A constitutional challenge to Massachusetts restrictions on certain semi-automatic firearms and large-capacity magazines reached the U.S. Supreme Court on 9/23/19, marking the fourth gun-related petition that asks the high court for regulatory guidance in the new term.
The Massachusetts petition—in the case Worman v. Healey—was filed on behalf of a group of firearm owners, dealers and an advocacy organization.
The justices in recent years have shown some reluctance to wade into Second Amendment issues. But the court, with newly appointed Justice Brett Kavanaugh sitting, agreed to decide whether restrictions on the transport of guns outside of New York City violate the Second Amendment and other provisions. Oral arguments are scheduled Dec. 2.
“The courts below upheld Massachusetts’ ban on possession of popular semiautomatic firearms and standard ammunition magazines by law-abiding, responsible citizens, infringing their right to keep and bear arms for lawful purposes, including self-defense,” Sweeney wrote, lead counsel for the challengers.
The Massachusetts law is modeled after the 1994 federal assault weapons ban, which expired in 2004. The state law restricts the sale, transfer and possession of certain semi-automatic weapons and gun magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition. A federal appeals court, with retired Justice David Souter on the panel, upheld the regulations.
In signing the bill into law, then-Gov. Mitt Romney, now a Republican U.S. senator from Utah, declared that semi-automatic assault weapons and large-capacity magazine “are not made for recreation or self-defense. They are instruments of destruction with the sole purpose of hunting down and killing people.”
In urging the high court to grant review, Sweeney asked the Supreme Court to decide one question: Does the Massachusetts ban violate the individual right to keep and bear arms under the Second Amendment?
Central to that question, Sweeney wrote, is the Supreme Court’s 2008 decision in the case Heller v. District of Columbia. The divided court struck down a District of Columbia law that forbade the possession of firearms.
Sweeney argued in the petition that the Heller ruling mandates a “clear and simple” standard: the government may not ban arms that typically are possessed for lawful purposes such as self-defense.
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The banned firearms in Massachusetts include AR-and AK-platform rifles, weapons that have been used, among others, in mass shootings around the country.
Besides the Massachusetts and Connecticut cases, the Supreme Court also has pending petitions involving a challenge to the U.S. Justice Department’s bump stock rule (Guedes v. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) and liability of online marketplaces for firearms (Daniel v. Armslist).
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