Appeals court rules Second Amendment doesn't protect right to assault weapons



The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, ruled Tuesday that the Second Amendment doesn't apply to protections of assault weapons in Maryland.

Maryland has a complex recent history regarding the legality of assault weapons: In 2013, Maryland passed a law — the Firearms Safety Act — barring the sale, possession, transfer or purchase of assault weapons. A panel of 4th Circuit judges later ruled that the law infringed on Second Amendment rights.

This time around, however, the majority decision that assault weapons aren't covered by the Second Amendment came en banc, or by a full bench of judges rather than just a selected panel. The court leaned its decision on the 2008 Supreme Court ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller. Heller concluded that the Second Amendment does indeed allow the right to bear arms, but isn't unlimited — a decision that opened up the discussion on whether assault weapons go beyond the limits of Second Amendment protections.

Tuesday's majority decision invoked the names of several mass shootings including the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, and the Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando, Florida, both of which were committed with assault weapons:

"Both before and after Newtown, similar military-style rifles and detachable magazines have been used to perpetrate mass shootings in places whose names have become synonymous with the slaughters that occurred there."

"We conclude — contrary to the now-vacated [2013] decision of our prior panel — that the banned assault weapons and large-capacity magazines are not protected by the Second Amendment," Judge Robert King said in his concurring opinion.

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AR-15 rifles are displayed on the exhibit floor during the National Rifle Association (NRA) annual meeting in Louisville, Kentucky, U.S., on Friday, May 20, 2016. The nation's largest gun lobby, the NRA has been a political force in elections since at least 1994, turning out its supporters for candidates who back expanding access to guns. Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images
AR-15 rifles are displayed at the SIG Sauer GmbH booth on the exhibit floor during the National Rifle Association (NRA) annual meeting in Louisville, Kentucky, U.S., on Friday, May 20, 2016. The nation's largest gun lobby, the NRA has been a political force in elections since at least 1994, turning out its supporters for candidates who back expanding access to guns. Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Civilian legal AR-15 rifles are displayed for sale at a vendor's booth during the Fall 2015 Knob Creek Machine Gun Shoot in West Point, KY, U.S., on Friday, Oct. 9, 2015. The Machine Gun Shoot is a three day bi-annual event that attracts gun dealers, collectors, and enthusiasts from all across America in what is considered one of the largest gun shows in the world dealing specifically with high caliber weaponry. Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images
This February 4, 2013 photo illustration in Manassas, Virginia, shows a man holding a Colt AR-15 semi-automatic rifle. US President Barack Obama Monday heaped pressure on Congress for action 'soon' on curbing gun violence. Obama made a pragmatic case for legislation on the contentious issue, arguing that just because political leaders could not save every life, they should at least try to save some victims of rampant gun crime. AFP PHOTO/Karen BLEIER (Photo credit should read KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images)
POMPANO BEACH, FL - JANUARY 16: An AR-15 is seen for sale on the wall at the National Armory gun store on January 16, 2013 in Pompano Beach, Florida. President Barack Obama today in Washington, DC announced a broad range of gun initiatives that his administration thinks will help curb gun violence. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
MIAMI, FL - DECEMBER 18: In this photo illustration a Rock River Arms AR-15 rifle is seen on December 18, 2012 in Miami, Florida. The weapon is similar in style to the Bushmaster AR-15 rifle that was used during a massacre at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. Firearm sales have surged recently as speculation of stricter gun laws and a re-instatement of the assault weapons ban following the mass shooting. (Photo illustration by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
AURORA, CO - JULY 22: A Bush Master AR15 assault rifle is displayed at Firing-Line July 22, 2012 in Aurora, Colorado. Firing-Line is located not far from where suspect gunman James Eagan Holmes, 24, is accused of killing 12 people at a screening of the new 'Batman' film last Friday. The firearm is similar to the one used in the rampage. (Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images)
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The ruling strikes a blow to Second Amendment supporters who believe the provision is an umbrella for all weapons, including ones designed specifically for military situations, and that the Heller ruling conclusion exceeds reasonable necessity to protect oneself.


While gun control advocates are celebrating the decision, Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III emphasized in his concurrence that the courts "are not the instruments of anyone's political agenda" — either for or against gun control:

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.
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