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Davidson News

Supreme Court Declines Challenge to Maryland’s Assault Weapons Ban

On Monday, the Supreme Court chose not to intervene in the ongoing legal battle over Maryland’s ban on assault weapons, allowing the current law to remain in effect. This decision means that the legal challenge to Maryland’s legislation will continue to play out in lower courts.

Supreme Court Declines Challenge to Maryland's Assault Weapons Ban
Source: CNN

Legal Proceedings Continue

The challengers had hoped the Supreme Court would address their case before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit issued a ruling on the law’s constitutionality under the Second Amendment. The 4th Circuit heard arguments in late March but has not yet made a decision, suggesting that the case may eventually return to the Supreme Court for final adjudication. Maryland’s ban, enacted in response to the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, criminalizes the possession, sale, transfer, or purchase of 45 specified semiautomatic rifles and their analogs. Despite the ban, other semiautomatic handguns and rifles remain legal in the state. Along with Maryland, nine other states and the District of Columbia have similar restrictions on semiautomatic weapons.

The Challenge and Legal Background

The current challenge was brought forward in 2020 by a group of Maryland residents, a licensed gun dealer, and several pro-Second Amendment organizations. They argue that the ban violates their Second Amendment rights. The 4th Circuit had previously upheld the law, a decision that the Supreme Court declined to review. Consequently, a federal district court dismissed the case. However, the Supreme Court later sent the case back to the lower courts for reconsideration in light of its 2022 ruling, which expanded the scope of the Second Amendment. This 2022 Supreme Court decision established a new framework for evaluating gun laws, requiring them to align with the nation’s historical tradition of firearms regulation. This precedent has led lower courts to overturn several long-standing gun restrictions that failed to meet this “history-and-tradition” test.

Broader Implications and Future Guidance

The Supreme Court’s decision not to intervene at this stage leaves Maryland’s ban intact but does not resolve the broader constitutional questions at play. The high court’s 2022 ruling has already led to the invalidation of some long-standing gun restrictions, and the outcome of ongoing cases could further clarify how courts should apply the new standard. In one such case, the Supreme Court heard arguments in November regarding a federal appeals court’s decision to strike down a 30-year-old law preventing individuals under domestic violence restraining orders from owning firearms. The ruling in that case is anticipated to offer further guidance on applying the history-and-tradition standard. Pro-gun rights advocates had urged the Supreme Court to bypass the appellate court and address their challenge immediately, arguing that the fundamental right to bear arms was at stake and that immediate intervention was necessary. They contended that popular rifles should be unequivocally protected by the Second Amendment.

State’s Defense and Constitutional Scrutiny

Maryland officials, however, argued that it was premature for the Supreme Court to step in, emphasizing that the state’s law aligns with the Supreme Court’s new standard for gun law evaluation. Maryland Attorney General Anthony Brown defended the ban, stating that it meets constitutional scrutiny because it is consistent with the historical tradition of regulating novel and potentially dangerous firearms.

Supreme Court Declines Challenge to Maryland's Assault Weapons Ban
Source: Tampa Bay Times

“The ban on assault-style weapons survives constitutional scrutiny because it is consistent with our nation’s historical tradition of firearms regulation, which encompasses regulation of novel arms posing heightened dangers to public safety,” Brown wrote. As the legal proceedings continue, the debate over Maryland’s assault weapons ban remains a significant issue within the broader national discussion on gun control and Second Amendment rights.

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