Fourth Circuit Upholds Maryland Assault-Weapon Ban

(CN) – The en banc Fourth Circuit ruled in favor of Maryland’s ban on assault-style weapons, overturning a panel decision last year that said the ban placed a substantial burden on the right to bear arms.

The ban, which Maryland expanded following the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre, includes 81 gun military-style models and large-capacity magazines, which the Fourth Circuit ruled Tuesday are not protected by the Second Amendment.

Writing for the en banc majority, U.S. Circuit Judge Robert King opened the 116-page decision with a recent history of mass shootings in which military assault rifles and handguns with high-capacity magazines were utilized. He mentioned attacks in Aurora, Colo., San Bernardino, Calif. , Binghamton, N.Y., the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla., the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting, the 2009 Fort Hood shooting and a shooting in Tucson, Ariz., that critically injured congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

King also noted the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., when a gunman used an AR-15-type Bushmaster rifle to kill 20 first-graders and six adults.

The Fourth Circuit’s decision comes in the case Kolbe v. Hogan, which questioned whether the guns and magazines that Maryland banned qualify as dangerous and unusual weapons, which the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled are outside the scope of the Second Amendment.

In February 2016, a three-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit vacated a federal judge’s ruling that the ban was constitutional, finding that the assault weapons and large-capacity magazines at issue are protected by the Second Amendment. That finding was vacated when the court decided last March to rehear the case en banc.

On Tuesday, the full appeals court ruled 10-4 that the category of weapons and magazines included in Maryland’s ban are weapons that would be most useful for military purposes. The decision follows in the footsteps of the landmark Supreme Court Second Amendment case District of Columbia v. Heller, which detailed the distinction between rifles like the M-16 and guns used for the constitutional right to self-defense.

The Fourth Circuit’s majority held that Maryland’s ban covers weapons that dangerous and unusual because they are “exceptionally lethal weapons of war” that are not appropriate for civilian use.

“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,” King wrote.

Four dissenting judges wrote that assault weapons and large-capacity magazines are indisputably “in common use for lawful purposes,” since they are already owned by millions of law-abiding Americans.

“As long as the weapon chosen is one commonly possessed by the American people for lawful purposes—and the rifles at issue here most certainly are—the state has very little say about whether its citizens should keep it in their homes for protection,” U.S. Circuit Judge William Traxler Jr. wrote in the dissent.

Maryland’s ban includes the specific model listed and “all semiautomatic centerfire rifles that accept detachable magazines and have two or more of these features: a folding stock, a grenade/flare launcher, or a flash suppressor.” The law also bans the sale or transfer of magazines that can hold more than 10 rounds. Violators— buyers as well as sellers—can face up to three years in prison.

The National Rifle Association was quick to respond to the decision with an article on its website. The group was not a direct party to the case but supported the plaintiffs challenging the ban.

“The NRA, on behalf of a free people, will continue to vindicate the rights of all law-abiding Americans to keep and bear the best firearms available to protect themselves and their loved ones. As we’ve been there every step of the way in the Kolbe fight, we will continue to press forward, including appealing the issue to the U.S. Supreme Court,” the group said.