The full 4th U.S. Circuit of Appeals in Virginia found that military-style assault weapons-like those used in the Newtown; Orlando, Florida; San Bernardino, California; and Aurora, Colorado, massacres, among others-and large-capacity magazines are not protected under the Second Amendment's right to bear arms.
"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", Judge Robert B. King wrote for the court.
The standard employed by the Fourth Circuit is a departure from that used in the Supreme Court's landmark Heller decision that affirmed an individual's right to keep and bear arms.
Only seven states and the District of Columbia have laws banning the sale or ownership of assault rifles.
But Elizabeth Banach, executive director of Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence, said the decision is "overwhelming proof that reasonable measures to prevent gun violence are constitutional".
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The Supreme Court has not gone further to define the parameters of the right, such as weighing in on the legality of restrictions on certain weapons.
This case started after two Maryland gun owners, along with several gun shops and gun-rights groups, sued to strike down the Maryland law. The law - implemented after the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting that killed 20 students and six teachers in Newtown, Conn. - is meant to protect against gun violence.
In fact, one of the big arguments by plaintiffs who challenged Maryland's ban - and by the four 4th Circuit judges who dissented from the en banc opinion - was that semi-automatic weapons, otherwise known as "modern sporting rifles", are among the most popular guns on the market, with 8 million of them circulating in the U.S.as of 2013.
The court also found that Maryland lawmakers were justified in passing the ban in the interest of public safety because magazines holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition "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".
The majority opinion reverses a decision by a smaller panel of judges from the court in February 2016. The majority opinion, she added, ignores the Supreme Court's guidance from Heller that "the Second Amendment protects arms that are 'in common use at the time for lawful purposes like self-defense'". "It is their community, not ours". Instead of using Heller's test of whether a firearm is in "common use" combined with whether it is "dangerous and unusual", the Fourth Circuit focused on whether or not a firearm is "most useful in military service".
Judge William Byrd Traxler, Jr. wrote a dissenting opinion, joined by three other members, in which he blasted the ruling. "The state has very little say about whether its citizens should keep it in their homes for protection".
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