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United States v. Matteo

decided as amended.: October 4, 1983.


Appeal by Louis Matteo from a judgment of conviction of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York (Platt, J.) entered on March 4, 1983. Appellant appeals from conviction as to Count Three and Count Five contained in the indictment.

Van Graafeiland and Pratt, Circuit Judges, and Coffrin, District Judge.*fn*

Author: Coffrin

COFFRIN, District Judge.

Defendant was charged by indictment with five violations of the gun control laws and was convicted, upon a jury verdict, of four of those five charges. Defendant appeals from the convictions as to Counts Three and Five only. Count Three charged defendant with transporting 12 firearms interstate without the requisite licenses in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(a)(3) (1976). Count Five charged defendant with transporting 45 firearms interstate without the requisite licenses, also in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(a)(3) (1976). Section 922(a)(3) is contained in Title IV of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968, 82 Stat. 226, amended by the Gun Control Act of 1968, 82 Stat. 1214, now appearing as 18 U.S.C. § 921 et seq. (1976 ed. and Supp. V.) (hereinafter "the Act"). It provides, in pertinent part,

It shall be unlawful for any person, other than a licensed importer, licensed manufacturer, licensed dealer, or licensed collector to transport into or receive in the State where he resides . . . any firearm purchased or otherwise obtained by such person outside that State . . .

Defendant does not dispute that he was not a licensed importer, manufacturer, dealer or collector of firearms. His sole contention is that by virtue of his dual residency in both the state in which he purchased the guns and the state into which he transported the guns, he is exempt from the proscriptions of the statute.

In determining the scope of the statute and the persons to whom it is applicable, we must consider not only the plain meaning of the language used in the statute, but also must interpret that language in light of the purposes Congress sought to serve by promulgating the relevant laws. Dickerson v. New Banner Institute, Inc., 460 U.S. 103, 103 S. Ct. 986, 994, 74 L. Ed. 2d 845 (1983); Chapman v. Houston Welfare Rights Organization, 441 U.S. 600, 608, 60 L. Ed. 2d 508, 99 S. Ct. 1905 (1979). In a number of cases, the United States Supreme Court has recognized and given weight to the broad prophylactic purposes of the Act:

When Congress enacted [18 U.S.C. § 921 et seq. ] it was concerned with the widespread traffic in firearms and with their general availability to those whose possession thereof was contrary to the public interest. . . . The principal purpose of federal gun control legislation, therefore, was to curb crime by keeping 'firearms out of the hands of those not legally entitled to possess them because of age, criminal background, or incompetency.' Dickerson, 103 S. Ct. at 994; Huddleston v. United States, 415 U.S. 814, 824 [39 L. Ed. 2d 782, 94 S. Ct. 1262] (1974), quoting S. Rep. No. 1501, 90th Cong., 2d Sess., 22 (1968).

See also Barrett v. United States, 423 U.S. 212, 220-221, 46 L. Ed. 2d 450, 96 S. Ct. 498 (1976). In discussing the congressional intent and legislative purpose of the gun control laws, the Supreme Court in Dickerson expressly recognized that the licensing provisions of the Act are "particularly important because Title IV and federal gun laws generally funnel access to firearms almost exclusively through dealers." 103 S. Ct. at 995.

Defendant relies on a Seventh Circuit case to support his contention that, despite the purposes of the Act as outlined above, his conduct of transporting 57 firearms from New York to Florida without the requisite licenses was not intended by Congress to be proscribed by the Act because he maintains a residency in each of those states. In United States v. One Heckler-Koch Rifle, 629 F.2d 1250 (7th Cir. 1980), a forfeiture action, the Seventh Circuit considered a similar dual-residency exemption claim in the context of a defendant who had borrowed a firearm from a resident of Florida and who flew to his home in Chicago with the item, which he properly declared he was carrying with him. The defendant had only the one firearm and there is no indication that he obtained it illegally or intended it for resale or unlawful purposes. In response to defendant's attempt to exempt himself from the statute by establishing residency in Florida as well as Chicago, the District Court stated: "[a] literal reading of [§ 922(a)(3)] reveals that the violation lies in transporting into a state of residence a firearm purchased outside that particular State." Id. at 1256. (Emphasis in original). The Circuit Court, while recognizing that the District Court's construction of the statute "is certainly a reasonable one" and that the defendant's conduct "[fell] within the literal sweep of § 922(a)(3)", opined that the provision "was not intended to apply to transportation of a firearm between two states by a person with residency in both states." Id. at 1256. The court relied upon the legislative history in making its determination, particularly upon some remarks made by Representative Corman and a letter from the Attorney General in response to an inquiry from Congress. The Attorney General's letter stated that the statute would not be applicable in a situation where a congressman lawfully obtained a firearm in D.C. where he had a temporary residence, and then transported it to his home state, where he also resided.

With respect to the letter from the Attorney General and the comments by Representative Corman relied upon by the Seventh Circuit in One Heckler-Koch Rifle, we are persuaded that they do not support that theory of exemption of this particular defendant on these facts. The opinion of the Attorney General by its words is limited to the very specific circumstances considered therein and we do not regard it as particularly enlightening with respect to the circumstances presented in the instant case. In his comments discussing residency, Corman noted only that a person who had more than one residence could lawfully purchase a gun in either of those places of residency; he said nothing about the transportation of arms outside the state of purchase. Furthermore, Corman went on to emphasize

So we ought not to confuse a person's ability to buy a gun in his place of temporary residence with the attempt to frustrate the purpose of this bill, which is to prevent a person from going outside the State of residence to buy a gun and then taking it back to his own State of residence.

(Emphasis added). One Heckler-Koch Rifle, 629 F.2d at 1256, citing 114 Cong. Rec. 22785 (July 23, 1968) (remarks of Rep. Corman).

Finally, in construing the statute so as not to prohibit the transportation of a firearm obtained in one state of ...

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