After a fairly good run for the Second Amendment over the past decade and more, we’ve been seeing signs that the Supreme Court lacks the interest or conviction to tackle some of the big questions surrounding gun rights in America. With the current deadlock at SCOTUS expected to continue until Antonin Scalia’s seat is filled next year, we saw another example of this today. The court had the opportunity to weigh in on a challenge to a ban on so-called “assault rifles” in Connecticut, but they declined to take up the case, allowing the ban to stand. (Reuters)
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday left in place gun control laws in New York and Connecticut that ban assault weapons like the one used in last week’s massacre at an Orlando nightclub, rejecting a challenge brought by gun rights advocates.
The court’s action underlined its reluctance to insert itself into the simmering national debate on gun control. The justices have not made a major gun rights ruling since 2010.
The justices declined to hear an appeal of an October ruling by the New York-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that upheld laws prohibiting semiautomatic weapons and large capacity magazines in the two northeastern states.
On paper this isn’t a “ruling” by the court in one direction or another. They also aren’t setting any sort of precedent for later cases which may land in their lap. But the real world effect – at least in the short term – is to uphold the finding of the lower court which means that Connecticut’s ban will remain in place for now.
We can’t really blame this on an eight person court. The Supremes have been wavering on gun rights for a while now and have chosen to dodge some similar cases. In fact, the last two times they took a dramatic stand in favor of the Second Amendment are now more than half a decade in the rear view mirror. The 2008 Heller case was their landmark moment when they held that the Second Amendment guaranteed an individual’s right to bear arms. (There were still some limits baked into the cake in terms of weapons kept in your home, but the individual nature of the right was the big news.) They expanded on that principle in 2010 with the case of McDonald v. City of Chicago by holding that the Heller ruling covered individual gun rights in states.
That was seen as a golden moment for the Second Amendment, but it was equally obvious that gun grabbers would keep throwing everything at the wall they could to see if anything would stick. By allowing the nonsense of the term “assault weapons” to sink further into the legal lexicon, the door has been opened a bit wider for gun rights opponents. Who knows what might next be included in the term “assault” weapons if Hillary Clinton gets the chance to stock up the court roster? For that matter, would they even treat the Heller and McDonald decisions as valid precedent or just toss them out the window?