(CN) - The Second Amendment right to bear arms does not extend to people who are in the United States illegally, the 4th Circuit ruled.
While searching the Orangeburg, S.C., home of Mexican national Nicolas Carpio-Leon, immigration agents found a .22 caliber Marlin rifle, a 9 mm Hi-Point pistol and ammunition.
Carpio-Leon, who had lived in Orangeburg for 13 years and had three American-born children, claimed that he kept the firearms for the protection of his home and his children. He admitted he was in the United States illegally, and had used a false Social Security number to get a driver's license.
Prosecutors indicted Carpio-Leon in 2011 for possessing firearms while being illegally in the United States and for entering the country illegally.
A federal judge refused to dismiss the charges, and rejected Carpio-Leon's argument that the U.S. government had violated his constitutional rights.
Carpio-Leon then pleaded guilty to the charges, but he retained the right to appeal his constitutional arguments.
The Richmond, Va.-based federal appeals court agreed that the Second Amendment does not cover undocumented aliens, because they are not law-abiding citizens.
"On Carpio-Leon's Second Amendment challenge, we conclude that the scope of the Second Amendment does not extend to provide protection to illegal aliens, because illegal aliens are not law-abiding members of the political community and aliens who have entered the United States unlawfully have no more rights under the Second Amendment than do aliens outside of the United States seeking admittance," Judge Paul Niemeyer wrote for the panel Friday.
Carpio-Leon had argued that illegal aliens have the right to keep firearms in their homes for their families' protection, even though they are unlawfully present in the United States. He contended that the Second Amendment could not have been intended to exclude illegal immigrants from its protection, because, at the time it was adopted, "attitudes toward immigration were the reverse of today's attitudes." But the appeals court noted that, historically, the constitutional right to bear arms had been reserved for law-abiding, responsible citizens.
The Second Amendment has limits and excludes various categories, including felons convicted of violent crimes and illegal aliens, the opinion states.
"Thus, the Second Amendment does not guarantee the right to possess for every purpose, to possess every type of weapon, to possess at every place, or to possess by every person," Niemeyer wrote.
The court also dismissed Carpio-Leon's Fifth Amendment challenge, finding that barring undocumented aliens from possessing firearms is justified by the government's interest in public safety.
While undocumented aliens are "persons" guaranteed due process of law by the Fifth and 14th Amendments, they are "harder to trace and more likely to assume a false identity," and are already living outside the law, giving the government a legitimate interest to prohibit them from bearing firearms, the opinion states.
The court dismissed as irrelevant evidence that Carpio-Leon said would show that undocumented workers are no more dangerous to society than legal aliens or American citizens.