Explore The NRA Universe Of Websites

APPEARS IN Legal & Legislation

Federal Appeals Court Upholds Bans on America’s Most Popular Rifles and Magazines

Monday, October 19, 2015

Federal Appeals Court Upholds Bans on America’s Most Popular Rifles and Magazines

If any further evidence were necessary of what’s at stake with the 2016 general election, a ruling issued today by the U.S. District Court for the Second Circuit should provide it. The court’s opinion in New York State Rifle and Pistol Assoc., Inc., v. Cuomo largely upheld Connecticut and New York laws passed in the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy. The laws banned America’s most popular modern rifles, including the AR-15, and magazines for any firearm with a capacity of greater than 10 rounds. 

Once again, this opinion signals a judiciary unwilling to uphold the Second Amendment or the U.S. Supreme Court’s reading of that provision. In the landmark Heller case, the Supreme Court invalidated D.C.’s ban on handgun possession, deferring to the choice of the American people on what sort of firearms are best suited for home defense. It also held that the availability of alternative firearms did not change its analysis. Although AR-15s and other semiautomatic rifles have been America’s most popular and fastest-selling types for several years, including for home defense, the Second Circuit nevertheless found they could be completely banned.

Following a now-familiar analytical framework foreign to anything in the Heller decision or its follow-up, McDonald v. Chicago, the Second Circuit resolved the case by determining first whether the laws’ provisions implicate conduct protected by the Second Amendment. The second step, should that test be met, involves determining what level of constitutional “scrutiny” should be applied. 

In essence, this second step requires the court to perform a balancing test that Heller specifically identified as inappropriate in the Second Amendment context. As the court said in that case, “The very enumeration of the right takes out of the hands of government—even the  Third Branch of Government—the power to decide on a case-by-case basis whether the right is really worth insisting upon.A constitutional guarantee subject to future judges’ assessments of its usefulness is no constitutional guarantee at all.” That second sentence, unfortunately, has proven especially prophetic in the context of post-Heller Second Amendment litigation in the lower courts.

Regarding the first step of the analysis, the Second Circuit found, “This much is clear: Americans own millions of the firearms that the challenged legislation prohibits.” It also acknowledged, “The same is true of large‐capacity magazines, as defined by the New York and Connecticut statutes.” It then considered whether these implements could be characterized as “’dangerous and unusual’ in the hands of law‐abiding civilians” and found that the evidence on this point was inconclusive. Nevertheless, the court was willing to “assume for the sake of argument that these ‘commonly used’ weapons and magazines are also ‘typically possessed by law‐abiding citizens for lawful purposes’” and that the laws therefore “ban weapons protected by the Second Amendment.”

Moving to the second stage of the analysis, the Second Circuit admitted, “The laws at issue are both broad and burdensome” and create “a ‘serious encroachment’ on the Second Amendment right.” Nevertheless, the court refused to apply the most stringent form of constitutional analysis, “strict scrutiny,” and instead applied what it called “intermediate scrutiny,” a standard that has led other courts to uphold nearly every gun control law that has come before them. Despite Heller’s guidance to the contrary, the court based this decision on the fact that “alternatives remain for law‐abiding citizens to acquire a firearm for self‐defense.”  

Setting a low bar, the court unsurprisingly found the states had met it by producing evidence, albeit highly disputed, that the banned firearms have more serious effects when used in crime and are disproportionately used in certain types of rare, but serious, crimes. It also held that because the banned features of the semiautomatic firearms at issue enhance their accuracy, comfort, and utility, they also “make the weapons more deadly.” Arguments and evidence produced by the plaintiffs to rebut these claims were dismissed by the court as “not strong enough to overcome the ‘substantial deference’ we owe to ‘predictive judgments of the legislature’ on matters of public safety.”

The court’s analysis of the magazine restrictions was even more superficial. “The same logic applies a fortiori to the restrictions on large capacity magazines,” it insisted. It then reiterated that because they enhance the functionality of firearms, “large capacity” magazines are more subject to misuse in crime and therefore receive less constitutional protection.

In this regard, the Second Circuit ratified one of the most bizarre doctrines to emerge in American constitutional law: Any feature that enhances the utility or effectiveness of a firearm otherwise protected by the Second Amendment because of its usefulness for self-defense makes that firearm more vulnerable to prohibition.  The court acknowledged the indisputable fact that “some subset of people intent on breaking the law will indeed ignore these statutes ….” Nevertheless, it is apparently completely unconcerned that its decision will grant such criminals an advantage over law-abiding persons who wish to adopt the same technology for their defense.

Perhaps straining to appear judicial and non-biased, the Second Circuit gave a small nod toward the validity of the Second Amendment with two other aspects of its decision. One invalidated an especially ridiculous provision of New York’s misnamed SAFE Act that imposed a seven round load limit on firearms used for self-defense, even though magazines of up to 10 rounds remain legal. Stating the obvious, the court remarked on the lack of evidence that “the mere existence of this load limit will convince any would‐be malefactors to load magazines capable of holding ten rounds with only the permissible seven.” 

It also held that Connecticut could not ban a pump-action firearm identified by name under its “assault weapon” law because the state failed to present any evidence at all of its “dangerous” and “unusual” character. It noted, however, that if such evidence were produced, a future such ban might survive.

On the other hand, the Second Circuit also overturned certain beneficial aspects of the trial court’s decision that had voided provisions of the SAFE Act for vagueness. We had described those holdings in a previous alert about that decision. The Second Circuit rejected all of the plaintiffs’ vagueness challenges.

If justice is to be served in this case at all, it will now have to come from the U.S. Supreme Court. If or when that will happen is anybody’s guess. What is once again eminently clear, however, is that lower courts are not likely to interfere even with “serious encroachments” on Second Amendment rights. Fortunately, the decision says nothing about protections of the right that can be afforded through proactive legislation, meaning that gun owners’ best resort is still the political process. 

TRENDING NOW
Louisiana: Senate Passes Constitutional Carry - Take Action Now!

Thursday, February 22, 2024

Louisiana: Senate Passes Constitutional Carry - Take Action Now!

Today, the Senate passed Senate Bill 1, NRA backed constitutional carry legislation, on a 28-10 vote. The bill will next be considered in the House. Please contact your state representative and ask them to SUPPORT Senate Bill 1.

Ontario Latest Province to Snub Trudeau’s Gun Grab – “Ontario Should Not Be Spending Taxpayers’ Money Towards the Program”

News  

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Ontario Latest Province to Snub Trudeau’s Gun Grab – “Ontario Should Not Be Spending Taxpayers’ Money Towards the Program”

The wheels are coming off the mandatory “assault weapon” gun ban and confiscation scheme that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau launched four years ago.

Hawaii Justices “Declare War” on U.S. Supreme Court, to the Cheers of Anti-Gun Media

News  

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Hawaii Justices “Declare War” on U.S. Supreme Court, to the Cheers of Anti-Gun Media

In Hawaii, a man who was peacefully carrying a pistol for his own self-protection while on a nature hike was arrested and subject to felony prosecution under state laws that generally confine the possession of ...

Minnesota: "Assault Weapons" Ban Referred to the Committee on Public Safety Finance and Policy

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Minnesota: "Assault Weapons" Ban Referred to the Committee on Public Safety Finance and Policy

On Monday, House File 3570 was referred to the House Committee on Public Safety Finance and Policy and would ban so called “assault weapons” by expanding upon an existing statute used to define these firearms. The bill ...

Colorado: Semi-Auto Ban Introduced in General Assembly

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Colorado: Semi-Auto Ban Introduced in General Assembly

Anti-Gun extremist State Reps. Tim Hernandez (D-04) and Elisabeth Epps (D-06) introduced House Bill 24-1292, a bill banning the manufacturing, importing, purchasing, selling, offering to sell, or transferring ownership of so called “assault weapons”. 

South Carolina: Permitless Carry Passes the Senate, Waiting on Concurrence by the House

Tuesday, February 6, 2024

South Carolina: Permitless Carry Passes the Senate, Waiting on Concurrence by the House

Last week, South Carolina moved one step closer to becoming the 28th state to enact Permitless/Constitutional Carry! This effort has been years in the making, clearing a major hurdle by passing the Senate, which has been ...

Louisiana: House Committee to Hear Constitutional Carry Monday - Take Action Now!

Friday, February 23, 2024

Louisiana: House Committee to Hear Constitutional Carry Monday - Take Action Now!

Monday, February 26, at 10:00 AM, the House Administration of Criminal Justice Committee will hear Senate Bill 1, the NRA-backed constitutional carry legislation. SB 1 was passed by the Senate earlier this week with overwhelming support. Please contact committee members ...

Virginia: Mandatory Waiting Period and Other Anti-Gun Bills Headed to the Governor's Desk

Friday, February 23, 2024

Virginia: Mandatory Waiting Period and Other Anti-Gun Bills Headed to the Governor's Desk

Contact Governor Youngkin today and urge his veto!  Anti-gun extremists in the Virginia General Assembly have made diminishing your Second Amendment Rights a top priority this legislative session. This week a slew of gun control ...

New Hampshire: House Advances Critical Gun Owner Privacy Legislation

Friday, February 23, 2024

New Hampshire: House Advances Critical Gun Owner Privacy Legislation

On Thursday, February 22nd, the New Hampshire House of Representatives held floor votes on gun related bills.

Colorado: Legislation Requiring the Use of Firearm/Ammunition Merchant Category Codes Passes State Senate

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Colorado: Legislation Requiring the Use of Firearm/Ammunition Merchant Category Codes Passes State Senate

SB24-066 legislation requiring the use of merchant category codes by payment processors to identify firearm, firearm accessories, and ammunition purchases passes the State Senate. 

MORE TRENDING +
LESS TRENDING -

More Like This From Around The NRA

NRA ILA

Established in 1975, the Institute for Legislative Action (ILA) is the "lobbying" arm of the National Rifle Association of America. ILA is responsible for preserving the right of all law-abiding individuals in the legislative, political, and legal arenas, to purchase, possess and use firearms for legitimate purposes as guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.