Supreme Court rejects challenge to assault weapon ban

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SCOTUS Denies Challenge to Assault Weapons Ban

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected a challenge by gun rights activists to a Chicago suburb's ordinance banning assault weapons and large-capacity magazines, handing a victory to gun control advocates amid a fierce debate over the nation's firearms laws.

The 2013 ordinance passed by the city of Highland Park, Illinois will remain in place. By opting not to hear an appeal of a lower-court ruling that upheld the measure, the justices declined to take up what would have been a high-profile gun rights case following a succession of mass shootings including the one last week in San Bernardino, California.

SEE ALSO: Americans stock up on weapons after California shooting

The Highland Park measure bans various semi-automatic weapons, including well-known guns such as the AR-15 and AK-47, in addition to magazines holding more than 10 rounds of bullets.

Two conservatives on the nine-member court, Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia, said the justices should have taken the case.

Thomas wrote a six-page dissent in which he said that despite recent pro-gun rights rulings by the conservative-leaning high court, several lower courts "have upheld categorical bans on firearms that millions of Americans commonly own for lawful purposes."

RELATED GALLERY: See photos of gun rights activists protesting

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2016: Gun rights activists, open carry protests
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Supreme Court rejects challenge to assault weapon ban
ROMULUS, MI - APRIL 27: A supporter of Michigan's Open Carry law attends a rally and march April 27, 2014 in Romulus, Michigan. The march was held to attempt to demonstrate to the general public what the typical open carrier is like. (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)
ARLINGTON, VA - APRIL 19: Pat Tillison joins gun rights groups who gathered at Gravelly Point across the Potomac River from the nation's capital for an 'Open Carry Rally' April 19, 2010 in Arlington, Virginia. The groups gathered in a National Park area to publicly carry weapons as a demonstration of their constitutional rights to bear arms. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
ALEXANDRIA, VA - APRIL 19: Gun rights groups gather at Fort Hunt Park for an 'Open Carry Rally' April 19, 2010 in Alexandria, Virginia. The groups gathered in a National Park area to publicly carry weapons as a demonstration of their constitutional rights to bear arms. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
ARLINGTON, VA - APRIL 19: Gun rights groups gather at Gravelly Point across the Potomac River from the nation's capital for an 'Open Carry Rally' April 19, 2010 in Arlington, Virginia. The groups gathered in a National Park area to publicly carry weapons as a demonstration of their constitutional rights to bear arms. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
ALEXANDRIA, VA - APRIL 19: Gun rights groups gather at Fort Hunt Park for an 'Open Carry Rally' April 19, 2010 in Alexandria, Virginia. The groups gathered in a National Park area to publicly carry weapons as a demonstration of their constitutional rights to bear arms. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
ARLINGTON, VA - APRIL 19: Gun rights groups gather at Gravelly Point across the Potomac River from the nation's capital for an 'Open Carry Rally' April 19, 2010 in Arlington, Virginia. The groups gathered in a National Park area to publicly carry weapons as a demonstration of their constitutional rights to bear arms. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
ROMULUS, MI - APRIL 27: A supporter of Michigan's Open Carry law attends a rally and march April 27, 2014 in Romulus, Michigan. The march was held to attempt to demonstrate to the general public what the typical open carrier is like. (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)
ROMULUS, MI - APRIL 27: Gloria Lincoln-Thompson of Garden City, Michigan carries her Smith & Wesson Shield 9mm pistol in her belt while participating in a rally and march supporting Michigan's Open Carry law April 27, 2014 in Romulus, Michigan. The march was held to attempt to demonstrate to the general public what the typical open carrier is like. (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)
ROMULUS, MI - APRIL 27: Supporters of Michigan's Open Carry law hold a rally and march April 27, 2014 in Romulus, Michigan. The march was held to attempt to demonstrate to the general public what the typical open carrier is like. (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)
Staff photo by Derek Davis: A pro-gun demonstrator who did not want to be identified stands in a park at Back Cove in Portland during an open-carry gathering at Back Cove in Portland to publicize the right to carry unconcealed weapons. Photographed on Sunday, April 25, 2010. (Photo by Derek Davis/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)
A demonstrator helps hold a large "Come and Take It" banner at a rally in support of open carry gun laws at the Capitol, Monday, Jan. 26, 2015, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Activist with the organization Open Carry Tarrant County, wave a Don't Tread On Me and Texas flag, as they demonstrate at a busy road intersection, Thursday, May 29, 2014, in Haltom City, Texas. North Texas gun rights advocates are suing the city of Arlington for amending an ordinance that they claim is discriminatory and infringes upon free speech rights, in the latest sign of growing tensions among gun activists and government forces in Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
Scott Smith, a supporter of open carry gun laws, wears a pistol as he prepares for a rally at the Capitol, Monday, Jan. 26, 2015, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Kory Watkins, front, coordinator for Open Carry Tarrant County carries his Romanian AK 47 over his shoulder as he and his wife Janie, rear, along with others gather for a demonstration, Thursday, May 29, 2014, in Haltom City, Texas. North Texas gun rights advocates are suing the city of Arlington for amending an ordinance that they claim is discriminatory and infringes upon free speech rights, in the latest sign of growing tensions among gun activists and government forces in Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
Tara Cowan of Euless, Texas, a member of Open Carry Tarrant County, poses for a portrait with a Saiga 556 rifle as she and members of the group Open Carry Tarrant County gathered for a demonstration, Thursday, May 29, 2014, in Haltom City, Texas. North Texas gun rights advocates are suing the city of Arlington for amending an ordinance that they claim is discriminatory and infringes upon free speech rights, in the latest sign of growing tensions among gun activists and government forces in Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
Kory Watkins, coordinator for Open Carry Tarrant County poses for a portrait holding his Romanian AK 47, Thursday, May 29, 2014, in Haltom City, Texas. North Texas gun rights advocates are suing the city of Arlington for amending an ordinance that they claim is discriminatory and infringes upon free speech rights, in the latest sign of growing tensions among gun activists and government forces in Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
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The U.S. Constitution's Second Amendment guarantees the right to bear arms, but there is a longstanding legal debate over its scope.

Semi-automatic rifles are popular, with the vast majority of owners using them for lawful purposes, Thomas said. "Under our precedents, that is all that is needed for citizens to have a right under the Second Amendment to keep such weapons," he said.


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'A SECOND-CLASS RIGHT'

In April, the Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the challenge to Highland Park's ordinance. Thomas said the high court should have heard the appeal of that ruling in order to prevent that appeals court "from relegating the Second Amendment to a second-class right."

The plaintiffs were gun owner Arie Friedman, a pediatrician, and the Illinois State Rifle Association. The National Rifle Association, the influential gun rights group, and 24 U.S. states urged the high court to hear the case.

The Supreme Court has not taken up a major gun case since 2010. In the 2008 District of Columbia v. Heller case, the court held for the first time that the Second Amendment guaranteed an individual right to bear arms, but the ruling applied only to firearms kept in the home for self-defense. Two years later, in the case McDonald v. City of Chicago, the court held that the earlier ruling applied to the states.

In defending the ban, Highland Park's lawyers noted that it was enacted "following a series of tragic mass shootings across the nation" including the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut in which 20 young pupils and six adults were killed.

They also pointed out that seven states, including California and New York, have similar laws on the books.

A nationwide assault weapons ban law expired in 2004 when the bitterly divided U.S. Congress failed to renew it, with many Republicans opposing gun control measures. The federal law had barred the manufacture and sale of semi-automatic guns with military-style features as well as magazines holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition.

In his speech to the nation on Sunday night, President Barack Obama noted that the husband-and-wife shooters who killed 14 people in San Bernardino had stockpiled assault weapons and ammunition. Obama called for new limits on assault weapons.

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