Second Amendment does not apply to assault weapons: en banc 4th Circuit

The 4 U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia ruled 10-4 that the Maryland law banning assault weapons are not protected by the Second Amendment. In a blow to the gun lobby, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday upheld a Maryland ban on assault weapons and large-capacity magazines.

The NSSF, the trade association for the firearms and ammunition industry, and Maryland gun owners had challenged the law in court on constitutional grounds, saying it infringes on their Second Amendment rights. The Supreme Court in Heller, Wilkinson said, did not prevent elected officials from regulating "assault weapons". "Put simply, we have no power to extend Second Amendment protection to the weapons of war that the Heller decision explicitly excluded from such coverage".

It cited a 2008 Supreme Court case, Heller v. District of Columbia, which said that weapons "most useful in military service" are not covered by the Constitution.

"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.

As Heller recognized, there is a balance to be struck here.

The ban was led by the state's Attorney General Brian Fosh in 2013.

Seven states and the District of Columbia have banned semiautomatic rifles, and several have faced legal challenges.

"Simply put, the State has shown all that is required: a reasonable, if not flawless, fit between the (Firearms Safety Act) and Maryland's interest in protecting public safety", King wrote.

For Judge Robert King and the majority in this ruling, certain kinds of rifles are "weapons of war", meaning they are not covered under the Second Amendment for the goal of self-defense. Meanwhile, the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence and Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence argued that Heller supports the regulation of firearms.

While the Supreme Court found that ban too expansive and burdensome on those keeping weapons commonly and historically used for self-defense, its take on the legality and place of firearms that resemble military-style weapons has raised questions in the near-decade since.

But that is not the big news from Judge King's opinion, which was joined in full by nine of the 14 judges who heard the en banc appeal.

U.S. Circuit Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson, an appointee under President Ronald Reagan, wrote his own argument agreeing with the new ruling and scolding America's lawmakers for not taking similar action.

Maryland passed the sweeping gun-control measure after the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre that killed 20 children and six educators in CT.

The four dissenting judges said the banned firearms are not "dangerous or unusual" and are used by millions of law-abiding Americans in part because the military-style components increase accuracy and improve ergonomics.

The dissent, in an opinion by Judge William Traxler, complained that the majority "has gone to greater lengths than any other court to eviscerate the constitutionally guaranteed right to keep and bear arms".