Maryland's Ban on Assault Weapons Upheld by Federal Appeals Court

By George Khoury, Esq. on February 23, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Gun control is a divisive subject. Although the right to bear arms is rooted in the U.S. Constitution, even Yosemite Sam would agree that guns have changed quite a bit since 1787. In fact, the recent ruling by the Federal Appeals Court in the Fourth Circuit has distinguished that a certain class of gun does not even qualify for protection under the Second Amendment.

The ruling, announced this past Tuesday, is sure to make waves and be challenged to the Supreme Court. Whether SCOTUS decides to take the case up will be closely watched by both pro- and anti-gun control advocates, as well as the several states that have passed gun control and restriction laws.

No Need for Scrutiny

In the aftermath of the Sandyhook school massacre, the Maryland legislature passed the Firearm Safety Act in 2013. The FSA made it illegal to buy, sell, or possess assault weapons, as well as large capacity magazines.

When the law was initially challenged, it was upheld by a Federal District Court judge as being an appropriate restriction on the Second Amendment under a legal constitutional test known as Intermediate Scrutiny. However, that decision was appealed and overturned by a three judge panel at the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals which explained that the lower District Court applied the wrong constitutional test, and should have applied the Strict Scrutiny test, which as the name implies, requires laws go through a deeper level of analysis before being deemed valid.

However, nearly a year later, the entire Fourth Circuit Court re-examined the matter, en banc (all 14 judges), and came to a drastically different conclusion. As explained in the recent decision, the Court of Appeals found that assault weapons are designed for warfare, and should therefore be considered military weapons, which simply are not protected under the Second Amendment.

While there are only a handful of states with similar bans on assault weapons, this court decision may provide the legal basis for more states to attempt to pass similar laws.

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