Can Cities Ban Assault Weapons On Their Own?

By Deanne Katz, Esq. on January 18, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

As state and national lawmakers debate gun control, one city in Vermont is trying to take matters into its own hands with a proposed local ban on assault weapons.

The Second Amendment protects the right to bear arms, but the extent of that right has been a source of controversy. It is clear that governments have the right to limit where and when civilians can have guns, but they can't ban firearms entirely.

Burlington, Vermont, wants to put its foot down when it comes to assault weapons within city limits. The question now is whether they have that power.

State and local governments have what is called police powers which come from the Tenth Amendment. It allows them to make laws necessary for the health, safety, and welfare of their communities.

That seems to be what Burlington is basing its new proposed law on -- the fact that citizens need to be safe.

At a recent city council meeting, members voted 10-3 on a measure that would ban assault rifles and high-capacity magazines. It will now go to a committee, and voters could eventually decide the law's fate at the ballot box, CNN reports.

If it passes, it must then be approved by the state legislature before it can become city law.

That may be difficult, given the current state of Vermont's gun laws. Owners of firearms can carry them anywhere without a permit, concealed or in the open, except into courthouses and onto school property.

Even if the law does pass, there's no guarantee it will go into effect. Gun-rights proponents may make a constitutional challenge to the law.

If that happens, a court will have to decide if the law unnecessarily interferes with Second Amendment rights or if the government has a legitimate interest in restricting assault weapons.

The last major challenge involving Second Amendment rights was D.C. v. Heller, in which the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a ban on handguns in the nation's capital.

This issue is arguably different since it involves assault weapons, but that may not be enough to withstand judicial scrutiny. If Burlington, Vermont's proposed assault weapons ban becomes law, we'll have to wait and see what happens next.

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