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RICHMOND, Va. — The U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ignored precedent and the Constitution in ruling this week that semi-automatic weapons don’t have Second Amendment protections, critics say.
In a 10-4 decision upholding Maryland’s ban on certain semi-automatic firearms, the judges went further than previous courts have in ruling that “assault weapons and large-capacity magazines are not protected by the Second Amendment.”
The Maryland law, passed after a mass shooting, was called the Firearms Safety Act (FSA) of 2013, and it banned AR-15s and most magazine-fed semi-automatic rifles.
Second Amendment advocates and firearms dealers challenged the law in a case called Kolbe vs. Maryland.
Judge William B. Traxler Jr. wrote in a dissent that the Fourth Circuit has “gone to greater lengths than any other court to eviscerate the constitutionally guaranteed right to keep and bear arms.”
The majority ruled that the U.S. Supreme Court’s Heller decision, which dealt with handgun ownership and the right to self-defense, has no impact on semi-automatic rifles.
King’s opinion mentioned the mass shootings in San Bernardino, Newtown and Orlando. Maryland state legislators, he wrote, were justified in banning weapons with magazines that hold more than 10 rounds.
Such weapons “enable shooters to inflict mass casualties while depriving victims and law enforcement officers of opportunities to escape or overwhelm the shooters while they reload their weapons,” King wrote.
Traxler disagreed, noting that such weapons are not “dangerous or unusual” and are used by millions of law-abiding citizens.
“As long as the weapon chosen is one commonly possessed by the American people for lawful purposes — and the rifles at issue here most certainly are,” Traxler wrote, “the state has very little say about whether its citizens should keep it in their homes for protection.”
Both King and Traxler were nominated by President Bill Clinton.
Three other judges — Paul V. Niemeyer, Dennis W. Shedd and G. Steven Agee — joined Traxler in the dissent.
The National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA) called it an “outrageous decision.”
“If, as the Fourth Circuit suggests, a firearm loses Second Amendment protection because it is specifically designed for ‘killing or disabling the enemy,’ then the whole idea of the Second Amendment protecting a defensive purpose (or applying to any well-designed firearm, for that matter) collapses. Handguns, rifles, and shotguns of any type can be equally ‘dangerous,’” the NRA-ILA wrote.
Maryland’s law is similar to bans in California, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and other states, The Washington Post noted.
The decision could be appealed to the Supreme Court.
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