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Judge Rules Against Most Common Style of Weapon In Mass Shootings

Photograph by Twenty20

The assault weapons ban crafted by Maryland legislators in response to the deadly shooting of 20 kids at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012 has survived a major battle in federal court this week.

Judges on the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Second Amendment doesn’t protect citizens’ rights to own assault weapons.

In other words: banning them is A-OK with the U.S. Constitution.

Judge Robert B. King wrote the majority opinion in the 10-4 judgment, stating “the banned assault weapons are designed to kill or disable the enemy on the battlefield.” Essentially, the court ruled that the gun used by Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza and others like it are military weapons—not a right for average citizens.

The federal court ruling is the latest to come out of a string of challenges Maryland law has faced since then Governor (and later Democratic candidate for president) Martin O’Malley signed legislation five months after the Newtown tragedy, banning the sale, possession, transfer or purchase of assault weapons, including AR-15s, AK-47s, and semiautomatic rifles.

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It wasn’t the only state to push through gun legislation in the wake of Sandy Hook, but it is one of the strictest laws to make it on the books during the period. Gun advocates have been challenging it ever since.

They’ve had on their side a 2008 U.S. Supreme Court ruling—D.C. vs. Heller—that protected citizens’ rights to keep guns in the home. They also had stats like this: 80 percent of gun murders are committed with handguns, not assault weapons.

So while American kids are nine times more likely to die in gun accidents than kids in any other part of the developed world, it’s much more likely they will die due to a handgun incident.

Still, statistics on mass shootings compiled by Mother Jones show a majority of the shooting incidents with the highest number of casualties committed in the U.S. have been done by people wielding assault weapons.

What was kept in place by this week’s ruling is a ban on the exact weapon Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza used to open fire in the Connecticut elementary school, as well as similar weapons used by Pulse nightclub shooter Omar Mateen. and Aurora, Colo., theater shooter, James Holmes. Gun advocates argue that bans like this make it harder to protect themselves should a mass shooting situation occur again, a point supported by Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III, who wrote the dissenting opinion on the Fourth Circuit ruling.

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“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,” Wilkinson said. “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.”

Gun advocates still have a chance to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court, which could have implications reaching well beyond Maryland.

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