It's now clear that reasonable gun restrictions don't violate Second Amendment

By what it has chosen not to do, the U.S. Supreme Court is quietly making the statement that placing significant restrictions on the type of firearms that can be sold and possessed does not violate the Second Amendment right to bear arms.

Last week the court again declined to hear two challenges to state gun-control laws. In the more significant of the two cases, the court let stand an assault weapons ban, and restrictions on high-capacity magazines, adopted by Maryland. The law is similar to the restrictions approved in Connecticut after the Sandy Hook elementary school massacre five years ago this month.

What appears to be happening is that the Supreme Court is giving wide latitude to states in restricting gun sales without conflicting with the Second Amendment. It suggests that if enough congressmen ever managed to crawl out of the back pocket of the National Rifle Association and pass a federal ban on the sale of assault weapons to civilians, the ban would survive a constitutional challenge.

The Supreme Court, in seeing no need to issue another Second Amendment ruling, recognizes that the lower courts are getting it right when it comes to interpreting the parameters of the landmark 2008 District of Columbia v. Heller decision. That ruling struck down a Washington, D.C., law that barred keeping guns in the home.

Written by the late Justice Antonin Scalia, Heller established that the Second Amendment protects the right of individuals to possess firearms for self-defense, not just in connection with “a well-regulated Militia.”

But Scalia also noted, “The right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited,” pointing to “support in the historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of dangerous and unusual weapons."

A 2010 Supreme Court decision extended the logic in Heller to state gun laws.

In upholding the Maryland assault weapons ban, Judge Robert King of the 4th Circuit invoked the strictures established by Heller.

“Put simply, we have no power to extend Second Amendment protection to the weapons of war that the Heller decision explicitly excluded from such coverage,” King wrote for the majority.

The court has now passed on several challenges to laws restricting the nature of guns that can be sold and possessed, including the Connecticut law and a similar New York law, and a 9th Circuit San Diego County ordinance restricting access to concealed-carry permits.

The Supreme Court likewise refused to hear an appeal challenging the constitutionality of an ordinance, approved in 2013 by Highland Park, Ill., which also banned semiautomatic assault weapons and large-capacity magazines.

By again not intervening, the court’s thinking has not changed with the addition of Justice Neil M. Gorsuch.

The other law the Supreme Court let stand last week concerned Florida’s long-standing ban on the open carry of firearms, yet another indication it sees no need to expound on Heller.

Those who said the Connecticut and similar gun-restriction laws would not stand up to appeal could not have been more wrong. Now the challenge is to get Congress to act, which will likely have to await a change in leadership in Washington. 

The editorial board is composed of the publisher and four journalists of varied editing and reporting backgrounds. The board's discussions and information gained from its meetings with political, civic, and business leaders drive the institutional voice of The Day, as expressed in its editorials. The editorial department operates separately from the newsroom.

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