Supreme Court won’t review laws banning assault weapons

7 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Supreme Court Leaves Assault Weapons Ban Intact.

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Monday refused to hear a Second Amendment challenge to an Illinois ordinance that banned semiautomatic assault weapons and large-capacity magazines. By leaving a suburban Chicago gun control law intact, the court gave a boost to efforts aimed at imposing such bans elsewhere, at a time of renewed interest in gun regulation after recent mass shootings. In June 2013, the City Council in Highland Park, Ill., banned possession of semiautomatic pistols and rifles, including versions of the AK-47, AR-15 and Uzi, which it described as “a narrow category of unusually dangerous weapons that have been used in a series of deadly mass shooting events.” The Supreme Court’s decision to stay out of the case came as the country faced a wave of mass shootings, including last week’s killing of 14 people in San Bernardino, Calif., the deadliest terrorist attack in the U.S. since Sept. 11, 2001. But seven states — Maryland, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York — have similar bans, and all of the prohibitions remain in place. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit that the city’s restrictions did not infringe upon the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms, avoiding the prospect of a politically-charged fight over gun rights at the highest court in the land.

Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia dissented, saying that lower courts have been ignoring Supreme Court precedents on Second Amendment rights. Similar bans are on the books in California, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Maryland, Connecticut and Hawaii, and none have been struck down, so the justices had no legal conflict to resolve.

They criticized lower court decisions that have allowed jurisdictions and impose what Thomas called “categorical bans on firearms that millions of Americans commonly own for lawful purposes.” The court’s action Monday continues a pattern. More generally, it prohibited possession of what it called assault weapons, defining them as semiautomatic guns that can accept large-capacity magazines and have features like a grip for the nontrigger hand. The affluent Chicago suburb in 2013 banned the manufacture, sale, transfer and possession of semi-automatic firearms and magazines that could hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition in the wake of shootings in Tucson, Arizona, in 2011; Aurora, Colorado, and Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012.

The case had been under consideration at the high court for two months, but the delay in dealing with it now appears mainly due to waiting for Thomas to finish his opinion. Those opinions, decided by 5-4 votes along the court’s conservative-liberal divide, affirmed that some regulations of gun possession were permissible, such as bans on concealed weapons or possession of firearms by the mentally ill. Thomas wrote a six-page dissent from the court’s denial of Arie Friedman’s challenge to the gun ban. “Because noncompliance with our Second Amendment precedents warrants this court’s attention as much as any of our precedents, I would grant certiorari in this case,” Thomas wrote. “Roughly 5 million Americans own AR-style semiautomatic rifles,” he said. “The overwhelming majority of citizens who own and use such rifles do so for lawful purposes, including self-defense and target shooting.

That could be because a majority of the court thinks the restrictions are legally justified or because the court is closely divided and neither side is sure of what the outcome of taking a case might be. In 2013, when state lawmakers reacted to the court ruling by making it legal to carry a gun, they gave cities around the state 10 days to come up with local restrictions on assault weapons, or forfeit their right to do so. Judge Frank Easterbrook wrote for the court that there is a “substantial benefit” to the Highland Park ordinance if it makes the public feel less at risk from a mass shooting.

Variations of the Bushmaster AR-15, one of the guns specifically banned by Highland Park, were used in the Newtown, Connecticut school massacre and the theater shootings in Aurora, Colorado. Manion dissented. “By prohibiting a class of weapons commonly used throughout the country,” he wrote, “Highland Park’s ordinance infringes upon the rights of its citizens to keep weapons in their homes for the purpose of defending themselves, their families and their property.”

Today’s announcement that the challengers’ petition would not be granted reflects that Thomas and Scalia could not persuade fellow conservatives who made up the majority in Heller to take the case.

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