Saturday, February 6, 2016
A sharply divided panel of the Fourth Circuit ruled this week that Maryland's assault-weapon ban is subject to the most stringent constitutional test, strict scrutiny. The ruling all but ensures that the ban will fall when the Second Amendment challenge, Kolbe v. Hogan, goes back to the district court on remand.
The ruling is a dramatic split from similar rulings in other circuits. The D.C. Circuit and the Second Circuit both applied intermediate scrutiny to similar bans; the Seventh Circuit applied its own test (distinct from a traditional tier of review), and the Supreme Court declined to review that ruling just this past December.
Given this trend, the Fourth Circuit's ruling is a little more than surprising. But the majority said that Maryland's flat ban on assault weapons and large-capacity magazines cut to the core of the Second Amendment (self-defense within the home) and left no room for possession of these kinds of weapons. That was enough to justify strict scrutiny, said the majority.
The dissent, in contrast, noted that Heller itself left room for this kind of regulation, and that sister circuits have applied a lower level of scrutiny.
The ruling is not final: the panel sent the case back to the district court for application of the strict scrutiny standard. Still, this all but guarantees that the courts will strike the ban, handing a significant victory to gun-rights advocates, dealing a blow to advocates of gun regulations, and throwing a wrench into the jurisprudence on assault-weapon bans in the circuits.