Maryland was one of a number of states in 2013 that enacted gun control statutes in the wake of Sandy Hook, and last week a Federal District Court Judge upheld the state’s authority to ban most of the popular brands of assault-style rifles, along with limiting gun magazines to 10 rounds or less. This is a very significant ruling for two reasons. First, ,notwithstanding the fact that the NRA would like you to believe that armed citizens are the first line of defense against crime, the ruling affirms that government has a “compelling interest” in protecting public safety which allows for the regulation of guns. Second, the ruling flies directly in the face of the gun industry’s effort to legitimize assault-style weapons as no different from any other type of gun that might be used for personal defense. And while the 2008 Heller decision explicitly recognized the right of citizens to keep handguns in their homes for self-defense, it did not vacate the government’s right to regulate the types of weapons that might be used.
In their attempt to overturn the Maryland law, the plaintiffs, including the NSSF, argued two basic issues: (1). Banning assault-style weapons was a violation of the 2nd Amendment because it deprived shooters of a product that was in common use; (2). Banning assault-style weapons and large-capacity magazines deprived individuals of a weapon that was frequently kept and used in the home for self-defense. I found it interesting, incidentally, that the plaintiffs did not try to push the notion of AR-15s as “modern sporting rifles,” a totally phony nomenclature invented by the gun industry to overcome the resistance of big-box, chain stores like Wal-Mart who believed that such products interfered with their image as destinations for family shopping.
As regards the argument that a ban on assault guns would deprive Maryland residents of an increasingly popular type of firearm, Judge Blake noted that while the total number of the banned guns was upwards of 8 million, this represented less than 3% of all firearms held by civilians. Further, the Judge, using numbers from the NSSF, found that assault-style rifle ownership tended to be concentrated, with the average assault gun owner possessing more than 3 such weapons, meaning that less than 1% of the entire American population owned any assault weapons at all. [Pages 19-20.]
As for the question of using an AR or AK rifle for self-defense, the ruling cited a report submitted by Lucy Allen, who has been called as an expert witness in other cases involving sales of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. This report, based on data from the NRA, found that assault weapons are rarely used in instances of armed self-defense, nor did persons discharge more than ten rounds when using their guns in instances of armed self-defense. The plaintiffs, in arguing against Allen’s evidence, claimed that she did not “independently verify” the data on which her report was based, a claim rejected by the Court since the evidence came from the NRA, which although not a formal party to the case, certainly was in favor of a decision that would uphold the plaintiff’s suit.
The NRA has been promoting the idea that armed citizens protect themselves and others with guns for as long as I can remember. They now have an online repository for these anecdotes and you can submit a self-defense story, real or imagined, which is then edited and republished for all to read. And yes, even if you don’t have a story, the NRA will send you an armed citizen bumper sticker. The NRA claims that millions of Americans use guns in self-defense every year, but when someone uses the evidence posted on their website to contradict their claims about the self-defense value of AR-15s, all of a sudden the data is no good. I really can’t imagine how Judge Blake wrote that part of her decision with a straight face.