Supporters of the Second Amendment saw a major setback on Tuesday when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit ruled that the Second Amendment doesn’t protect “assault weapons.”
The court’s en banc decision reversed a previous ruling that had struck down Maryland’s sweeping ban on what the state called “assault weapons” and standard capacity magazines.
In 2013, many states had knee-jerk reactions to the shooting at Newtown Elementary, and passed sweeping restrictions on sales of many rifles and what many call “high capacity” magazines.
The restrictions were challenged by gun owners. While a district court rejected their suit, a panel of judges from the 4th Circuit ruled that Maryland had gone too far and violated Second Amendment rights.
With that, the full court decided to hear the case. Their new ruling opens with the same shock-value based argument that compelled Maryland to enact the restrictions in the first place. Geographical locations like Newtown, Aurora, San Bernardino, Orlando, Binghamton, Tucson, Virginia Tech, and Fort Hood, have a way of capturing the emotion of Americans.
Maryland couldn’t ban guns completely. The state acknowledged that the Supreme Court’s decision in D.C. v. Heller ensures a citizens’ right to own handguns and keep them in their residences. Yet Maryland described the guns they were banning as “dangerous and unusual weapons.” The Heller decision doesn’t protect those.
The Heller decision, which gun owners celebrate, has a provision that notes some guns “that are most useful in military service—M-16 rifles and the like—may be banned.”
“Whatever their other potential,” the court wrote, such guns “are unquestionably most useful in military service. That is, the banned assault weapons are designed to kill or disable the enemy on the battlefield.”
“The next effect of these military combat features,” the decision reads, “is a capability for lethality—more wounds, more serious, in more victims—far beyond that of other firearms in general, including other semiautomatic guns.”
This is precisely why so many prefer these guns for self defense. And it completely ignores their potential i sporting uses.
The court ruled that Maryland’s ban does not “effectively disarm individuals or substantially affect their ability to defend themselves.” So it is constitutional.
Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III, who was appointed by Reagan, joined the majority. In a surprise written statement, he lashed out at the gun industry.
“As Heller recognized, there is a balance to be struck here. While courts exist to protect individual rights, we are not the instruments of anyone’s political agenda, we are not empowered to court mass consequences we cannot predict, and we are not impaneled to add indefinitely to the growing list of subjects on which the states of our Union and the citizens of our country no longer have any meaningful say.”
Disenfranchising the American people on this life and death subject would be the gravest and most serious of steps. It is their community, not ours. It is their safety, not ours. It is their lives, not ours. 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.
In urging us to strike this legislation, appellants would impair the ability of government to act prophylactically. More and more under appellants’ view, preventive statutory action is to be judicially forbidden and we must bide our time until another tragedy is inflicted or irretrievable human damage has once more been done.
Leaving the question of assault weapons bans to legislative competence preserves the latitude that representative governments enjoy in responding to changes in facts on the ground. Constitutionalizing this critical issue will place it in a freeze frame which only the Supreme Court itself could alter. The choice is ultimately one of flexibility versus rigidity, and beyond that, of whether conduct that has visited such communal bereavement across America will be left to the communal processes of democracy for resolution.”
Just how dangerous are these rifles? The FBI crime data for 2015 lists 13,455 murder victims in the United States in 2015. Of that number, only 252 were killed with a rifle–and that number includes all rifles, not just the “assault weapons” that Maryland seems to fear so much. During the same period 42 homicides committed with rifles were ruled justifiable.