Constitutional Law

2nd Circuit upholds bans on semi-automatic weapons enacted after Sandy Hook shootings

  • Print.

A federal appeals court has upheld bans on semi-automatic weapons and large-capacity magazines enacted by New York and Connecticut after the 2012 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

In a decision (PDF) on Monday, the New York-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled those provisions did not violate the Second Amendment and were not void for vagueness. Reuters, the Hartford Courant and the Associated Press have stories.

The court did, however, strike down a provision of New York law imposing a seven-round load limit and a Connecticut ban on the non-semi-automatic Remington 7615.

“Plaintiffs complain that mass shootings are ‘particularly rare events’ and thus, even if successful, the legislation will have a ‘minimal impact’ on most violent crime,” the appeals court said. “That may be so. But gun control legislation ‘need not strike all evils at the same time’ to be constitutional.”

New York’s 2013 law expanded the definition of prohibited “assault weapons” in a way that banned the type of weapon used by the Sandy Hook shooter, an AR-15, with an exception for pre-existing lawful owners.

The New York law also banned magazines that can hold or easily be converted to hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition, eliminating a grandfather clause in a prior law that allowed some earlier manufactured magazines. The law also had a “unique prohibition” that allowed magazines with the capacity to hold up to 10 rounds of ammunition, but barred loading those magazines with more than seven rounds of ammunition.

The Connecticut law also expanded the definition of prohibited assault weapons and banned 183 particular assault weapons by make and model, with a grandfather clause for pre-existing owners who register their guns. The law also barred large-capacity magazines that can hold or be converted to hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition.

The 2nd Circuit said the banned semi-automatic weapons in both laws are used disproportionately in crime, particularly in mass shootings, and are disproportionately used to kill police officers. The appeals court also cited a “dearth of evidence” that law-abiding citizens typically use such weapons for self-defense. The same logic also applies to bans on large-capacity magazines, the court said.

As a result, bans on both the semi-automatic weapons and large-capacity magazines serve a compelling government interest in controlling crime, and both survive intermediate scrutiny, the appeals court said.

New York did not prove, however, that its seven-round load limit would “convince any would-be malefactors to load magazines capable of holding 10 rounds with only the permissible seven,” the court said. And Connecticut failed “to present any argument at all” regarding the Remington 7615, the appeals court said.

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.