Supreme Court hands the NRA a major defeat: Court rejects challenge to local assault weapons ban

After years of expanding the Second Amendment, SCOTUS delivers a victory to gun control advocates

By Sophia Tesfaye

Senior Politics Editor

Published December 7, 2015 6:38PM (EST)

 Wayne LaPierre (Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)
Wayne LaPierre (Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)

Against the wishes of conservative Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, the Supreme Court rejected a challenge to a Chicago area ban on assault weapons and large-capacity magazines for ammunition, dealing a major blow to the NRA.

On Monday, the high court refused to hear a Second Amendment challenge to a 2013 ordinance passed by the city of Highland Park, Illinois, without giving reason. The NRA and 24 U.S. states urged the Court to hear the case brought forth by a Highland Park resident and the Illinois State Rifle Association, according to Reuters. The Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals previously rejected the challenge, upholding the Highland Park measure as constitutional. Similar bans exist in California, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, Hawaii and Connecticut. The Newtown, Connecticut gunman who killed 20 schoolchildren and their teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary used assault weapons equipped with high-capacity 30-round magazines.

“A ban on assault weapons and large-capacity magazines might not prevent shootings in Highland Park (where they are already rare), but it may reduce the carnage if a mass shooting occurs,” Judge Frank H. Easterbrook wrote for the majority on the divided three-judge 7th Circuit panel in April. “If a ban on semiautomatic guns and large-capacity magazines reduces the perceived risk from a mass shooting, and makes the public feel safer as a result, that’s a substantial benefit,” he added.

According to the New York Times, the plaintiffs urged the Supreme Court to address what they called “the lower courts’ massive resistance to Heller and their refusal to treat Second Amendment rights as deserving respect equal to other constitutional rights.” In 2008, the Supreme Court infamously ruled that the Second Amendment guaranteed an individual right to bear arms in the District of Columbia v. Heller case, extending that ruling to states two years later in the case McDonald v. City of Chicago. Now it appears as though the Court does not seek to further extend Second Amendment protections to municipalities in light of two recent, high profile mass shootings in Colorado Springs, Colorado and San Bernardino, California, choosing instead to stay out of the fight.

The San Bernardino attackers were in possession of two .223-caliber assault rifles, and nearly 1,400 rounds of ammunition when they were killed in a shootout with authorities on Wednesday. A nationwide assault weapons ban law limiting magazines to holding no more than 10 rounds of ammunition expired in 2004. In his Oval Office address last night, President Obama called for a new federal ban on such weaponry.

For his part, Justice Thomas wrote a six-page dissent in which he lamented that despite the Court's recent pro-gun rights rulings, several lower courts "have upheld categorical bans on firearms that millions of Americans commonly own for lawful purposes."

The Highland Park ordinance, enacted in the wake of Newtown as President Obama encouraged localities to take gun control into their own hands due to federal inaction, banned some weapons by name, including AR-15s and AK-47s, and banned magazines that can accept more than 10 rounds.

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By Sophia Tesfaye

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon's senior editor for news and politics, and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

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