The 4th Circuit Takes on the 2nd Amendment

The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, the circuit responsible for hearing appeals from Federal District Courts in the Virginias, the Carolinas, and Maryland, just ruled on a case involving the regulation of semi-automatic assault weapons. The Court sided with the state of Maryland, upholding its ban on such weapons, “reasoning”:

that the banned assault weapons and large-capacity magazines are not protected by the Second Amendment. That is, we are convinced that the banned assault weapons and large-capacity magazines are among those arms that are “like” “M-16 rifles” — “weapons that are most useful in military service” — which the Heller Court singled out as being beyond the Second Amendment’s reach. See 554 U.S. at 627 (rejecting the notion that the Second Amendment safeguards “M-16 rifles and the like”). Put simply, we have no power to extend Second Amendment protection to the weapons of war that the Heller decision explicitly excluded from such coverage.

As Charles W. Cooke, writing in National Review, argues,

As Judge Traxler’s dissent pointedly establishes, the majority achieved this transformation by contriving “a heretofore unknown ‘test,’ which is whether the firearm in question is ‘most useful in military service.’” In effect, this “test” is designed to permit judges to determine that any weapon they might dislike is unprotected by the Second Amendment and can therefore be prohibited with impunity. Forget that Heller contains its own explicit tests. Forget the “common use” standard. Forget “dangerous and unusual.” There’s a new kid in town, and he’s coming for your rifles.

What counts as “most useful in military service” under this rubric? Well . . . everything, theoretically. “Under the majority’s analysis,” the dissenters contend, “a settler’s musket, the only weapon he would likely own and bring to militia service, would be most useful in military service — undoubtedly a weapon of war — and therefore not protected by the Second Amendment.” Indeed, “the ‘most useful in military service’ rubric would remove nearly all firearms from Second Amendment protection as nearly all firearms can be useful in military service.” A standard semi-automatic handgun is plausibly “most useful in military service.” So, too, is a hunting rifle. So is a sword. Perhaps the Fourth Circuit would like to strip the constitutional protection from those weapons, too?

We’ll see if this opinion stands once Judge Gorsuch takes his seat on the Supreme Court. (One only has to remember Ted Kennedy haranguing Judge Bork to realize that, qualified as he is, Gorsuch’s path to that seat is fraught with more haranguing.)

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