It looks like Neil Gorsuch is going to have his plate full when he finally takes his seat on the Supreme Court. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has been busy uprooting the Second Amendment this week, delivering a stunning opinion which essentially overturns the Heller decision without so much as a by your leave to SCOTUS. It involves a case out of Maryland where the state’s Democrats decided to ban “assault rifles” and high-capacity magazines. Apparently the idea of precedent is not something they care to have any truck with, as Charles C.W. Cook explains at National Review.
Freed up by the Supreme Court’s ongoing reluctance to engage in depth with the Second Amendment, the Fourth Circuit has taken it upon itself to rewrite Heller en banc. In a 10–4 decision, issued yesterday afternoon, the court upheld Maryland’s ban on both “assault weapons” and “high capacity magazines.” By so doing, it deprived the people of Maryland, the Carolinas, and the Virginias of the core protections to which the Constitution entitles them.
As Judge Traxler’s dissent pointedly establishes, the majority achieved this transformation by contriving “a heretofore unknown ‘test,’ which is whether the firearm in question is ‘most useful in military service.’” In effect, this “test” is designed to permit judges to determine that any weapon they might dislike is unprotected by the Second Amendment and can therefore be prohibited with impunity. Forget that Heller contains its own explicit tests. Forget the “common use” standard. Forget “dangerous and unusual.” There’s a new kid in town, and he’s coming for your rifles.
Pardon my language, but where the hell did the phrase “most useful in military service” come from? As Charles aptly points out, this is completely new ground which was summoned up out of whole cloth by the majority in this decision. And what does that even mean?
There are two competing narratives which could be applied to these questions. First, let’s look at the ostensible target of the original legislation. They were going after the AR-15 and its related cousins in the firearms market. This begs the question of how many AR-15 style rifles are currently in use. On the civilian side, the NRA estimates that more than 5 million households have one. In a single seven day span last year following the Orlando shooting, more than 30,000 were sold. But how about the military? As it turns out, the rifles under discussion are civilian models which only fire one shot each time the trigger is pulled. The military doesn’t use them. So technically, calling this particular firearm “most useful in military service” is a complete red herring since the military has no interest in them.
But that’s not to say that the weapon couldn’t be used in a military scenario for the purpose of killing the enemy. (Even though the AR-15 is a somewhat under-powered platform.) The same could be said, as Charles points out, for most standard hunting rifles. If you really have to kill the enemy a good 30:06 will get the job done. The same can be said for virtually any semiautomatic handgun of sufficient caliber and they are frequently carried in combat scenarios. Going by the “logic” of the Fourth Circuit court there is almost no weapon of any sort which would fail to meet this test.
Will the Supreme Court actually entertain nonsense like this as some new standard in defiance of all precedent? I can certainly think of four members who might. This is yet another case which demonstrates how important it is to get Neil Gorsuch on the job as quickly and efficiently as possible. This sort of claptrap coming from the lower courts must be kept in check.