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How Courts Could Reverse Every Single Ban on Assault Weapons

Attorneys general from 21 states are asking a federal court to overturn Maryland's ban on assault weapons. If a judge agrees, the case could be headed for the Supreme Court.
Photo by Michael Dorausch via Flickr

​Within hours of the Sandy Hook school shooting, people all over the co​untry were clamoring for more restrictive gun control laws, particularly a ban on assault rifles, like the one that shooter Adam Lanza used to gun down 20 children on December 14, 2012. A proposal to end t​he sale of about 150 weapons, including ones with features like "bullet buttons," didn't make it past the US Senate, but in the aftermath of Sandy Hook, three states have managed to pass assault weapons bans themselves.


One of those states was Maryland. Last May, the state's Democratic Governor Martin O'Malley signed into law one of the country's strictest gun-control measures, banning most semi-automatic weapons and magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammo, and mandating fingerprinting for new gun buyers. But now, a year-and-a-half later, attorneys general from 21 states are trying to get that law overturned. And one man in particular is leading the fight to erase what little progress has been made over the second most deadly mass shooting in US history.

Shortly after the ban passed in Maryland, a range of plaintiffs, including trade associations for shooters, sporting goods stores, and gun clubs filed suit, claiming that the law violated the Second Amendment. After a federal court upheld the state's gun law in August, top cops from 21 states filed an ​amicus brief asking a federal appeals court to overturn the decision.

To give you a sense of the significance, those attorneys general—mostly Republicans, from West Virginia, Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Wyoming, and Kentucky—represent more than 40 percent of state attorneys general in the whole country. (Also worth noting – most of them are nowhere near any of the states that passed the gun laws.)

The leader of the group is Alabama's Republican Attorney General Luther Strange. The 61-year-old has been beating the drum against assault weapons bans for months, and filed similar amicus briefs against new gun laws in New​ York and Con​necticut this past spring. Between authoring these two briefs and co-signing the third, Strange is clearly emerging as one of the country's most prominent opponents of gun control—a distinction that earned him an ​"A+" rating from the NRA during his tight reelection race this year.

The brief states that because the state​s that passed bans failed to show that getting rid of semi-automatic weapons would increase public safety, their policies are unconstitutional. Additionally, it brings up the points that the AR-15 is of the most popular rife in the United States, and that the Supreme Court noted in Staples v. United States that these guns don't categorically have a "quasi-suspect character" like machine guns, sawed-up shotguns, or artillery pieces.

The two briefs that were filed in New York and Connecticut and written by Strange also mention the precedent set in Staples. Although they're different in the sense that they're not copied and pasted, the briefs all basically say the same thing and repeat NRA platitudes, like the idea that taking guns away from good guys gives the bad guys an advantage.

Oral arguments for both the New York and Connecticut cases will be heard on December 9, and the ones for Maryland haven't been set yet. If the two courts decide differently, it's very possible that Strange could force the Supreme Court to settle the score.