Earlier today, a panel of three judges for the federal Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a major decision in a Second Amendment lawsuit out of Maryland that challenges the state’s “Firearm Safety Act” (“FSA”), laws that ban semi-automatic “assault weapons” and firearm magazines that hold more than 10 rounds.
Importantly, the Court’s decision in Kolbe v. Hogan held that the Act “implicates the core protection of the Second Amendment” and that “strict scrutiny is the applicable standard of review for Plaintiffs’ Second Amendment claim.”
To pass strict scrutiny — the most stringent form of judicial review — the legislature must have passed the law to further a “compelling governmental interest” and must have narrowly tailored the law to achieve that interest. It’s possible but relatively rare for the government to justify laws that must meet strict scrutiny.
In 2013, the enactment of the FSA substantially expanded Maryland’s gun control laws and made it illegal to “possess, sell, offer to sell, transfer, purchase, or receive” or to transport into Maryland any firearm designated as an “assault weapon.” The list of prohibited weapons includes semi-automatic rifles like any AR-15 and any AK-47. The penalty for any violation of the FSA was a misdemeanor and a jail sentence of up to three years.
In the Kolbe decision, the Court determined that the FSA did indeed violate an individual’s right to keep and bear arms as guaranteed by the Second Amendment. The Court stated:
“We therefore struggle to see how Maryland’s law would not substantially burden the core Second Amendment right to defend oneself and one’s family in the home with a firearm that is commonly possessed by law-abiding citizens for such lawful purposes. Moreover, the FSA also reaches every instance where an AR-15 platform semi-automatic rifle or LCM might be preferable to handguns or bolt-action rifles–for example hunting, recreational shooting, or competitive marksmanship events, all of which are lawful purposes protected by the Constitution.”
The Court continued in their argument that a regular, law-abiding person would have many legitimate reasons for wanting to purchase and possess guns banned under the Act:
“There are legitimate reasons for citizens to favor a semiautomatic rifle over handguns in defending themselves and their families at home. The record contains evidence suggesting that ‘handguns are inherently less accurate than long guns’ as they ‘are more difficult to steady’ and ‘absorb less of the recoil….reducing accuracy.”
In issuing the decision, the Court vacated “the district court’s denial of Plaintiffs’ Second Amendment claims and remands [the case] for the district court to apply strict scrutiny.”
You can read the entire decision here.