A Maryland assault weapons ban and other laws aimed at reducing gun violence were shot down by a federal appeals court on Thursday. A coalition of gun owners, businesses, and gun advocacy groups have been challenging a 2013 law that targeted specific kinds of semi-automatic firearms, like AR-15s and AK-47s.
As reported by the Huffington Post, a panel of judges in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit said the Maryland ban on many semi-automatic rifles already possessed by millions of Americans was a violation of rights protected by the Constitution.
“In our view, Maryland law implicates the core protection of the Second Amendment — the right of law-abiding responsible citizens to use arms in defense of hearth and home,” wrote Chief Judge William Traxler. He added that the Maryland ban significantly impedes this right.
Former Governor Martin O’Malley signed the Maryland Firearm Safety Act right after the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. The Act outlawed the ownership of 45 different semi-automatic firearms and put significant restrictions on large-capacity magazines. It also imposed more registration and licensing requirements on gun owners.
Shortly thereafter, gun rights advocates, including the National Rifle Association, began challenging the legislation. They contended the newly added restrictions did not save lives and were too far-reaching.
“Maryland’s ban on commonly owned firearms and magazines clearly violates our fundamental, individual right to keep and bear arms for self-defense. The highest level of judicial scrutiny should apply when governments try to restrict our Second Amendment freedoms,” commented Chris W. Cox, executive director of the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action.
Many Second Amendment supporters have challenged gun control laws in other states like New York and have met little success. Late last year, a Manhattan federal appeals court upheld many gun control laws that were passed in New York and Connecticut after the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre.
In December, the Supreme Court decided not to review an Illinois court ruling that supported an assault weapons ban similar to the Maryland one. Through several past rulings, the Supreme Court has held that the Second Amendment protects a person’s right to keep and bear arms for self-defense within the home.
However, lower court judges have been struggling to apply those rulings to the wave of new gun control measures. With rulings nationwide inconsistent and without concrete standards, the exact interpretation of the Second Amendment has come into question.
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is concerned about the erosion of rights guaranteed by the Second Amendment. “If a broad ban on firearms can be upheld based on conjecture that the public might feel safer (while being no safer at all), then the Second Amendment guarantees nothing,” he wrote.
The decision Thursday on Maryland’s assault weapons ban may be a win for those who want a wider interpretation of the Second Amendment. Yet some see another Supreme Court challenge close at hand.
“This case was a major victory for the NRA and gun rights advocates,” said Adam Winkler, a law professor at UCLA who specializes in Second Amendment law. “This opinion is an important one because it subjects important gun control laws to the most strict form of judicial scrutiny.”
In a related Inquisitr report, many gun rights advocates felt the Second Amendment was under attack in early January after President Obama announced a plan to take executive action on gun control.
The 66-page decision by the 4th Circuit court did not reverse the Maryland assault weapons prohibition, but demanded a lower court to hold the provision to a higher legal standard. This ruling only sets the stage for more legal battles and the eventuality of a Supreme Court review.
One member of the 4th Circuit did argue that the Maryland ban should be upheld and implied the court’s ruling would only lead to another mass shooting.
“Let’s be real,” wrote Circuit Judge Robert King. “The assault weapons banned by Maryland’s [law] are exceptionally lethal weapons of war.”
While the ruling sends the case back to the lower court’s hands for additional review, the Maryland assault weapons ban will remain in effect.
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