Monday, November 26, 2007

"The prohibition does not extend to weapons such as pistols that may be supposed to be needed occasionally for self-defense"

The plaintiff in error was an unnaturalized foreign-born resident of Pennsylvania, and was complained of for owning or having in his possession a shotgun, contrary to an act of May 8, 1909. Laws 1909, No. 261, p. 466. This statute makes it unlawful for any unnaturalized foreign-born resident to kill any wild bird or animal except in defense of person or property, and 'to that end' makes it unlawful for such foreign-born person to own or be possessed of a shotgun or rifle; with a penalty of $25 and a forfeiture of the gun or guns. The plaintiff in error was found guilty and was sentenced to pay the above-mentioned fine. The judgment was affirmed on successive appeals. 231 Pa. 46, 79 Atl. 928. He brings the case to this court on the ground that the statute is contrary to the 14th Amendment and also is in contravention of the treaty between the United States and Italy, to which latter country the plaintiff in error belongs.

Under the 14th Amendment the objection is two fold; unjustifiably depriving the alien of property, and discrimination against such aliens as a class. But the former really depends upon the latter, since it hardly can be disputed that if the lawful object, the protection of wild life ( Geer v. Connecticut, 161 U.S. 519, 40 L. ed. 793, 16 Sup. Ct. Rep. 600), warrants the discrimination, the means adopted for making it effective also might be adopted. The possession of rifles and shotguns is not necessary for other purposes not within the statute. It is so peculiarly appropriated to the forbidden use that if such a use may be denied to this class, the possession of the instruments desired chiefly for that end also may be. The prohibition does not extend to weapons such as pistols that may be supposed to be needed occasionally for self-defense. So far, the case is within the principle of Lawton v. Steele, 152 U.S. 133, 38 L. ed. 385, 14 Sup. Ct. Rep. 499. [Page 232 U.S. 138, 144] See further, New York ex rel. Silz v. Hesterberg, 211 U.S. 31, 53 L. ed. 75, 29 Sup. Ct. Rep. 10; Purity Extract & Tonic Co. v. Lynch, 226 U.S. 192, 57 L. ed. 184, 33 Sup. Ct. Rep. 44....

- Patsone v. Com. Of Pennsylvania, U.S. Supreme Court, Jan. 19, 1914

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