The Supreme Court Turned Down A Challenge To Assault Weapon Bans As The Senate Rejected Gun Control Measures

The current state of guns and gun legislation in America is pretty disappointing, to say the least. Following the deadliest mass shooting in national history at a gay nightclub in Florida just last week, the senate voted on four gun control measures, but of course, not a single one of these common sense measures (which included expanding background checks and banning individuals with suspected ties to terrorism from purchasing firearms) passed. Democratic Senenator Chris Murphy of Connecticut’s 15-hour filibuster was all kinds of epic, so it’s sad to see it ultimately come to nothing. However, the Supreme Court did reject a challenge to assault weapon bans Monday, which is at least a little good news.

NRA lobbyists pretty much own Republican senators, assault rifle sales are literally going through the roof right now, and prepubescent males are successfully purchasing firearms, so the Supreme Court’s rejection of a case challenging assault weapon bans in New York and Connecticut, which were established following the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012, gives the nation a tinge of hope.

The law specifically bans certain semi-automatic assault weapons as well as large capacity magazines. The Supreme Court’s decision is unsurprising considering it rejected a similar challenge to assault rifle bans back in December following the San Bernardino shooting, which killed 14. The last time the Supreme Court offered a significant ruling on guns was the 2008 case District of Columbia v. Heller, which upheld individuals’ right to bear arms.

Activists Rally In Front Of U.S. Supreme Court
CREDIT: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Those who favor dangerously lax regulations on guns claim assault rifle bans and lower courts’ decisions to uphold these bans run contrary to the 2008 SCOTUS decision. But even the late, conservative-leaning Justice Antonin Scalia countered this in his District of Columbia v. Heller decision, clarifying that the decision did not uphold “a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.” The decision applied to handguns kept at home for “self-defense” (already pretty questionable if you ask me), rather than individuals with criminal histories or suspected ties to terrorism having the right to own mass-killing assault rifles.

While “gun rights” supporters are still calling for clarification regarding the Heller decision that they hope will identify assault rifle bans as unconstitutional, as they did in Shew v. Malloy in 2014, Jonathan Lowy, director of the Legal Action Project at the Brady Center to Prevent Gun violence, is very pleased with SCOTUS’s Monday decision.

“The Supreme Court’s decision to let stand Connecticut’s assault weapons restrictions, is just the latest indication that courts almost universally recognize that common sense life-saving gun laws are fully compatible with the Second Amendment,” Lowy told CNN. “The fact that Connecticut chose to restrict assault weapons like the ones used in the Orlando and Sandy Hook mass shootings was both reasonable and constitutional.”

Bans on assault rifle purchases are currently effective in only five states (California, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, and New Jersey) other than Connecticut and New York, after a federal ban on assault weapons enacted in the early 1990s expired in 2004. Congress has repeatedly rejected a renewal of this ban on assault rifles, most recently defeating a proposed ban in 2013. With a Congress dominated by Republicans who are dominated by the NRA, there isn’t much room to be optimistic.

Nonetheless, the Supreme Court’s refusal to even consider overturning assault rifle bans in New York and Connecticut is a victory worth celebrating in the wake of so much tragedy. While, as Vice News points out, its decision doesn’t set any groundbreaking judicial precedent, it offers “tacit approval for states and local governments to enact broad gun-control laws,” which is some much, much needed good news.