August 21, 2023
There are a lot of good pro-freedom organizations doing great work these days trying to protect the individual rights of Americans. And that’s a good thing since the Biden Administration and Congress continue to force more and more unconstitutional infringements on lawful citizens.
One such organization, albeit less well-known than many, is the Mountain States Legal Foundation (MSLF). Founded in 1977, this Denver-based nonprofit law firm is working hard in the courtroom to protect the rights of its clients, thereby protecting the rights of all Americans.
Specializing in a variety of interests ranging from environmental regulations to economic liberty to gun owners’ rights, MSLF found itself needing a specialized entity to concentrate on Second Amendment issues. So, back in 2020 the organization launched its Center to Keep and Bear Arms.
Since the formation of the CKBA just happened to coincide with the Biden Administration taking office and a renewed interest in infringing upon Americans’ Second Amendment rights, the center has been plenty busy ever since, according to Brian Abbas, director of MSLF’s Center to Keep and Bear Arms,
“We’re the only in-house, litigation-only Second Amendment operation,” Abbas said in an exclusive interview with Firearms News. “We’ve pretty much just dedicated a part of our law firm to doing Second Amendment stuff.”
MSLF jumped into the Second Amendment realm by filing a brief before the U.S. Supreme Court in District of Columbia v. Heller, the all-important case in which the court found that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to bear arms. It later filed a brief in McDonald v. Chicago, another crucial Second Amendment case in which the high court ruled that the right of the individual to keep and bear arms as prescribed in Heller was applicable to the states.
Along the way, the organization has filed objections to various ATF rules like the pistol brace rule and 80% rule. It has also been involved in a number of firearms-related cases at the state level, including two in California where cities were trying to sue the federal government to change the definition of “firearm.”
Most recently, MSLF is involved with the ongoing case VanDerStok v. Garland, in which the firm’s clients are suing the Biden Administration for its so-called “ghost gun” Final Rule that redefined some gun parts as firearms under the Gun Control Act. We recently told you how a district judge struck down the rule. Since then, however, at the request of the federal government, the U.S. Supreme Court voted 5-4 to allow the regulation to remain in effect while the measure is litigated in court.
According to Abbas, the near-miss in the recent 5-4 Supreme Court vote was somewhat unexpected, but certainly not the end of the matter.
“I think one of our biggest successes so far has been VanDerStok,” Abbas said. “At the end of the day, we had a short turnaround to do the briefing for the Supreme Court—I think it was less than seven days. And just on that alone, on our emergency briefing, we got four out of the nine justices.”
Abbas said because of that, gun owners following the case shouldn’t be overly concerned about the setback and what the future holds.
“I'm confident that it's going to go to the Supreme Court again,” Abbas said. “Once we actually have a chance to fully brief the entire case, I think the Supreme Court is going to side with us and quite frankly, it's the right thing to do.”
In fact, according to Abbas, the government’s case is quite weak.
“Another great thing about this case is, when it comes down to it, the Justice Department’s arguments are all policy based and don't really have any substance,” he said. “They know that they're violating the Administrative Procedures Act by putting this rule into effect.
“And on top of that, building your own firearm has been happening since before we even passed the constitution. It’s something relatively normal here in the United States.”
Aside from VanDerStok, MSLF’s Center to Keep and Bear Arms has a handful of other cases on the works or that will be announced soon. One involves a ban on so-called “high-capacity” magazines in Montana, and the firm has recently filed for summary judgment in that case. Abbas expects it to be before the 9th Circuit Court in the near future.
“And that one is interesting,” Abbas said. “I mean, you have these quote/unquote ‘experts’ on the government side of things that are getting paid anywhere from $200 to $1,000 an hour to write these briefings, claiming their expert status and saying things like, ‘Well, you know high-capacity magazines kill all sorts of people.’ And your tax dollars are paying for that. At the end of the day, all it does is show that there are hundreds of millions of these magazines out there. So, they’re in common use, and because they’re in common use you can't restrict them. They're protected under the Second Amendment.”
Interestingly, MSLF is a nonprofit, 501c3 organization that represents its clients in these cases free of charge. Funding comes exclusively from donors supporting the organization’s mission. The group’s website has more information about funding here.
Equally interesting, the organization finds many of its cases through lawful gun owners who believe they have a grievance against the government and contact the organization directly about their circumstances.
“We have an arae on our website that says, ‘Get Involved,’ and under that a place to submit a case,” Abbas said. “We always take case submissions and get about one a week, sometimes more. From there, we determine if we’re going to take the case.”
Freelance writer and editor Mark Chesnut is the owner/editorial director at Red Setter Communications LLC. An avid hunter, shooter and political observer, he has been covering Second Amendment issues and politics on a near-daily basis for nearly 25 years.