Second Amendment supporters scored an important victory in Maryland on Thursday when a federal appeals court sent the state law prohibiting certain semi-automatic rifles, also known to some as “assault weapons,” back to a lower court for review. The panel of three judges voted 2-to-1 to submit the 2013 law to a more rigorous evaluation over whether it infringed upon constitutional rights, despite an earlier ruling that found it constitutional. Signed by former governor Martin O’Malley three years ago, the Maryland Firearms Safety Act of 2013 was one of many state gun control laws passed in the wake of the mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. The law banned more than 45 types of semi-automatic rifles, outlawed magazines that were capable of holding more than 10 rounds, and required mandatory fingerprinting for the purchase of handguns.

“There are legitimate reasons for citizens to favor a semiautomatic rifle over handguns in defending themselves and their families at home,” Judge William B Traxler Jr. wrote in his opinion.

“In sum, for a law-abiding citizen who, for whatever reason, chooses to protect his home with a semi-automatic rifle instead of a semi-automatic handgun, or possesses an LCM [large capacity magazine] for use in firearms kept in the home, the FSA [Firearms Safety Act] significantly burdens the exercise of the right to arm oneself at home,” he added, quoting that “’The right to self-defense is largely meaningless if it does not include the right to choose the most effective means of defending oneself.’”

The dissenting judge, Robert B. King, argued that assault weapons are inherently different from other firearms.

“Let’s be real: The assault weapons banned by Maryland’s FSA are exceptionally lethal weapons of war. In fact, the most popular of the prohibited semiautomatic rifles, the AR-15, functions almost identically to the military’s fully automatic M16,” he wrote.

Of course, gun rights supporters have explained that “almost identically” does not mean that the AR-15 is fully automatic, an important distinction. Chris Cox, the executive director of the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action, applauded the court’s decision and said that the case “implicates the core protection of the Second Amendment.”

“The Fourth Circuit’s ruling is an important victory for the Second Amendment,” he added. “Maryland’s ban on commonly owned firearms and magazines clearly violates our fundamental, individual right to keep and bear arms for self-defense. The highest level of judicial scrutiny should apply when governments try to restrict our Second Amendment freedoms.”

The Maryland law now heads back to the lower courts for review. The ban will still remain in effect for now.

Image from Janice Marie Foote on the flickr Creative Commons

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