Gun control laws passed in New York and Connecticut to ban possession of semi-automatic weapons and large-capacity magazines after the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School were mostly upheld Monday by a federal appeals court decision that a gun group vowed to appeal.
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan found core parts of the laws did not violate the Second Amendment because there was a substantial relationship between bans on assault weapons and large-capacity magazines and the "important - indeed, compelling - state interest in controlling crime."
"When used, these weapons tend to result in more numerous wounds, more serious wounds, and more victims. These weapons are disproportionately used in crime, and particularly in criminal mass shootings," according to the ruling written by Circuit Judge Jose A. Cabranes. "They are also disproportionately used to kill law enforcement officers."
The three-judge panel noted that the Newtown, Connecticut, shooting in December 2012 occurred when 154 rounds were fired in less than five minutes, killing 20 first-graders and six educators and renewing a nationwide discussion on the role of guns in America and how to diminish the threat of large-scale shootings.
But the court found Connecticut's ban on a non-semi-automatic Remington 7615 unconstitutional. And it said a seven-round load limit in New York could not be imposed even as it upheld other bans on magazines.
"Like assault weapons, large-capacity magazines result in 'more shots fired, persons wounded, and wounds per victim than do other gun attacks,'" the court said.
Tom King, president of the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association and a lead plaintiff, said his group - the New York affiliate of the National Rifle Association - will appeal to the Supreme Court, which could take up the case with recent rulings on state gun control laws.
"It wasn't a surprise. We expected it," he said.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen praised the ruling.
"At a time when many Americans have abandoned hope of government's ability to address gun violence in our schools and on our streets, Connecticut's laws - and today's decision - demonstrate that willing states can enact meaningful reform to improve public safety without violating the Second Amendment," Jepsen said in a statement.
The plaintiffs were groups supporting gun rights, pistol permit holders and gun sellers.
The appeals court addressed several gun rights groups' arguments, including that mass shootings are rare events that would be minimally affected by gun control laws.
"That may be so," the 2nd Circuit said. "But gun-control legislation 'need not strike at all evils at the same time' to be constitutional."
The appeals court said gun rights groups' claims that the ban on assault weapons will primarily disarm law-abiding citizens was "speculative at best, and certainly not strong enough to overcome the substantial deference we owe to predictive judgments of the legislature on matters of public safety."
“The AR-15s and other rifles that were banned under the act are used for sporting purposes, for hunting, for target practice, for home defense,” CT Citizens Defense League President Scott Wilson said.
Wilson said his organization sued the state in federal court for violating their constitutional rights.
“We feel it's a violation of our second amendment rights,” Wilson said. “We feel the types of firearms that were banned in the act are firearms of everyday common use and it was a step beyond that the legislature should have done.”
Scott Wilson said Monday’s ruling was “not a setback.”
“All along we knew that this was an expected at the second circuit,” Wilson said.
Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen calls the ruling "deeply gratifying."
Connecticut has one some of the toughest regulations on gun laws in the country and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Monday’s ruling “validates it.”
“It’s all designed to keep our communities safe, while respecting the Second Amendment. We’ve clearly done that. The court today made the right decision, and time after time, court challenges aimed at whittling down our smart gun laws are proving unsuccessful,” Malloy said in a statement on Monday.
Malloy “commended” the efforts of Jepsen and his office.
“Connecticut has struck the right constitutional balance between access to firearms and public safety. Today’s decision acknowledges our state government’s obligation to take every sensible step toward reducing gun violence. One thing remains clear: Connecticut would be better off if every state and the federal government enacted similar, sensible gun safety rules,” Malloy said.
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