The 4th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals is set to determine the constitutionality of Maryland’s Firearms Safety Act of 2013, a piece of legislation that bans the possession of “assault weapons” as well as the sale and purchase of magazines holding more than 10 rounds.
The 14-judge panel heard arguments from both sides of the case Wednesday but did not make a decision. The NRA-ILA reports that the outcome is “too close to call at this point.”
According to the Wall Street Journal, the case hinges on whether or not “assault weapons”—semi-automatic, high capacity rifles—constitute “dangerous and unusual weapons.” The Supreme Court ruled in its 2008 D.C. v Heller majority opinion that state and federal governments can ban weapons that fall into the “dangerous and unusual” category without violating the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.
Challengers to the Maryland law—including the Maryland State Rifle and Pistol Association—argued that these rifles are neither particularly dangerous nor unusual. Semi-automatic long guns are “commonly kept by law-abiding citizens” in Maryland and across the nation, they wrote. “There are at least eight million AR-15 and AK-47 style firearms in the United States. Firearms based on these two popular models accounted for approximately 20 percent of firearm sales in 2012.”
Those in favor of the law disagree.
When asked why semi-automatic rifles are more “dangerous and unusual” than semi-automatic shotguns, Assistant Attorney General Matthew Fader said the legislature had gathered sufficient evidence that “assault weapons” are “particularly dangerous” and had not drawn the same conclusion about the other firearms, the Washington Post reported.
Maryland’s Attorney General Douglas Gansler argued that the law is a reasonable measure designed to protect public safety and “reduce the negative effects of firearms violence,” the WSJ reported. AK-47s and AR-15s are “suited, for military-style assaults,” not sport shooting or self-defense.
Judge Robert B. King summed it up like this: “Let’s be real: The assault weapons banned by Maryland’s [law] are exceptionally lethal weapons of war” and, as such, are not constitutionally protected.
A decision in favor of the law, challenges responded, “would further erode the rights of law-abiding citizens to own protected firearms to the point where they would be equated with criminals, domestic violence misdemeanants, and illegal drug users.”
Even criminals, it turns out, don’t prefer to use “assault weapons” to commit crimes. According to the FBI, rifles of any kind (not just “assault rifles”) were used in only 2.6 percent of all homicides. By contrast, “hands, fists, feet, etc.” were used in 5.7 percent of homicides, and knives were used in a whopping 13.4 percent.
If Maryland is looking to ban “dangerous” weapons, they should take a closer look at a statewide knife ban. According to the numbers, sharp objects are almost seven times more dangerous than AR-15s.
“Assault rifles” aren’t much more “unusual,” either. There are an estimated 20-30 million of these firearms in the United States today, which equals nearly one rifle for every ten people. To put that in context, there are just under 11 million swimming pools in the United States that kill approximately 390 people per year, making pools both more unusual and more dangerous than “assault weapons.”
The Court is set to release their decision in the next few weeks.