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Strict Scrutiny Ordered|in Md. Gun-Law Case

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (CN) - The Fourth Circuit remanded a Second Amendment challenge to a Maryland law restricting assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, ruling that a lower court used the wrong scrutiny standard.

The law in question "substantially expanded Maryland's gun control laws," and made it illegal to possess, sell, transfer, purchase, receive or transport into Maryland any firearm designated as an assault weapon, according to the Feb. 4 ruling.

The Firearm Safety Act (FSA) applies to more than 60 semi-automatic rifle or shotgun models specifically listed in the legislation. The 2013 law also imposed new limits on detachable magazines that hold more than 10 rounds.

Violation of the FSA is a misdemeanor and is punishable by a prison sentence of up to three years.

According to the Fourth Circuit, the FSA was applied to millions of individual firearms and high-capacity magazines. Between 1990 and 2012, "more than 8 million AR- and AK-platform semi-automatic rifles alone were manufactured in or imported into the United 2012, the number of AR- and AK-style weapons manufactured and imported into the United States was more than double the number of Ford F-150 trucks sold, the most commonly sold vehicle in the United States," last week's ruling states.

Currently, Maryland law requires a prospective purchaser of an assault weapon to provide information such as name, address, Social Security number, place and date of birth, height, weight, race, eye and hair color, driver's license or other identification, and their job, according to the decision.

The lawsuit challenging the FSA was brought by three individuals, including a Baltimore County business owner, a Navy veteran injured while on active duty and two gun dealers. They were joined by a plethora of trade organizations and gun owner's rights groups.

On Feb. 4, the majority of a three-judge panel led by Chief Judge William Traxler, Jr. found that a Federal Court in Baltimore, which heard the challenge to Maryland's gun law, applied a weak version of the intermediate scrutiny standard when it should have applied strict scrutiny.

"Because the district court did not evaluate the challenged provisions of the FSA under the proper standard of strict scrutiny, and the state did not develop the evidence or arguments required to support the FSA under the proper standard, we vacate the district court order as to plaintiffs' Second Amendment challenge and remand for the district court to apply strict scrutiny in the first instance," Traxler wrote. "This is not a finding that Maryland's law is unconstitutional. It is simply a ruling that the test of its constitutionality is different from that used by the district court."

However, the Richmond, Va.-based appeals court upheld the lower court's dismissal of the plaintiffs' claim that allowing retired law enforcement officials to own semi-automatic rifles when ordinary citizens are banned from owning them is an equal protection violation.

"In our view, the district court correctly determined that retired police officers are not similarly situated with the public at large for the purposes of [the FSA]," Traxler wrote. "Therefore, granting those officers certain rights under the FSA does not violate the Equal Protection Clause."

Judge Robert King dissented, disagreeing with Traxler and Judge Steven Agee on the scrutiny standard.

"[The FSA] is, put most succinctly, subject to nothing more than intermediate scrutiny. Indeed, no precedent of the Supreme Court or our own court compels us to rule otherwise," King wrote.

Following the Fourth Circuit ruling, Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh announced that he will seek an en banc or U.S. Supreme Court reversal of the decision.

"The Maryland Firearm Safety Act is a common-sense law designed to reduce gun violence and make our communities safer. It remains the law in Maryland," Frosh said in a statement.

Frosh said last week's ruling is in opposition to earlier federal appellate court decisions, which he said "uniformly upheld assault weapons bans and limits on large capacity magazines."

"Those courts...follow a standard that gives greater deference to the public safety and health concerns," Frosh said.

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