Court orders reconsideration of Maryland gun law ruling
Feb. 05, 2016
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Gun-rights supporters who challenged Maryland's assault weapon's ban will get another chance to argue that it should be overturned.
A divided three-judge panel 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday sent the case back to a lower court for further review. The appeals raised concerns about the constitutionality of the law and said it needs to be evaluated by a more rigorous standard.
"This is not a finding that Maryland's law is unconstitutional," Judge William B. Traxler Jr. wrote. "It is simply a ruling that the test of its constitutionality is different from that used by the district court."
State lawmakers passed the sweeping Firearms Safety Act after the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, Connecticut. Gun-rights advocates went along with most of the law but challenged the provision banning 45 assault weapons, and the 10-round limit on gun magazines.
Attorney General Brian E. Frosh defended the ban in a statement, calling it a "common-sense law designed to reduce gun violence and make our communities safer."
"It remains the law in Maryland," Frosh said.
Nevertheless, the ruling was a setback for the state. Frosh said he will appeal the ruling either to the full federal appeals court or the U.S. Supreme Court.
John P. Sweeney, attorney for the plaintiffs, declined to comment. But a National Rifle Association official declared the ruling "an important victory for the Second Amendment."
"Maryland's ban on commonly owned firearms and magazines clearly violates our fundamental, individual right to keep and bear arms for self-defense," said Chris W. Cox, executive director of the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action. "The highest level of judicial scrutiny should apply when governments try to restrict our Second Amendment freedoms."
The appeals court said Maryland's law affects the constitutional right to possess firearms for self-defense and home protection by banning virtually an entire class of weapons commonly owned by law-abiding citizens. It also rejected the state's claims that the banned weapons fall outside the Second Amendment because they are "unusually dangerous," and because there is no evidence those weapons have actually been used for self-defense.
In 2012, the number of semi-automatic rifles manufactured and imported into the United States — and banned by the Maryland law — was more than double the number of Ford F-150 trucks sold, the appeals court said. Also, more than 75 million high-capacity magazines are in circulation, the court said.
The U.S. District Court, which upheld the law's constitutionality, deemed semi-automatic weapons too dangerous because of their destructive force and their use in mass shootings.
But the appeal's court majority said that "if the proper judicial standard is to go by total murders committed, then handguns should be considered far more dangerous than semi-automatic rifles."
In a dissenting opinion, Appeals Court Judge Robert King called assault weapons "exceptionally lethal weapons of war."
"To put it mildly, it troubles me that, by imprudently and unnecessarily breaking from our sister courts of appeals and ordering strict scrutiny here, we are impeding Maryland's and others' reasonable efforts to prevent the next Newtown - or Virginia Tech, or Binghamton, or Fort Hood, or Tucson, or Aurora, or Oak Creek, or San Bernardino," he wrote.