Are Assault Rifles ‘Weapons Of War?’
In a 10-4 ruling, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, said the 45 assault rifles prohibited under the Maryland law aren’t protected under the Second Amendment.
The court passed the ban in 2013 in response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School killings which occurred in Connecticut, The New York Daily News reports. Citing a 2008 Supreme Court case District of Columbia v. Heller, which stated that weapons that would be useful for military service aren’t covered by the Constitution.
“We are convinced that the banned assault weapons and large-capacity magazines are among those arms that are ‘like’ M-16 rifles — ‘weapons that are most useful in military service’ — which the Heller court singled out as being beyond the Second Amendment’s reach,” Judge Robert King wrote, as part of the ruling.
“Put simply, we have no power to extend Second Amendment protection to the weapons of war that the Heller decision explicitly excluded from such coverage.”
Echoing the Heller verdict, the judge described assault rifles as “devastating weapons of war whose only legitimate purpose is to lay waste to a battlefield full of combatants.”
“The majority concludes that the semiautomatic rifles banned by Maryland law are most useful in military service, even though they are not in regular use by any military force, including the United States Army,” per the decision.
The shootings in Aurora, Colorado, Orlando, Florida and San Bernardino, California also influenced the Court’s decision. These cities are now “synonymous with the slaughters that occurred there.”
Brian Frosh, Maryland’s Attorney General pushed for the law in 2013 while he was still a state senator, and said it’s “unthinkable that these weapons of war, weapons that caused the carnage in Newtown and in other communities across the country, would be protected by the Second Amendment.”
All of the court’s judges participated in the decision, Frosh said, characterizing the opinion as a “very strong” decision with national significance.
Almost all of the judges were on board with this, but Judge William Traxler had other concerns.
In writing his dissent, he wrote that by concluding the Second Amendment doesn’t apply, the majority “has gone to greater lengths than any other court to eviscerate the constitutionally guaranteed right to keep and bear arms.” And he also wrote that the court didn’t really conduct a strict enough review of the constitutionality of the law.
“For a law-abiding citizen who, for whatever reason, chooses to protect his home with a semi-automatic rifle instead of a semi-automatic handgun, Maryland’s law clearly imposes a significant burden on the exercise of the right to arm oneself at home, and it at least should be subject to strict scrutiny review before it is allowed to stand,” Traxler wrote.
And as could be expected, the National Rifle Association also wasn’t happy with the court’s decision to uphold the ban.
Jennifer Baker, a spokeswoman for the NRA had this to say:
“It is absurd to hold that the most popular rifle in America is not a protected ‘arm’ under the Second Amendment.”
She also maintained that the majority opinion “clearly ignores the Supreme Court’s guidance from District of Columbia v. Heller that the Second Amendment protects arms that are ‘in common use at the time for lawful purposes like self-defense.’”
The NRA claims there are five million to 10 million AR-15’s in circulation nationwide for lawful purposes. And after being asked about a potential appeal, Baker said the NRA is exploring its options.
But for Elizabeth Banach, executive director of Marylanders To Prevent Gun Violence, the decision is “overwhelming proof that reasonable measures to prevent gun violence are constitutional.”
“Maryland’s law needs to become a national model of evidence-based policies that will reduce gun-violence,” she said in a statement.
And it’s an uncomfortable truth that the U.S. has some of the most permissive gun rights in the world, The Independent notes. When Congress capitulated to the NRA, some states enacted their own measures. Currently, laws in seven states and the District of Columbia ban semiautomatic rifles.
But with such permissive gun laws come plenty of shootings that lead to plenty of deaths — and while it doesn’t specify how many people have been killed by semiautomatic rifles since the beginning of this year, the Gun Violence Archive reports that 2, 249 people have been killed by guns so far.
So who challenged the ban in the first place?
The ball got rolling after two gun owners, accompanied by a number of gun shops and gun-rights groups sued to strike down the Maryland law. Tuesday’s ruling reverses a previous decision by a Fourth Circuit panel that said the Maryland law violated Second Amendment rights, The New York Daily News reports.
U.S. Circuit Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson, appointed under Ronald Reagan, wrote an insightful argument agreeing with Tuesday’s decision and sharply criticizing lawmakers who don’t get behind stricter gun laws.
“To say in the wake of so many mass shootings in so many localities across this country that the people themselves are now to be rendered newly powerless, that all they can do is stand by and watch as federal courts design their destiny — this would deliver a body blow to democracy as we have known it since the very founding of this nation,” he wrote.
But with President Donald Trump pandering shamelessly to the NRA, it’s likely that democracy, as well as the safety of innocent people, will take many body blows.
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
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