, federal defendants filed a motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction and a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim.  On November 25, 2013, Ms. Morris and Mr. Baker filed an opposition to the motion to dismiss. On December 15, 2013, federal defendants filed a reply regarding their motion to dismiss. 

On January 7, 2014, a hearing was held regarding the motion for preliminary injunction and the motion to dismiss.  On January 10, 2014, the court issued a memorandum decision and order denying the motion to dismiss and granting the motion for preliminary injunction.  On February 27, 2014, the court entered a scheduling order, setting a briefing schedule for motions for summary judgment.  On March 19, 2014, federal defendants filed their answer to the complaint. 

On April 22, 2014, federal defendants filed their Administrative Record.  On May 19, 2014, federal defendants filed their motion for summary judgment.  On June 19, 2014, Ms. Nesbitt and Mr. Baker filed a cross-motion for summary judgment.  On July 25, 2014, federal defendants filed a response/reply and, on August 21, 2014, Ms. Nesbitt and Mr. Baker filed a reply.  Oral arguments on the pending cross-motions for summary judgment were held on August 27, 2014, in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. 

On October 13, 2014, the district court granted summary judgment in favor of Ms. Nesbitt and Mr. Baker and denied defendants’ motion for summary judgment.  In so doing, the district court held that 36 C.F.R. § 327.13 violates the Second Amendment and therefore is unconstitutional.  The district court also enjoined defendants from enforcing the unconstitutional regulation on Corps-managed property within Idaho. 

On December 10, 2014, federal defendants filed a notice of appeal.   On April 17, 2015, federal defendants filed their opening brief.  On July 8, 2015, Ms. Nesbitt and Mr. Baker filed their answer brief.  On August 12, 2015, the Corps filed its reply brief.  On March 3, 2017, on the eve of oral arguments before the Ninth Circuit in Seattle, federal lawyers filed an emergency motion stating their clients’ intention to ‘reconsider[] the firearms policy,’ which the panel granted.

On November 20, 2017, the Corps granted Mr. Baker and Mrs. Nesbitt written permission to carry loaded firearms on Corps-managed lands in Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington.  Based upon that written permission, the parties filed a joint motion to dismiss the appeal, subject to reinstatement upon two narrowly defined conditions.  On December 15, 2017, the Ninth Circuit granted the motion, dismissed the appeal, and remanded the case to the Idaho federal district court.  On January 4, 2018, the district court held a status conference after which and based in part on the Corps’ stated intention of amending its firearms ban, the district court administratively closed the case, subject to any party moving to reopen it.

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