In the aftermath of a pivotal U.S. Supreme Court decision that significantly curtailed the government’s ability to impose gun restrictions, Democratic-led states have been actively exploring ways to navigate or challenge the ruling’s constraints.
This effort has included the implementation of new gun control measures, such as Oregon’s ballot initiative to ban high-capacity ammunition magazines. However, recent judicial decisions have highlighted the challenges these states face in light of the Supreme Court’s stance.
Setbacks for gun control: Courts overturn Maryland law, Oregon initiative
This week, two separate rulings dealt a blow to advocates of stricter gun control. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, Virginia, declared a decade-old Maryland handgun licensing law unconstitutional.
Simultaneously, an Oregon state judge ruled that a voter-approved initiative banning high-capacity magazines and mandating background checks and training for gun permits violated the State Constitution.
Gun Owners of America, a Virginia-based lobbying group, celebrated these decisions with their senior vice president, Erich Pratt, expressing his delight. “I am thrilled by the ruling in Oregon and find the Maryland one just as encouraging,” Pratt stated.
Gun ownership rises amid broad Second Amendment interpretations in courts
He cited an NBC News poll indicating rising gun ownership levels, suggesting a growing distrust in government protection.
Legal experts, however, offer a more measured perspective. While recent rulings suggest a trend of courts, particularly those with judges appointed by Republican presidents, adopting a broad interpretation of the Second Amendment, other decisions and ongoing Supreme Court cases indicate continued support for gun violence prevention laws.
Jacob D. Charles, a law professor at Pepperdine University, noted the expansive reading of the Second Amendment in recent lower court rulings.
Bruen ruling redefines U.S. gun control law evaluations
The Supreme Court case, New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, has reshaped the debate over gun control. In a 6-3 decision in June 2022, the Court, led by Justice Clarence Thomas, asserted that gun laws should be evaluated based on the Second Amendment’s text and historical tradition rather than balancing gun rights against the public interest.
Since the Bruen decision, lower courts have been delving into historical regulations to assess the tradition of gun control.
This approach was likened to a “game of historical ‘Where’s Waldo?” by a federal judge in Indiana. Additionally, the Supreme Court seemed open to narrowing the scope of Bruen in a recent case, United States v. Rahimi, concerning disarming domestic abusers.
Increase in gun law litigation following Bruen decision
Post-Bruen, there has been a surge in legal challenges to various gun laws. Giffords, a gun control advocacy group, reported over 450 lawsuits seeking to interpret the Bruen decision.
These cases encompass a range of new regulations, such as New York’s attempt to limit gun carrying in “sensitive locations” and Illinois’ ban on high-powered guns following a mass shooting.
Republican-appointed judges have been more inclined to strike down gun regulation laws post-Bruen, as evidenced by this week’s Maryland ruling, with a Trump appointee writing the majority opinion.
Oregon gun law ruling sparks appeal, calls for Supreme Court clarity
In contrast, the Oregon ruling stemmed from the State Constitution, not the Second Amendment, with the judge highlighting the low frequency of mass shootings compared to their media portrayal.
Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum vowed to appeal the decision, expressing confidence in a favorable outcome at the State Supreme Court level.
Eric Tirschwell of Everytown Law described the current period as a “game of ping-pong” with fluctuating results, emphasizing the need for further clarity from the Supreme Court.
Legal trends show progress in gun safety
Tirschwell remarked, “If you zoom out to the last 30 days, there’s been some very positive signals for gun safety and laws.”
This legal landscape demonstrates the complex and evolving nature of the gun control debate in the United States, reflecting deep divisions and the ongoing struggle to balance Second Amendment rights with public safety conc