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

Handgun Bans
Gun Bans
NRA - Institute for Legislative Action
NRA – Institute for Legislative Action

Fairfax, VA -(AmmoLand.com)- 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.

About the 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.

For more information, please visit: www.nra.org. Be sure to follow the NRA on Facebook at NRA on Facebook and Twitter @NRA.

AmmoLand Encourages you to Join the NRA today!
  • 11
    Leave a Reply

    Please Login to comment
    7 Comment threads
    4 Thread replies
    0 Followers
     
    Most reacted comment
    Hottest comment thread
    10 Comment authors
    EricEricMikeMutantoneChicagoGuy Recent comment authors
      Subscribe  
    Notify of
    Eric
    Guest
    Eric

    This is nonsensical. Purely judicial activism.

    Mike
    Guest
    Mike

    According the 2014 FBI statistics, murders committed by ALL rifles of any type, totaled 248. “Other weapons,” aka clubs, bats, rocks and so on, were used in 1,610 murders. Knives or cutting instruments were cited as the instruments in 1,567 murders. In fact, the total number of murders committed by assaulters’ hands and feet totaled 660—more than double the homicides committed by ALL rifles. In addition, ALL but 2 of the public mass shootings since 1950 have been committed in Gun Free Zones….. So, you have to raise that question as to WHY do Democrats wany all of these new… Read more »

    Mutantone
    Guest
    Mutantone

    the Second amendment has the key phrase that says it all “Shall not be infringed.” Either: First: “Actively break the terms of (a law, agreement, etc.): making an unauthorized copy would infringe copyright
    Or second: Act so as to limit or undermine (something); encroach on: his legal rights were being infringed .”
    most likely the second set of terms applies but has been steadily ignored to allow continued limits and restrictions to be placed, in violation of the law and any oath sworn to uphold the Constitution.

    Gene
    Guest
    Gene

    As a member of the NRA I have said for years and continue to say that all gun rights groups need to unite and start a legislative process that will actually guarantee the rights of American Gun Owners. We are continuously spending millions of dollars opposing those who would like nothing better than to eliminate the second amendment. Let us take the offensive position and get legislation introduced that will do so. Enough wasted on defense go on the offense, make them spend their resources fighting our fight.

    ChicagoGuy
    Guest
    ChicagoGuy

    NRA would never support all gun rights groups uniting together. There is no money is helping the grassroots citizens, but there is big money for the NRA in selling out their own members to create job security for their lobbyists. After attorney Alan Gura toiled on the McDonald case, NRA barged into Gura’s 30 minute slot in front of the Supreme Court and hired Paul Clement, who got 10 minutes out of Alan’s oral argument time. When the U.S. Federal Court in Chicago struck down IL’s concealed weapons law in Dec. 2012 based on the McDonald decision, NRA contract lobbyist… Read more »

    Eric
    Guest
    Eric

    In California, with one of the most restrictive gun laws, I was hoping CRPA/NRA would consider a ballot initiative. Nothing, only defense, no offensive. Fortunately, FPC is pursuing a ballot initiative.

    Rick Narus
    Guest
    Rick Narus

    It is a disgrace that ANY court would so blatantly and blindly ignore common sense and trample on our Constitutional rights. I can only pray that this will actually come up before the Supreme Court, and then pray again that that court will show some common sense! Our courts, and our politicians, are supposed to PROTECT our Rights, not spit on them!

    Gregory Romeu
    Guest
    Gregory Romeu

    I have been told by many attorneys that Judges get their jobs only because in MOST cases, they are worthless as human beings and could not hold a job doing anything else that would be able to financially support themselves without resorting to prostitution…. (Now, THINK about this for a moment!)

    munchie
    Guest
    munchie

    So……. “AR-15’s can be used in a crime, albeit rarely,”……. and that is the basis for banning them? What about ski masks? Lets ban them under the same loose definition.
    I swear, judges are just as pathetically stupid as politicians and journalists …

    RSmith
    Guest
    RSmith

    Munchie, you’re mistaking sociopathic for being stupid. While one can be either or, or both, in this case they’re sociopathic for sure, as their position of employment they’ve earned, suggests that they are not stupid.
    Gene, I agree that offense is the better way to play.

    Eric
    Guest
    Eric

    Lets ban alcohol and Hyundai Elantra since its an assault vehicle . murdering several and wounding dozens in OK City ,Lets sue Hyundai for making a vehicle that can be driven while intoxicated . Where’s the Smart keys that disable the vehicle for someone that’s intoxicated. Lets sue the alcohol makers and bars for empowering this Assault vehicle. Some sarcasm to point out we can not end the evil that some do. When you ask for the same restrictions on vehicles that the anti gun left wants they all say no way we can’t do that it’s unAmerican not right.… Read more »