A gun shop challenged Maryland’s strict new gun law and just lost in court, in a ruling that removes the illusion of 2nd Amendment rights from an entire class of the most lethal firearms known to man. Today’s ruling will apply directly to gun control laws passed Virginia, Maryland, and both North and South Carolina, and it was joined by nine judges including the Chief Judge of the federal court.
The entire federal 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Maryland ruled that the 2nd Amendment doesn’t cover assault rifles, and affirmed that state’s ban on transfers of military-style ‘assault weapons’ like the AR-15 and Bushmaster rifle. The Court’s decision read:
We conclude — contrary to the now- vacated decision of our prior panel — that the banned assault weapons and large-capacity magazines are not protected by the Second Amendment. That is, 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.
The Court criticized the plaintiffs’ utter failure to prove any self-defense motive for assault weapon ownership:
Neither the plaintiffs nor Maryland law enforcement officials could identify a single incident in which a Marylander has used a military-style rifle or shotgun, or needed to fire more than ten rounds, to protect herself.
The panel of federal judges even called out the only minor difference between an automatic weapon which can unload a large capacity magazine in 2 seconds, compared to the 5 seconds popular semi-automatic weapons need in the hands of an inexperienced shooter. Their legal reasoning will be difficult, if not impossible, to impeach in later gun rights rulings, and the judges made a clear explanation of their logic:
For their part, large-capacity magazines enable shooters to inflict mass casualties while depriving victims and law enforcement officers of opportunities to escape or overwhelm the shooters while they reload their weapons. Even in the hands of law-abiding citizens, large-capacity magazines are particularly dangerous. The State’s evidence demonstrates that, when inadequately trained civilians fire weapons equipped with large- capacity magazines, they tend to fire more rounds than necessary and thus endanger more bystanders.
In support of the FSA [Firearm Safety Act of 2013], the State garnered evidence showing that the prohibitions against assault weapons and large-capacity magazines will promote public safety by reducing the availability of those armaments to mass shooters and other criminals, by diminishing their especial threat to law enforcement officers, and by hindering their unintentional misuse by civilians.
Maryland’s law doesn’t confiscate a single gun, and it specifically carves out members of law enforcement who are expected to have specialized training and use for high-powered weapons. The court also upheld that particular part of the state’s gun controls, against the gun shop’s claims of unequal protection under the law.
This decision respects the will of Maryland’s voters who chose to elect progressive legislators that responded to the Newtown Massacre by taking affirmative steps to limit the most dangerous weapons of war from falling into the wrong hands. Even the judges recognized that no gun control will be perfect, but that’s not the point:
The State does not expect the FSA to eradicate all gun crimes and accidents, but rather to curtail those that result in more shots fired and more deaths and injuries because they are committed with military-style firearms and magazines.
With this landmark decision in hand, perhaps more state legislatures will follow suit to protect citizens from evil-doers, who have committed atrocities while carrying large capacity magazines in firearms, and to restrict military-style assault weapons in order to limit the bloodshed the next time when – not if – someone uses a gun to commit murder.
Grant Stern is the Executive Editor of Occupy Democrats and published author. His new Meet the Candidates 2020 book series is distributed by Simon and Schuster. He's also mortgage broker, community activist and radio personality in Miami, Florida., as well as the producer of the Dworkin Report podcast. Grant is also an occasional contributor to Raw Story, Alternet, and the DC Report, and a senior advisor to the Democratic Coalition