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Fourth Circuit requires application of strict scrutiny in challenge to Maryland gun law

[JURIST] The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals [official website] on Thursday vacated [opinion, pdf] a district court ruling that had upheld a Maryland law banning high-capacity magazines and semi-automatic rifles. The lower court had granted summary judgment in favor of Maryland on the plaintiffs' Second Amendment claims attacking the law's constitutionality after applying the intermediate scrutiny standard. The Fourth Circuit found that the district court should have applied strict scrutiny, which requires the government to show that the measures are narrowly-tailored to meet compelling government interest, in deciding the Second Amendment issue. Writing for the majority, Judge William B. Traxler Jr. also found that such semi-automatic weapons are commonly owned by citizens and therefore do not qualify as exceptions to the constitutional right to bear arms. The National Rifle Association (NRA) [official website] responded [Baltimore Sun report] to the ruling with high praise. The law at issue in the case, the Maryland's Fireman Safety Act [text] was enacted in 2013 as a response to the 2012 school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.

Gun control [JURIST backgrounder] and the Second Amendment continue to be controversial national topics, and gun awareness has risen in the wake of recent shootings across the nation. Last month US President Barack Obama announced [JURIST report] executive actions on gun control requiring those in the business of selling firearms, including those selling firearms at gun shows, to be licensed and background checked. In December the US Court of Appeals for the District of Colombia Circuit vacated [JURIST report] a lower court ruling that found that a DC gun law requiring a concealed carry permit outside of the home may violate the Constitution. In October Maine's revised concealed carry law went into effect [JURIST report] allowing legal gun owners to carry concealed weapons without a permit. Earlier that month the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld [JURIST report] the main parts of Connecticut and New York gun control legislation that ban semiautomatic weapons and high-capacity magazines. In September the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit issued a mixed ruling [JURIST report] on DC gun laws, ultimately upholding six and striking down four controversial elements of the Firearms Registration Amendment Act and the Firearms Amendment Act of 2012. The laws were created in response to the Supreme Court striking down [JURIST report] a DC law prohibiting firearm ownership in 2008.

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