Monday, March 6, 2017

Fourth Circuit Upholds Semi-Automatic Assault Weapons Ban

Recently, in Kolbe v. Hogan (2017) --- F.3d ---- , the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a Maryland law banning certain semi-automatic assault weapons and magazines in excess of ten rounds. The Court ruled that the 2nd Amendment did not apply to protect these weapons. The court decided they were, “weapons that are most useful in military service” as described in the United States Supreme Court decision of District of Columbia v. Heller (2008) 554 U.S. 570. The Court also ruled that even if the 2nd Amendment applied, the law would be constitutional. 

Maryland's law prohibits semi-automatic rifles with folding stocks, a grenade or flare launcher, or a flash suppressor. The law also prohibits rifles that utilize magazines that can hold more than ten rounds and rifles with a total length of less than 29 inches. The law also banned semi-automatic shotguns with a folding stock and shotguns with a revolving cylinder. 

Proponents of the law gave evidence regarding the history of the prohibited weapons as weapons designed for use by the military. The evidence paid special attention to the history of the AR-15. They also presented evidence which suggested that there is little difference in the automatic and semi-automatic versions of the banned weapons. This was the proponents' attempt to prove that the semi-automatic weapons can be more lethal in certain situations. 

Proponents of the law also argued that keeping magazines under ten rounds would aid victims in an active shooter situation. They reasoned that it would greatly increase the number of opportunities for victims to disable the shooter or escape. 

Those challenging the law argued that the prohibited weapons have a lawful use for self-defense, hunting and shooting competitions. The parties gave evidence that large capacity magazines are necessary for self-defense and the defense of loved ones. They argued that a person under the stress of an attack has a tendency to miss shots and tends to have difficulty reloading. Accordingly, challengers to the law argued that large capacity magazines are necessary for proper self-defense.  

Arguments were also made that the State did not have a legitimate purpose for the ban and were simply trying to ban specific weapons. Challengers pointed out that the law did not ban some semi-automatic weapons which could be modified to be similar to those banned by the law. They also pointed out that these weapons cause a small number of deaths each year. This was especially true when compared to yearly deaths caused by hand guns and other deadly weapons. 

Ultimately, in a split decision, the 4th Circuit sided with the proponents of the law. The Court found that the banned weapons and magazines were “weapons that are most useful in military service." The 4th Circuit held that such weapons are not protected by the 2nd Amendment under Heller

Additionally, the Court ruled that even if the 2nd Amendment applied, the law was constitutional. The court stated that this was because of the compelling state interests in public safety and the reduction of crime.