Case Information: Kolbe, et al. v. O’Malley, et al., No. 14-1945 (4th Cir., Amicus Brief Filed Jan. 7, 2015)
At issue: This case is a challenge to Maryland’s Firearm Safety Act of 2013, passed in the wake of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, which, among other things, prohibits assault weapons and large capacity ammunition magazines. The law was upheld by the district court and plaintiffs have appealed to the Fourth Circuit.
The Law Center’s Brief: Our amicus brief, filed along with Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence, defends Maryland’s law by arguing that assault weapons and large capacity ammunition magazines are military-style weapons, ill-suited to self-defense purposes, that fall outside of the scope of the Second Amendment. The brief makes the argument that, even if these weapons are protected by the Second Amendment, the law is constitutional because it is reasonably related to the important government interest of protecting citizens and law enforcement officers from gun violence.
Case Information: Friedman, et al. v. City of Highland Park, et al., No. 14-3091 (7th Cir. Brief Filed Dec. 10, 2014)
At Issue: Gun lobby plaintiffs brought this challenge to an ordinance passed by the City of Highland Park, Illinois in the wake of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, which prohibits the possession, sale, or manufacture of assault weapons and large capacity magazines (defined as magazines able to hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition). The district court upheld the ordinance, finding it to have a “close fit” with the “stated objective of providing for the protection and safety of its inhabitants.” Plaintiffs appealed the decision to the Seventh Circuit.
The Law Center’s Brief: Our amicus brief, joined by the City of Chicago and the Cook County State’s Attorney, argues that the Second Amendment, as interpreted by the Supreme Court and other courts, does not protect a right to own weapons that are designed for a battlefield and are unsuited for lawful self-defense in the home. The brief notes that every court to have considered challenges to laws banning assault weapons or large capacity magazines since the Supreme Court’s decisions in Heller and McDonald has upheld those laws. The brief argues in the alternative that, even if the Second Amendment does protect these dangerous weapons, their regulation is still constitutional under intermediate review, which is the only appropriate level of judicial review in this context and simply requires that a law be “reasonably related” to an “important” government interest. There is no question that the challenged law passes this test.
In a victory for gun safety, a U.S. District Court on Tuesday, August 12 upheld all aspects of Maryland’s Firearm Safety Act of 2013. The law, enacted in the wake of the devastating shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, prohibits certain assault weapons and large capacity ammunition magazines (“LCAMs”). Plaintiffs in the case, individual gun owners as well as a number of pro-gun organizations, argued unsuccessfully that the Act violates the Second Amendment. With its decision, the District Court in Kolbe v. O’Malley joins an ever-growing number of courts that have unanimously upheld laws around the country prohibiting dangerous, military-style assault weapons and LCAMs.
In reviewing the law, the court first asked whether assault weapons and LCAMs (magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds) fall within the scope of the Second Amendment, which does not protect “dangerous and unusual weapons,” but only those “typically possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes.” The court noted that assault weapons “represent no more than 3% of the current civilian gun stock, and ownership of those weapons is highly concentrated in less than 1% of the U.S. population.” Moreover, assault weapons “are used disproportionately” in both mass shootings and attacks on law enforcement officers and “cause more injuries and more fatalities when they are used.” Given this evidence, the court expressed its “serious doubts that the banned assault long guns are commonly possessed for lawful purposes” and was “inclined to find” that such weapons fall outside the Second Amendment as dangerous and unusual.
A final ruling on that question was not issued, however, because the court found the entire Act to easily survive constitutional review. In holding that the Act only minimally burdens the Second Amendment, the court pointed out that the law “does not seriously impact a person’s ability to defend himself in the home…[i]n fact, the plaintiffs can point to no instance where assault weapons or LCAMs were used or useful in an instance of self-defense in Maryland.” The court also noted persuasive evidence showing that “assault weapons have several military-style features which make them especially dangerous to law enforcement and civilians,” and that LCAMs are used disproportionately in mass shootings and in the killing of law enforcement officers. Given these facts, the court concluded that the Act “substantially serves the government’s interest in protecting public safety, and it does so without significantly burdening” the Second Amendment right of “law-abiding, responsible citizens to use arms in defense of hearth and home.”
This case is part of an overall trend in courts across the nation, where the vast majority of challenges to common sense gun regulations are rejected. In over 900 decisions tracked by the Law Center, approximately 96% of Second Amendment challenges were rejected—further proof that sensible firearm regulations are totally compatible with the Second Amendment.
For more, visit our overview of Maryland’s gun laws or read about limits on assault weapons and large capacity ammunition magazines in states across the country.
In a lengthy and well-reasoned decision released earlier today, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia upheld every aspect of D.C.’s comprehensive firearms registration program. The court found that the challenged laws, which require residents to register all firearms with local authorities, were sufficiently related to the District’s goals of ensuring public safety and protecting District police. The court noted that the testimony of four expert witnesses for the District provided enough evidence showing the registration system to be an important law enforcement tool that would save lives by preventing criminals from obtaining firearms.
The court brushed aside the gun lobby’s argument that the registration system was invalid because it would be circumvented by criminals. Stating that the argument made “little sense” and would “invalidate any and all gun laws,” the court emphasized that “[a]lthough the various registration requirements at issue will not prevent all criminals from obtaining firearms, it surely will prevent some from doing so. That is enough.”
The case, known as Heller II, was brought in the aftermath of the landmark Heller decision in which the Supreme Court struck down D.C.’s handgun ban. After Heller, the D.C. Council enacted the Firearms Registration Amendment Act (FRA), which amended what remained of the District’s gun laws in order to create a new and constitutionally compliant scheme for regulating firearms. The plaintiffs, funded and represented by the gun lobby, immediately challenged this new system as violating the Second Amendment. After extensive and costly litigation, the D.C. Circuit Court upheld most aspects of the FRA in 2011, including the District’s ban on assault weapons, large capacity ammunition magazines, and the registration requirement as it applied specifically to handguns. The rest of the case was brought back to the District Court in order to gather more facts.
Today’s decision broadly upholds D.C.’s common sense registration provisions, including mandatory firearms safety training for registered gun owners, a limit of one pistol registration per month, and the various administrative aspects of the system, including in-person registration. The court’s decision reaffirms the notion that, after the Heller decision, legislatures still have great leeway in enacting thoughtful, rational gun laws in order to protect the public and law enforcement officers. This adds to the gun lobby’s ever-growing losing streak of expensive and wasteful Second Amendment challenges to common sense gun laws. Second Amendment challenges have been rejected in 96% of the more than 900 civil and criminal cases tracked by the Law Center across the country since the Heller decision in 2008.
For more, read our information on other cases that have addressed the Second Amendment since the pivotal 2008 Heller case or read our summary of laws that require the registration of firearms.
The Law Center’s latest publication, The California Model: Twenty Years of Putting Safety First, examines the history of success in enacting smart gun laws in California and how those laws have contributed to a significant drop in gun death rates in the state.
As the publication describes, gun violence is not a problem without solutions. We know what works,
we’ve seen the difference it has made in California, and we are already seeing the same success in states around the country.
Download a PDF Copy of The California Model
Two Mass Shootings that Changed California
In 1989, a catastrophic event changed the perception of gun violence in California. A gunman took an assault rifle to Cleveland Elementary School in Stockton, where he killed five children and wounded 29 others as well as one teacher.
In the early 1990s the toll of gun violence in California rose to unprecedented levels – at one point 15% higher than the national average.
The parallels between the Stockton shooting and the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut are startling. As one news report observed, “Except for the fatal scale of the Connecticut shooting[,] the assault at Cleveland Elementary School here featured near-identical and tragic themes: young victims, a troubled gunman and a military-style rifle.”
The Stockton shooting shocked California and the nation, igniting calls for change. Then, as now, change was not quick to come from Congress. Instead, it was California’s legislature that responded to the demand for action, adopting the first assault weapons ban in the country that same year.
Since President Obama announced his support for laws requiring universal background checks on all gun buyers, banning military-style assault weapons and large capacity ammunition magazines, and punishing gun traffickers, there has been significant discussion about the constitutionality of these proposals under the Second Amendment. In order to move forward on real change to our nation’s gun laws, it’s vitally important that legislators understand that the president’s proposed reforms are completely constitutional and are critical to stopping our nation’s gun violence epidemic.
Today, a subcommittee of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing titled “Proposals to Reduce Gun Violence: Protecting Our Communities While Respecting the Second Amendment.” In written testimony submitted to the subcommittee, our Legal Director, Juliet Leftwich, discussed how the Second Amendment presents no obstacle to President Obama’s proposals. The testimony explained that although the U.S. Supreme Court held in District of Columbia v. Heller that the Second Amendment protects the right of a law-abiding, responsible citizen to possess a handgun in the home for self-defense, the president’s proposals are consistent with the Supreme Court’s decisions and the decisions of courts that have evaluated Second Amendment challenges since Heller.
Download Juliet Leftwich’s testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee here.
Additionally, the Center for American Progress today released a memo coauthored by the Law Center’s Executive Director, Robyn Thomas, on the constitutionality of the proposals endorsed by the president. The memo concludes that “many forms of firearm regulation remain constitutional, including laws to prevent firearm possession by criminals and limitations on the possession of dangerous and unusual weapons. The measures endorsed by President Obama and proposed by Congress are safely within these confines and reflect the sort of reasonable regulation that the Supreme Court endorsed in Heller and has accepted in a host of other constitutional contexts.”
Download the Center for American Progress/Law Center memo on the constitutionality of gun laws here.
Senator Feinstein is right. Weapons of war don’t belong on our streets. That’s why she fought for our safety this morning and introduced a new ban on assault weapons – weapons designed for combat that continue to make battlegrounds out of our movie theaters, shopping malls, and elementary schools across the country.
This is a huge step. If Senator Feinstein’s bill becomes law, it will keep many dangerous weapons out of our communities. She is relying on you to make sure it becomes a reality. She has taken a stand for the majority of Americans who believe that these military-style weapons don’t belong in our neighborhoods, and she needs us to take up the fight to ensure that Congress acts. As she said today:
There is one great hope out there and that is you. Because you are stronger than the gun lobby. You are stronger than gun manufacturers … Only if you stand up, if America rises up, if people care enough to call every member of the House and every member of the Senate and say, “We have had enough.”
We all need to make sure that Congress hears our demands. Stand with Senator Feinstein and tell Congress to protect our communities from these weapons of war by supporting the 2013 Assault Weapon Ban.
Sign her petition to Congress here. http://bit.ly/FeinsteinAWB
It is not too late to prevent the next disaster. Today is the day to demand that Congress takes action.