By refusing to hear an appeals, the Supreme Court on Monday tacitly acknowledged that assault weapons bans in New York and Connecticut do not violate the Second Amendment.
The high court declined to hear an appeal of a case decided by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, so at least for the time being that ruling remains the law in that Circuit.
After the shootings at Sandy Hook, both New York and Connecticut passed legislation that prohibited the possession of some semiautomatic "assault weapons" and large-capacity magazines.
That legislation was challenged in court by advocacy groups, businesses, and individual gun owners, especially because in 2008, the Supreme Court issued a landmark decision in District of Columbia v. Heller. In that case, the Supreme Court decided that the Second Amendment includes an individual right to bear arms. The court ruled that this was not an unlimited right, but that Americans had the right to possess any firearm that was "in common use" by citizens "for lawful purposes like self-defense."
The question before the Second Circuit, then, was whether assault weapons are commonly owned and whether the weapons are "dangerous and unusual" in hands of law-abiding citizens.
The Second Circuit answered yes to the first question but found that empirical evidence to answer that second question was "elusive." The Court decided that owning weapons like the AR-15 is, indeed, protected by the Second Amendment.
But, the Court argued, government can sometimes have a legitimate interest in impinging upon a Constitutional right. In this case, the Court ruled, banning assault weapons can save lives.
"At least since the enactment of the federal assault‐weapons ban, semiautomatic assault weapons have been understood to pose unusual risks," the Court wrote. "When used, these weapons tend to result in more numerous wounds, more serious wounds, and more victims. These weapons are disproportionately used in crime, and particularly in criminal mass shootings like the attack in Newtown. They are also disproportionately used to kill law enforcement officers: one study shows that between 1998 and 2001, assault weapons were used to gun down at least twenty percent of officers killed in the line of duty."
Upholding most of the provisions in the assault weapons ban, the Court argued that the government has a legitimate interest in stopping that kind of violence.
After the Supreme Court declined to take on the appeals, the Connecticut Citizens Defense League, which challenged the law, said it would continue its fight.
The Second Circuit, they argued, used wrong test to reach a decision and the death of Justice Antonin Scalia — who authored the Heller decision — may have influenced the Supreme Court from taking up a challenge.
"We fully intend to renew our challenge to Connecticut's blatantly unconstitutional ban as soon as there are five Justices sitting on the Supreme Court committed to the proper understanding of the Second Amendment," Scott Wilson, the president of the CCDL, said in a statement.