Maryland bars law-abiding residents from owning certain semiautomatic rifles, and magazines that hold over 10 rounds of ammunition. But a recent court ruling might portend the end of this gun-control law.
Courts review laws under a rational basis, intermediate, or strict scrutiny standard to determine whether they’re constitutional. Under strict scrutiny, which involves “suspect” classifications like race, the law at issue must further a compelling government interest, narrowly tailored to achieve that interest, and using the least restrictive means, to justify infringing on an individual’s constitutional rights.
As the right to keep and bear arms is protected in the U.S. Constitution, one could reasonably assume that any law infringing on this right, particularly banning certain types of guns, would be reviewed applying the highest standard.
After gun-control opponents challenged the law, however, a district court ruled in the state’s favor applying a less rigorous standard, intermediate scrutiny, which provides that a law must further an important government interest by means substantially related to that interest.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit contended this week that was the wrong standard to use in this case. The judges sent the case back to the lower court and ordered the judge to apply a strict scrutiny standard. From the Washington Times:
“In our view, Maryland law implicates the core protection of the Second Amendment,” Chief Judge William B. Traxler Jr. wrote in the majority opinion. He added that the law “significantly burdens the exercise of the right to arm oneself at home.”
“This is not a finding that Maryland’s law is unconstitutional. It is simply a ruling that the test of its constitutionality is different from that used by the district court,” Judge Traxler wrote.
Both sides in the gun rights debate now are arguing over the boundaries of those restrictions, with several other appeals courts having upheld bans similar to Maryland’s.
John P. Sweeney, attorney for gun rights supporters who challenged the law, declined to comment, but a National Rifle Association official declared the ruling “an affirmation of the Heller decision and a victory for the Second Amendment.”
The dissenting Judge Robert B. King seemed to imply that applying such a tough standard might result in another mass shooting.
“To put it mildly, it troubles me that, by imprudently and unnecessarily breaking from our sister courts of appeals and ordering strict scrutiny here, we are impeding Maryland’s and others’ reasonable efforts to prevent the next Newtown — or Virginia Tech, or Binghamton, or Fort Hood, or Tucson, or Aurora, or Oak Creek, or San Bernardino. In my view, any burden imposed by the [Firearms Safety Act] on the Second Amendment is far from severe.”
“In our view,” the other judges wrote in response to Judge King’s opinion, “inferences of this nature have no place in judicial opinions.”