The Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a Maryland ban on so-called “assault rifles” and “large-capacity” magazines on Tuesday, saying that such arms are beyond American’s Second Amendment rights.
The court went further than any other so far, ruling unequivocally that such arms “are not protected by the Second Amendment.” The ruling applies only to states that make up the Fourth Circuit: North Carolina, South Carolina, Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia, according to this story from The Wall Street Journal.
The story says that the 9-4 ruling is almost certain to be appealed to the Supreme Court, which has notoriously avoided such cases in the past.
From the story: “The (Supreme Court) justices turned away previous requests to review lower court rulings on rifle bans, but the Fourth Circuit’s ruling, with its broad language, may prove irresistible.”
In order for the highest court in the country to hear the case, four Supreme Court justices would have to vote in favor of reviewing it. Currently, the court is split among four conservatives and four liberal justices. President Trump nomination of conservative-leaning Judge Neil Gorsuch to the bench is pending confirmation hearings, scheduled for March 20.
While the Supreme Court’s landmark 2008 D.C. v. Heller decision recognized Americans’ right to own a gun for self-defense, but the justices maintained that the Second Amendment does permit some restrictions.
The law in question is Maryland’s Firearms Safety Act of 2013, which banned all AR-15 platform rifles, in a knee-jerk reaction to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut. The law also bans magazines holding more than 10 rounds. The law specifically bans certain models of rifles as well as “copycat rifles that accept detachable magazines and have some combination of a folding stock, grenade or flare launcher, or flash suppressor.”
“We are convinced that the banned assault weapons and large-capacity magazines are among those arms that are ‘like’ ‘M16 rifles’—’weapons that are most useful in military service’—which the Heller Court singled out as being beyond the Second Amendment’s reach,” wrote Judge Robert B. King, an appointee of President Bill Clinton.
The dissenting judges accursed their colleagues on the bench of veering the court far off course, the story says.
“Today the majority holds that the Government can take semiautomatic rifles away from law abiding citizens. In concluding that the Second Amendment does not even apply, the majority has gone to greater lengths than any other court to eviscerate the constitutionally guaranteed right to keep and bear arms,” wrote Judge William Byrd Traxler Jr., another Clinton appointee, according to this story from guns.com.
Judge Albert Diaz, who was appointed to the seat by President Barack Obama, voted with the majority, but said in a concurring opinion that “it wasn’t necessary to decide whether military-style rifles were protected by the Second Amendment.”
In February 2016, a three-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit ruled that the Second Amendment did indeed protect “military-style” rifles and faulted a lower court for reviewing the 2013 law under a standard that was too lax, the story said. This lead to the court rehearing the case.
The Second Circuit federal appeals court in Manhattan and in Washington D.C. have upheld restrictions on semi-auto rifles with military features without determining whether or not they are protected by the Second Amendment, the story says.