High Court Refuses Challenge to Connecticut Assault Weapons Ban

On Monday, the Supreme Court declined to hear a challenge to assault weapons bans passed in Connecticut and New York in response to the Sandy Hook shooting.

The ruling falls in line with court precedent, but it also sends a clear signal to lawmakers and the public. As far as the Supreme Court is concerned, bans on assault weapons pass constitutional muster.

With Congress squabbling over gun control in the wake of the Pulse shooting, the Supreme Court’s message here is rather unmistakeable. Even with only eight justices on the bench — due to Republican obstructionism — the court managed to take a stance consistent with its historic rulings on the subject.

The Supreme Court’s relationship to gun legislation is complex, highlighting the schism in American legal thinking over the issue of gun rights.

In the 2008 case D.C. v. Heller, the Supreme Court indicated that the Second Amendment provides an individual right to bear arms, which is the argument at the core of pro-gun advocacy. However, those advocates are in line for disappointment with the court’s subsequent legal opinions.

While the Supreme Court may believe in individual rights, it doesn’t support unlimited rights, which is where this case comes in.

For the Supreme Court — and the appeals court that upheld the ban in the first place — there are two key considerations to evaluate when discussing gun rights.

The first is whether a weapon is in “common use,” and the second is whether it’s used “for lawful purposes,” as discussed in D.C. v. Heller. At the time Connecticut passed its ban, the state’s Attorney General, George Jepsen, argued that assault weapons were owned by a relatively small number of people — not in common use –and were commonly used in gun crimes –  unlawful.

Connecticut state law, Jepsen felt, generally adhered to the requirements set out in D.C. v. Heller. It provided some reasonable limitations on gun ownership for safety and public welfare without unfairly restricting individual rights.

In December, the Supreme Court declined to hear a similar case, this one involving a ban in a Chicago suburb. Justices Scalia and Thomas dissented with the court’s decision to refuse to hear the case.

Justice Scalia authored the majority opinion in D.C. v. Hellerand clearly had a view on gun issues that weighed in the direction of fewer restrictions on individual rights.

The fact that the court has declined to hear multiple challenges to assault weapons bans suggests that it generally agrees with lower court decisions to uphold such bans. Were Congress to finally act on gun control, it has a framework that’s already rooted in legal precedent for passing an effective ban on some of the most dangerous weapons in the United States.

The Supreme Court clearly feels that some restrictions on gun ownership and use are reasonable under the Constitution, and this is something unlikely to change without a radical reshuffling of the court. Even in a conservative-dominated court, it’s entirely possible that the justices would still largely agree on common sense restrictions.

The fact that the Supreme Court can arrive at an agreement while Congress stubbornly refuses to address the country’s gun violence problem is a troubling illustration of political infighting in the United States.

Photo credit: Dick Clark

63 comments

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus1 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Wendy Johnson-Niblick

Maxine Stopfer says, "When are people going to understand that people kill, not guns or cars..."

Maxine, people don't understand this "simple fact," because it doesn't make any sense. You take a drunk person and set them walking home, there is minimal chance of any problems, but put them behind the wheel of a car, suddenly you might end up with some fatalities. Ditto ditto with guns, give a dangerous person a knife, they will maybe get in some stabbings before they can be stopped, and most of the people will survive. Give them a handgun that shoots six rounds, you are looking at maybe six fatalities max, but give them an assault-style weapon, capable of shooting 30 rounds or so without reloading, and suddenly you might have a mass shooting on your hands. We need to regulate guns in this country the same way we regulate automobiles. We've brought auto-related fatalities down significantly in the past generation or so, how? Regulations. Now it's time to start on guns.

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Shirley S.
Shirley S1 years ago

America's gun laws are completely antiquated ! The 21st century demands new laws.

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Marc P.
Marc P1 years ago

Jan N.: Regarding your comment, "I think we should just take an originalist view of the Bill of Rights," I agree. The Second Amendment was designed to allow the citizens to be able to defend themselves (Among other things) our Government turning on the people. I'm not sure how advocates of banning certain guns expect us to be able to do that by banning 'assault' rifles. I'm Progressive, and I agree there has to be some reform in the way people are allowed to buy guns. But by citizens allowing the Government to carve out 'exceptions' to the Second Amendment is Unconstitutional, and VERY dangerous. What Amendment will be 'carved out' for public safety next?? One could argue speech against the Government, or Government policy causes violence and foments dissent... Or perhaps the presence of a Mosque might cause 'dissent', that creates "a threat to public safety." The list goes on. We need to be VERY careful what we wish for....

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Jan N.
Jan N1 years ago

I think we should just take an originalist view of the Bill of Rights, which means the 2nd Amendment gives you the right to bear muskets and pistols or whatever else existed at the time and nothing that came after. Those were the arms they knew, therefore those are the arms they mean. Nothing else.

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Karin Hanson
Karin Hanson1 years ago

This whole issue is absurd...... NO ONE needs to own or carry an assault weapon!!

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Past Member
Past Member 1 years ago

Sorry. Not done, Dennis Haystert and his wonderful Christian friends defending him. Josh Duggar and photo ops ith Republicans AFTER it was found out what he did. Let us not forget NRA darling Ted Nugent. Pedophile and draft dodger. Love guns. Hate children. That is the GOP.

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Past Member
Past Member 1 years ago

Robert Fitzgetald. Yes. Wonderful family values of Conservative Christians getting away with having sex with kids.

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Past Member
Past Member 1 years ago

Eruc Lees and other idiots in here. WE DO NOT WANT PEOPLE ON NO FLY LIST WITH AR!!! A five year old would understand this. And, i am NOT anti-gun.

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Past Member
Past Member 1 years ago

Eric Lees. Bulls''t. You morons believe everything you read on the internet. Which makes yiu stupid. BUSH IS THE BIGGEST HYPOCRITE EVER!! Let us start with, Deliver Us From Evil. Rent it and you will see he is part of problem protecting pedophiles. Right from his own mouth he will explain why he gave Pope immunity from prosecution. CONSRVATIVES DO NOT GIVE A SHIT ABOUT CHILDREN. And you can also watch similar documentaries with CONSERVATIVES in them. Jeb Bush also.

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