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Assault weapons not protected under the Second Amendment, rules Federal Court

Mythili Sampathkumar
People join together after a school shooting that killed 17 to protest against guns on 17 February 2018 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

A federal appeals court has ruled that the assault weapons banned by the state of Maryland are not protected under the Second Amendment of the US Constitution.

Maryland’s ban on 45 kinds of assault weapons and 10-round magazines has been upheld.

The 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia ruled: “we have no power to extend Second Amendment protections to weapons of war”.

Maryland had passed its law in the wake of the tragic 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut during which a gunman used an assault-style rifle to kill 20 children and six adults.

All fourteen judges of the court voted and Judge William Traxler wrote the dissenting opinion which said the court went "to greater lengths than any other court to eviscerate the constitutionally guaranteed right to keep and bear arms”.

“For a law-abiding citizen who, for whatever reason, chooses to protect his home with a semi-automatic rifle instead of a semi-automatic handgun, Maryland's law clearly imposes a significant burden on the exercise of the right to arm oneself at home,” Mr Traxler wrote, adding that the court should have had a more thorough review of constitutionality.

Spokesperson Jennifer Baker for the National Rifle Association (NRA), the gun owner membership society with the powerful lobby over the US Congress told NBC News called the ruling “absurd” given that the assault-style weapon is the “most popular rifle in America”.

There are anywhere between five to 10 million AR-15 rifles in the US, one of the types of weapons banned by Maryland and the weapon used in the recent Parkland, Florida shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School where 14 children and three adults were killed on 14 February.

Judge Robert King had written the majority opinion and used the District of Columbia v. Heller case as precedent for the ruling.

According to Ms Baker, the court’s ruling does take into account that in the previous case it was ruled that “that the Second Amendment protects arms that are 'in common use at the time for lawful purposes like self-defence.'"

Mr King wrote that the ruling was appropriate since these types of weapons had “become synonymous with the slaughter,” adding that assault-style weapons had been used in the December 2015 San Bernardino, California; the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida in 2016; and the Las Vegas massacre in October 2017 - the deadliest shooting in modern US history where 58 people were killed.

"Simply put, the State has shown all that is required,” the court ruled in upholding the Maryland ban “to protect public safety”.

There was a federal ban on assault weapons from 1994 to 2004, when the legislation was not renewed.