1 minute read

United States v. Miller

Sawed-off Shotguns & The Second Amendment

When Jack Miller and Frank Layton were stopped in Siloam Springs, Arkansas, police found a double-barreled, 12-gauge shotgun in their possession. The gun, bought by the men in Claremore, Oklahoma, earned them an arrest for violating the National Firearms Act of 1934.

Prohibition ended in 1933, but memories of over a decade of gangland mayhem were still fresh a year later. Bank robberies and other violent federal offenses were still a concern when Congress passed The National Firearms Act on 23 June 1934. The law focused on machine guns, silencers, and all rifles and shotguns with barrels shorter than 18 inches. To sell or otherwise "transfer" such a weapon, the owner or manufacturer was required to register it and pay a $200 tax, in return for regulatory tax stamps. In effect, the law prohibited the interstate transportation of such weapons and their subsequent ownership. Penalties for violating the Firearms Act included a $2,000 fine and/or five years imprisonment.

Miller and Layton's shotgun had been sawed off. They were charged with transporting a shotgun whose barrel was less than 18 inches long across state lines without proper registration and without a federal tax stamp. Attorneys for the men filed a motion for demurrer, asking that the indictment be dismissed. The lawyers argued that the law under which Miller and Layton had been indicted violated their Second Amendment right to bear arms. The demurrer also alleged that the tax clauses of the Firearms Act were not genuine revenue collecting measures, but an attempt by the federal government to usurp police powers reserved to the states. The Western Arkansas District Court agreed. The indictments were dismissed and the two men were freed.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1918 to 1940United States v. Miller - Sawed-off Shotguns The Second Amendment, Preserving A Well-regulated Militia, The Brady Bill