U.S. v. Bean, 537 U.S. 71, 123 S. Ct. 584, 154 L. Ed. 483 (2002).
Summary of Case:
A Texas gun dealer named Thomas Bean went to Laredo, Texas, for a gun show. On Saturday night, after instructing his assistants to empty his Suburban of all guns and ammo, he drove himself and his three assistants across the border into Nuevo Laredo for dinner.
Upon crossing the border, the Mexican authorities discover approximately 200 rounds of overlooked ammo in the back of the Suburban.
Bean was arrested and sentence to five years imprisonment in Mexico for bringing the ammo into Mexico.
The case became a cause celebre in the United States, and Bean was eventually transferred to a US prison under provisions of a treaty with Mexico.
Bean was released shortly after the transfer, but under US law he is considered a felon because of the overlooked 200 rounds. Although he was not breaking US law in having the forgotten ammo in the back of his vehicle, the government took away his FFL and his right to possess firearms.
Bean applied to have his gun rights restored under 18 U.S.C. 925(c), which allows the BATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) to restore gun rights. The statute also allows individuals seeking to have their gun rights restored to appeal to U.S. Federal District Court if the BATF denies the application.
The BATF did not deny the application. They simply refused to rule on it, either way. This was because the U.S. Congress had specifically refused to appropriate any money for such investigations by the BATF.
Bean petitioned the U.S. District Court in Beaumont. He argued that the refusal to rule was tantamount to a denial. He won the argument District Court. The government appealed. He won at the Fifth Circuit. The government appealed. In a unanimous decision authored by Justice Clarence Thomas the U.S. Supreme Court agreed with the government that Bean could not petition the District Court in the absence of a denial by the BATF.
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