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Supreme Court May Have Last Word On States' Assault Weapons Bans


Now, in this country, gun laws are facing a test. A federal appeals court upheld most, though not all, the provisions of gun laws in New York and Connecticut. The questions raised by that ruling may end up before the U.S. Supreme Court. NPR's Hansi Lo Wang reports.

HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: The two state laws ban certain assault-style semiautomatic weapons and large capacity magazines in New York and Connecticut. The laws were passed just months after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School that killed 20 children and six adults in 2012.


DANNEL MALLOY: I feel gratified that Connecticut is being recognized by the Second Circuit as having acted appropriately.

WANG: This is Dan Malloy, Connecticut's governor. He spoke after a panel of three judges on the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals released their ruling on the laws.


MALLOY: I think that law has made us safer in this state. And, quite frankly, if other states would adopt similar legislation, we'd all be safer in every state.

WANG: The judges did find two parts of these laws unconstitutional, including Connecticut's ban of a popular non-semiautomatic Remington rifle and New York's ban of magazines loaded with more than seven rounds of ammunition. But they also ruled that the main parts of the laws do not violate the Second Amendment right to bear arms. Gun rights advocates, though, don't agree.

THOMAS KING: We want to affirm our beliefs that the assault weapon ban is unconstitutional.

WANG: Thomas King is president of the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association, one of the groups that brought the original lawsuits. Technically, the new ruling means they lost the argument at the circuit court. But King says strategically, it's actually a victory.

KING: Yeah, it is. And it's also the final step in allowing us to take our case to the Supreme Court. So yeah, we're very happy about it.

WANG: King says he and his fellow plaintiffs plan to appeal the ruling. And if they do, Adam Winkler, a constitutional law professor at UCLA, says they'll have company.

ADAM WINKLER: The Supreme Court is already mulling a case dealing with bans on assault weapons. They've shown no inclination to take it yet. This case might give the court additional encouragement to do so.

WANG: Winkler says it's just a matter of time before the High Court clarifies what exactly the Second Amendment does require. In the meantime, though, the bans on certain assault-style semiautomatic weapons and large capacity magazines still stand in New York and Connecticut.

ROBERT WEISBERG: This was clearly a very, very carefully drafted law that was technically precise, detailed enough so that it couldn't be called vague.

WANG: Robert Weisberg studies gun laws at the Stanford Criminal Justice Center, and he calls the New York and Connecticut laws models that other states could use.

WEISBERG: When you've got a major federal court saying this kind of law passes muster, then every drafter of legislation is going to look at this and see, let me see if I can document our justifications as well as New York and Connecticut did.

WANG: Those states won't know, however, if those justifications are strong enough until the Supreme Court has its say. Hansi Lo Wang, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Hansi Lo Wang (he/him) is a national correspondent for NPR reporting on the people, power and money behind the U.S. census.