US Supreme Court rebuffs appeal in Maryland assault weapon dispute

By Thomson Reuters May 20, 2024 | 8:59 AM

By Andrew Chung

(Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court declined on Monday to hear a challenge to a Democratic-backed ban in Maryland on assault-style rifles such as AR-15s, steering clear of the dispute while the litigation continues in a lower court.

The justices turned away an appeal by commercial firearms dealers, gun rights groups and several Maryland residents who have argued that the ban violates the right to keep and bear arms under U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment.

Maryland in 2013 enacted its ban on “military-style assault rifles” such as the semiautomatic AR-15 and AK-47, after a shooter used such a weapon in the 2012 mass killing of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

The Maryland plaintiffs – residents seeking to buy the banned weapons, a firearms dealer called Field Traders and three gun rights groups including the Second Amendment Foundation – sued the state in 2020.

Contesting the term “assault weapon” as an inaccurate “political term,” the Maryland plaintiffs said that assault weapons cannot be outright banned because they are in “common use” by millions of law-abiding people.

The Richmond, Virginia-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed their case based on a 2017 ruling by that same court that had upheld Maryland’s ban. The 4th Circuit concluded that under the Supreme Court’s 2008 precedent, assault weapons are not protected by the Second Amendment because they are like “weapons of war” that are most useful in military service.

After the Supreme Court’s 2022 ruling in the New York case, the justices asked the 4th Circuit to revisit the case made by the Maryland plaintiffs. The 4th Circuit decided in January to rehear the matter before its full slate of judges, and that remains pending.

(Reporting by Andrew Chung in New York; Editing by Will Dunham)