Wayward court rules for backdoor gun control

If ever there were justification to drug test the nation's judges, it would be the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals' decision upholding the People's Republic of Maryland's ban on most magazine-fed rifles, including the AR-15, calling them "exceptionally lethal weapons of war."

Further, the court ruled, "assault weapons and large-capacity magazines are not protected by the Second Amendment." They are, the judges said, dangerous.

Judge William B. Traxler Jr., in a blistering dissent, said the court majority went "to greater lengths than any other court to eviscerate the constitutionally guaranteed right to keep and bear arms."

[Malicious or magnificent? Why the AR-15 is America's most popular rifle]

In the court's incredible stretch to gut the Second Amendment, 10 of the 14-member bench based in Richmond, Virginia, ignored U.S. Supreme Court decisions, past and recent, including the landmark Heller case. They also tossed common sense to the wind and joined other appellate courts across the nation in crafting their own rules when it comes to the Constitution and furthering backdoor gun control.

The Supreme Court decision in District of Columbia v. Heller dealt with handguns, even more hated by the left than the evil AR-15. The court in 2008 decided the case brought by Dick Heller, a District special police officer who applied for a one-year license for a handgun he wanted to keep in his home. His application was denied.

In that decision, the high court ruled, 5-4, the Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm "unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home." It was the high court's first decision affirming that individual right.

[Teaching Alaskans to use the sometimes demonized AR-15 rifle properly]

"We are aware of the problem of handgun violence in this country, and we take seriously the concerns raised by the many amici who believe that prohibition of handgun ownership is a solution," the majority opinion's author, the late Justice Antonin Scalia, wrote. "But the enshrinement of constitutional rights necessarily takes certain policy choices off the table. These include the absolute prohibition of handguns held and used for self-defense in the home."

In Kolbe v. Hogan, the Fourth Circuit apparently believed those choices were very much still on the table when it upheld the state's ban on 45 kinds of "assault weapons" and magazines holding more than 10 cartridges.

Worse, its woeful ignorance about the firearms involved was staggering. It compared semiautomatic firearms to the fully automatic M16, saying the difference between the two is "slight."

No, the difference is night and day.

Semiautomatic firearms are designed to fire one shot with each trigger pull. Millions of them are stuffed into closets and gun cabinets across the land. They include AR-15s, .22-caliber rifles and pistols, and larger-caliber, centerfire hunting or target-shooting firearms. Automatic firearms are designed to fire shot after shot as the trigger is held down, like a machine gun. They generally are used by the military and some law enforcement units. Strictly regulated, they must be registered with the federal government. They are prevalent in movies but rarely used in real crimes.

The semiautomatic AR-15 and its clones are the most popular rifles in the country. There are perhaps 10 million of them in circulation. They are modular, accurate and light. They are easy to customize and accessorize for target shooting, hunting or defense. The Congressional Research Service says they are involved in less than 2 percent of all crimes involving guns. All that apparently accounted for nothing with the court.

In 2016, a Fourth Circuit three-judge panel overturned Maryland's ban, using what is known as heightened scrutiny, the most rigorous evaluation of a law's constitutionality. The court's en banc decision, however, reversed that and upheld Maryland's law. That decision, though, was based on a less rigorous evaluation, something called intermediate scrutiny.

Appeals Judge Robert King said Maryland "has shown all that is required: a reasonable, if not perfect, fit between the (law) and Maryland's interest in protecting public safety."

Six other states and the District of Columbia have bans similar to Maryland's. Second Amendment challenges to bans on assault-style weapons and high-capacity magazines have been rejected by four appeals courts.

Decision's such as the Fourth Circuit's allow officials and courts, on a case-by-case basis, to pick and choose among various firearms in deciding which are safe enough. This one good. That one evil. Oops, it turns out they all are evil. Allowing such an abridgment of the Constitution, such a bow to bureaucratic subjectivity, is a very long step in the wrong direction.

It is yet another example of activist courts engaging in irrational, under-the-radar gun control that ignores the law of the land and congressional intent to promulgate a political agenda.

Talk about dangerous …

Paul Jenkins is editor of the Anchorage Daily Planet, a publication of Porcaro Communications.

The views expressed here are the writer's and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary@alaskadispatch.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@alaskadispatch.com.