Common Use Under Fire: Kolbe v. Hogan and the Urgent Need for Clarity in the Mass-Shooting Era

It is, perhaps, fitting to say that we are living in the Mass-Shooting Era. While the number of gun-related homicides has stabilized in the United States, fear of mass shootings has become commonplace. We are constantly bombarded with images and stories detailing the horrific trauma these events cause. However, the nation’s emotional outpour over mass shootings has not gone unheard; politicians on both sides of the aisle have responded with legislation designed to provide greater protection to their constituents. But these responses have run into a substantial legal roadblock: the ambiguities of Second Amendment jurisprudence. In its seminal case, District of Columbia v. Heller, the Supreme Court roughly sketched the boundaries of the Second Amendment: weapons in “common use at the time” that are “typically possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes” fall within its protections. But the Heller Court declined to discuss exactly how these standards apply. As a result, state and federal courts have struggled to develop clear and uniform frameworks for resolving the common-use question. The Fourth Circuit’s recent decision in Kolbe v. Hogan is the latest, and, perhaps, most controversial example of this trend. Thus, by engaging in a comprehensive analysis of the Fourth Circuit’s treatment of common-use test at each stage of the Kolbe case, this Note seeks to understand the Fourth Circuit’s decision within the larger, continuing struggles of the lower courts to keep faith with Heller’s requirements, particularly the common-use test. Ultimately, this Note concludes that, considering its controversial decision and the present situation in the United States, the Kolbe case is the strongest evidence of the urgent need for the Supreme Court to reengage with the Second Amendment and with common use.