Supreme Court won't hear assault weapons case

Supreme Court won't hear assault weapons case
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The Supreme Court declined Monday to weigh in on whether cities and states can ban assault weapons, sidestepping a charged debate rekindled by a series of mass shootings around the country.

In refusing to take the case known as Friedman v. Highland Park, the court — at least for now — lets stand a lower court's ruling in favor of the Illinois city's prohibition and, by extension, several similar bans in place in municipalities around the country.

The case stemmed from an ordinance Highland Park enacted in 2013 prohibiting residents from owning any assault weapons. Arie Friedman and the Illinois State Rifle Association challenged the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision to uphold the ban.

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The city’s ordinance defines an assault weapon as any semi‐automatic gun that can accept a large‐capacity magazine and has one of five other features: a pistol grip without a stock; a folding, telescoping or thumbhole stock; a grip for the non‐trigger hand; a barrel shroud; or a muzzle brake or compensator. Some weapons, such as the AR‐15 and AK‐47, are prohibited by name.

Friedman and the state rifle association argued that the ordinance substantially restricts their options for armed self‐defense.

Highland Park contended that its ordinance was valid because weapons with large‐capacity magazines are dangerous and unusual. 

Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia dissented from the court’s decision to reject the case, saying the court has recognized in past cases that the Second Amendment applies fully against the states as well as the federal government.

“The Court’s refusal to review a decision that flouts two of our Second Amendment precedents stands in marked contrast to the Court’s willingness to summarily reverse courts that disregard our other constitutional decisions,” Thomas wrote.

The Supreme Court’s decision comes as recent mass shootings have awakened the debate over gun control across the country. Just last week, 14 people were killed and 21 others were injured in an attack on the San Bernardino Inland Regional Center in California. The suspected shooters were armed with assault rifles and handguns. Authorities also found thousands of rounds of ammunition, 12 pipe bombs and materials to make several improvised explosive devices at the couple’s home.

That attack came less than a week after a man opened fire at a Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs, Colo., killing three people and wounding nine others.

The recent incidents have pushed the president to call on Congress to make it tougher for people to carry out mass shootings by passing new gun regulations, including banning people on the government's No Fly List from purchasing firearms.

Despite the recent events, the court has been reluctant to take any gun rights cases since its landmark decision in District of Columbia v. Heller in 2008, in which the justices held that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to possess a firearm that’s not connected with police or military service and to use that firearm for self-defense within the home.

In delivering the opinion of the court, Scalia said D.C.’s ban on possessing handguns in the home violated the Constitution.

“Undoubtedly some think that the Second Amendment is outmoded in a society where our standing army is the pride of our nation, where well-trained police forces provide personal security, and where gun violence is a serious problem,” he said. “That is perhaps debatable, but what is not debatable is that it is not the role of this court to pronounce the Second Amendment extinct.”

On Monday, Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rodkin Rotering hailed the court’s decision not to take up a new challenge as a victory for local governments.

“This is an opportunity for us to protect our children and our communities from potential mass violence and grief,” she said in a call with The Hill.

But the National Rifle Association was quick to dispute that the decision was a win for proponents of stricter gun laws, citing the court’s frequent admonishments that a denial to review a case is not an affirmation of a lower court’s ruling.

“The Supreme Court hears less than 1 percent of the cases submitted every year so it’s never a surprise to learn a petition for cert has been denied,” the group said, later adding that Heller remains a controlling precedent when it comes to the Second Amendment.

This story was updated at 4:30 p.m.