Top court spurns National Rifle Association challenge to Maryland assault weapons ban

U.S. Supreme Court is seen in Washington, U.S., November 27, 2017. The Court, which has avoided major gun cases for seven years, on Monday declined to hear a challenge backed by the National Rifle Association to Maryland's 2013 state ban on assault weapons enacted after a Connecticut school massacre.

By Andrew Chung

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court, which has avoided major gun cases for seven years, on Monday declined to hear a challenge backed by the National Rifle Association to Maryland’s 2013 state ban on assault weapons enacted after a Connecticut school massacre.

The court turned away an appeal by several Maryland residents, firearms dealers and the state NRA association, who argued that the ban violated their right to keep and bear arms under the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment.

The justices sidestepped the roiling national debate over the availability of military-style guns to the public.

The case focused on weapons that have become a recurring feature in U.S. mass shootings including the Nov. 5 attack at a Texas church that killed 26 people, the Oct. 1 attack at a Las Vegas concert that killed 58 people, and the 2012 massacre of 20 schoolchildren and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, which prompted Maryland’s law.

Assault weapons are popular among gun enthusiasts.

The challengers, who had sued Maryland’s governor and other officials in 2013, appealed a February ruling by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia that upheld the state’s law. The 4th Circuit, ruling 10-4, said it had no power to extend constitutional protections to “weapons of war.”

Maryland’s ban outlaws “assault long guns,” mostly semi-automatic rifles such as the AR-15 and AK-47, as well as large-capacity magazines, which prevent the need for frequent reloading.

Backed by the influential NRA gun lobby, the plaintiffs said in a court filing that semi-automatic rifles are in common use and that law-abiding citizens should not be deprived of them.

“The sands are always shifting with the Supreme Court,” Democratic Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh said. “I hope that this means they have reached a conclusion that they are not going to fiddle with assault weapons bans across the country.”

The Supreme Court last year left in place assault weapon bans in New York and Connecticut.

“It’s inexplicable to me that people would allow the use of assault weapons when they see the carnage that has been inflicted on innocent victims around the country,” Frosh added.

The NRA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.



The Supreme Court on Monday also declined to hear a second gun-related case in which a Florida man convicted of openly carrying a firearm on the street sought to challenge that state’s ban on such activity.

Defendant Dale Lee Norman, who had a permit to carry a concealed weapon, was convicted of openly carrying a handgun in 2012 near his home in Fort Pierce, Florida. In March of this year, the Florida Supreme Court rejected Norman’s challenge to the so-called open-carry ban, saying it did not violate his right to bear arms.

The U.S. Supreme Court issued important rulings in gun cases in 2008 and 2010 but has not taken up a major firearms case since. It has repeatedly refused to second guess lower court decisions upholding state and local restrictions on assault weapons, which filled a void after a federal ban on these firearms expired in 2004.

In a landmark 2008 ruling, the Supreme Court for the first time found that the Second Amendment protected an individual’s right to gun ownership under federal law, specifically to keep a handgun at home for self-defense. In 2010, the court found that right extended to state and local laws as well.

Since then, gun rights advocates have been probing how far those rights extend, including the types of guns and where they can be carried.

The 4th Circuit, in upholding Maryland’s law, noted the disproportionate use of semi-automatic assault rifles in mass shootings and said these weapons are like the military’s M-16 machine guns, which the Supreme Court in its 2008 ruling agreed may be banned. There was also little evidence that such guns are well-suited for self-defense, the 4th Circuit added.

The National Rifle Association criticized the 4th Circuit for finding that “the Second Amendment provides absolutely zero protection to the most popular long guns in the country and standard-capacity ammunition magazines that number in the tens of millions.”



(Reporting by Andrew Chung; Additional reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)


University of Texas professors sue to block guns in classrooms

A student walks at the University of Texas campus in Austin, Texas,

By Jon Herskovitz

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) – Three University of Texas professors have filed a federal lawsuit to halt a state law that would allow holders of concealed handgun licenses to bring pistols into classrooms, saying the measure would have a devastating effect on academic discourse.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. district court in Austin on Wednesday, comes just weeks before the law takes effect on Aug. 1. It allows license holders 21 and older to bring handguns into classrooms and buildings throughout the University of Texas system, one of the nation’s largest, with an enrollment of more than 214,000 students.

“Compelling professors at a public university to allow, without any limitation or restriction, students to carry concealed guns in their classrooms chills their First Amendment rights to academic freedom,” according to the lawsuit, whose defendants include the state’s attorney general, the school’s  president and university’s board of regents.

The professors argue that they discus controversial and emotionally laden subjects such as reproductive rights and it would be inevitable for them to pull back at important junctures because of a cloud of gun violence hanging over the classroom.

University officials said they were reviewing the lawsuit and typically do not comment on pending litigation. Earlier this year, university President Greg Fenves reluctantly approved plans for holders of concealed handguns to bring pistols into classrooms, saying he had been forced to by the Republican-backed law.

The office of Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican, was not immediately available for comment but has said the law protects the rights of gun owners.

Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican, has said the law could prevent mass shootings because someone with a licensed concealed weapon could confront a gunman.

The so-called “campus carry” law allows private colleges to opt out and most of the state’s best-known private universities have done so, saying the law runs counter to protecting student safety.

Eight states now have provisions allowing the carrying of concealed weapons on public post-secondary campuses, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, which tracks state laws.

The Texas law takes effect on the 50th anniversary of one of the deadliest U.S. gun incidents on a U.S. college campus:  student Charles Whitman killed 16 people by firing from a perch atop the clock tower at the University of Texas at Austin.

(Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

Missouri governor vetoes bill to abolish concealed weapon permits

Missouri Governor Jay Nixon

By Kevin Murphy

(Reuters) – Missouri Governor Jay Nixon vetoed a bill on Monday that would eliminate the need for a permit, training and background checks for persons who want to carry a concealed weapon in the state.

The Republican-led bill passed the Missouri House and Senate this spring with enough votes to override the veto when lawmakers convene in September. Two-thirds majority is required.

In a news release accompanying his veto message, Nixon, a Democrat, said he has supported prior legislation to expand concealed carry laws during his seven years in office.

“But I cannot support the extreme step of throwing out that process entirely, eliminating sensible protections like background checks and training requirements, and taking away the ability of sheriffs to protect their communities,” Nixon said.

Debate over gun control in the United States has increased after a gunman pledging allegiance to the Islamic State militant group killed 49 people at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub on June 12 in the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

Nixon, who cannot seek re-election this year due to term limits, said the law would allow people with criminal records, such as misdemeanor assault and drug possession, to automatically carry a concealed weapon.

“Allowing currently prohibited individuals to automatically be able to carry concealed would make Missouri less safe,” Nixon said.

Lawmakers and other supporters of the bill have said the law is an important step forward in gun rights and will not make the state less safe.

“Every time we change the concealed carry law people say there will be blood in the streets,’ said Kevin Jamison, a lawyer who is president of the Western Missouri Shooters Alliance, which lobbied for the bill. “There is never blood in the streets.”

Jamison said nine other states already allow concealed carry without permits and associated training and background checks.

The new law would also expand the so-called “stand your ground” law to allow persons to use deadly force not only in their homes but in other places if they feel threatened. They would have no duty to retreat to safety under the bill.

(Reporting by Kevin Murphy in Kansas City, Mo.; Editing by Alan Crosby)