D.C. Gun Law: Semi-Automatic Rifle Ban Upheld by DC Circuit

By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. on October 06, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Gun control advocates won big in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals this week. A panel of judges upheld a D.C. gun law banning semi-automatic rifles and high-capacity ammunition magazines.

The judges also backed some of the city's gun registration requirements, but chose to order further proceedings for others. Questionable provisions include clauses directing gun registrants to undergo fingerprinting and provide ballistics data.

Regardless, the more noteworthy aspect of this case is still the semi-automatic rifle and ammunition bans.

In a 2008 case named Heller, the Supreme Court overturned a D.C. gun law banning handguns. In that case, the court said two important things about the 2nd Amendment:

  1. It does "not protect those weapons not typically possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes;" and
  2. Citizens don't have a right to keep and carry any and all weapons of choice.

Courts have since adopted a test to determine whether a gun ban is constitutional. When a gun law places a significant burden on the right to keep and bear arms, it must be substantially related to an important government interest. Otherwise, it is invalid.

City attorneys successfully argued that semi-automatic rifles and large capacity magazines directly impact police safety and crime control. Assault weapons tend to be preferred by criminals and place officers "at particular risk." They also represent a large share of guns used in mass murders.

The court's analysis of the D.C. gun law is important for those who support a nationwide assault rifle ban. The federal ban expired in 2004, and, as a result of opposition, has yet to be renewed. This case suggests that states can bypass Congress and institute their own assault rifle bans if they so choose.

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