Thursday, February 23, 2017

Appeals Court - Assault Weapon Ban Is Constitutional

On Tuesday, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck a blow to protect Americans. In a majority decision, they ruled that the ban of military-style assault weapons (and large capacity magazines) did NOT violate the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution.

Maryland passed the law banning those weapons in 2013, and it was upheld by a U.S. District judge. Gun advocates appealed that decision, and it was overturned by a small panel of the 4th Circuit Court. Maryland appealed to the entire 4th Circuit Court, and they issued their decision supporting Maryland's right to pass the law.

The court ruled that Maryland's law was in line with the U.S. Supreme Court's Heller decision -- which said that a complete ban on handguns was unconstitutional. Gun advocates hailed that decision, but ignored another part of the decision, which said that it did not extend to all types of weapons (like military-style weapons).

This decision is good news, and hopefully it will encourage other states to follow suit.

There was a concurring opinion written by Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III (a Reagan appointee) that I found very interesting. While voting with the majority to uphold the Maryland law, the judge wrote his own opinion, saying in part:

As Heller recognized, there is a balance to be struck here. While courts exist to protect individual rights, we are not the instruments of anyone’s political agenda, we are not empowered to court mass consequences we cannot predict, and we are not impaneled to add indefinitely to the growing list of subjects on which the states of our Union and the citizens of our country no longer have any meaningful say. . . .

Disenfranchising the American people on this life and death subject would be the gravest and most serious of steps. It is their community, not ours. It is their safety, not ours. It is their lives, not ours. To say in the wake of so many mass shootings in so many localities across this country that the people themselves are now to be rendered newly powerless, that all they can do is stand by and watch as federal courts design their destiny—this would deliver a body blow to democracy as we have known it since the very founding of this nation.

In urging us to strike this legislation, appellants would impair the ability of government to act prophylactically. More and more under appellants’ view, preventive statutory action is to be judicially forbidden and we must bide our time until another tragedy is inflicted or irretrievable human damage has once more been done. Leaving the question of assault weapons bans to legislative competence preserves the latitude that representative governments enjoy in responding to changes in facts on the ground. Constitutionalizing this critical issue will place it in a freeze frame which only the Supreme Court itself could alter. The choice is ultimately one of flexibility versus rigidity, and beyond that, of whether conduct that has visited such communal bereavement across America will be left to the communal processes of democracy for resolution.

He is absolutely right. While the Constitution does guarantee the right to own a firearm, that right is not an absolute one. It should be the decision of the people (through their elected officials) as to what kinds of weapons can be bought or owned, and who can legally buy or own them. The citizens of each state and the nation must have the right to make the decisions that affect their own safety.

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