United States v. Lopez Case Brief

Why is the case important?

The Gun-Free School Zones Act (the Act) of 1990 made possessing a gun within a school zone a federal offense. A 12th grade student (Lopez) was convicted of violating the Act when he brought a handgun to his high school.

Facts of the case

“Alfonzo Lopez, a 12th grade high school student, carried a concealed weapon into his San Antonio, Texas high school. He was charged under Texas law with firearm possession on school premises. The next day, the state charges were dismissed after federal agents charged Lopez with violating a federal criminal statute, the Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990. The act forbids “”any individual knowingly to possess a firearm at a place that [he] knows…is a school zone.”” Lopez was found guilty following a bench trial and sentenced to six months’ imprisonment and two years’ supervised release.”


Does the commerce power of Congress extend to activities that have no apparent connection to interstate commerce?


“No. The Court of Appeals is affirmed.&nbsp

  • The activity being regulated must substantially affect interstate commerce.&nbsp
  • There are three broad categories of activity Congress may regulate under the commerce power. First, the channels of interstate commerce. Second, the instrumentalities of interstate commerce. Third, activities having a substantial effect upon interstate commerce.”


    “The Court held that the GFSZA is a criminal statute that by its terms has nothing to do with “”commerce”” or any sort of economic enterprise, however broadly one might define those terms. The GFSZA is not an essential part of a larger regulation of economic activity, in which the regulatory scheme could be undercut unless the intrastate activity were regulated. It cannot, therefore, be sustained as a regulation of activity that arises out of or is connected with a commercial transaction, which viewed in the aggregate, substantially affects interstate commerce.”

    • Case Brief: 1995
    • Petitioner: United States
    • Respondent: Lopez
    • Decided by: Rehnquist Court

    Citation: 514 US 549 (1995)
    Argued: Nov 8, 1994
    Decided: Apr 26, 1995