SCOTUS Sends a Powerful Signal to Assault Weapon Makers

June 20th 2016

Alex Mierjeski

The U.S. Supreme Court signaled on Monday that it would not stand in the way of state and local governments establishing laws to restrict access to assault weapons and large capacity magazines.

Picture of the Supreme Court

The court declined to hear a constitutional challenge by gun rights advocates of an earlier federal appeals court ruling in October protecting bans on assault-style weapons in New York and Connecticut, VICE News reported. Previously, the court has been reluctant to insert itself in major Second Amendment cases.

Those laws were enacted in the wake of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. However, the new ruling comes as a debate about gun control — specifically around assault weapons — dominates the national conversation. Assault-style weapons have been used in several recent mass shootings, including an attack at a gay club in Orlando last week.

Assault weapon

While the decision not to hear the challenge is not precedent-setting, it's the latest in a series of similar decisions by the Court.

Gun rights advocates say that assault weapon bans infringe on individuals' Second Amendment right to bear arms, which the Supreme Court recognized in 2008's landmark District of Columbia v. Heller.

However, as The Washington Post reports, after the Heller case:

"[T]he court made clear in a subsequent case that state and local governments, like Congress, could not prohibit individual gun ownership.

But since then, the justices have avoided all cases that might clarify whether that right is more expansive or which restrictions are too burdensome."


Seven states and the District of Columbia have laws banning semi-automatic rifles, but a national ban expired in 2004. That law, passed by Congress in 1994, barred the manufacture and sale of 19 different kinds of "military-style" semiautomatic rifles, handguns, and ammunition, The New York Times reports.

A national ban on assault weapons may not be in the immediate future, The Times notes, but the Senate is set to take up measures expanding background checks, closing purchasing loopholes, and addressing the so-called "terror gap."