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Upholding Assault Weapons Ban, Federal Judge Says Constitution Has Nothing To Say About Restricting the AR-15

"Strong gun laws save lives, and we will not be intimidated by the gun lobby in our efforts to end the sale of assault weapons and protect our communities and schools."


A federal judge dismissed a legal challenged to Massachusetts' 20-year-old law banning assault weapons, including AR-15s. (Photo: Mitch Barrie/Flickr/cc)

In the wake of fatal shootings in Florida and California that have fueled growing demands for stricter gun laws nationwide, a federal judge granted a victory to gun control advocates on Friday, upholding Massachusetts' ban on large-capacity magazines and assault weapons such as the AR-15, which has become the weapon of choice for U.S. mass shooters.

Dismissing a lawsuit filed by gun retailers and the Gun Owners' Action League of Massachusetts, which sought to challenge the constitutionality of the state's 20-year-old law, U.S. District Judge William Young wrote (pdf) in a 47-page ruling, "The AR-15 and its analogs, along with large capacity magazines, are simply not weapons within the original meaning of the individual constitutional right to 'bear Arms.'"

"In the absence of federal legislation, Massachusetts is free to ban these weapons and large-capacity magazines. Other states are equally free to leave them unregulated and available to their law-abiding citizens. These policy matters are simply not of constitutional moment," Young added. "Americans are not afraid of bumptious, raucous, and robust debate aboute these matters. We call it democracy."

The ruling, which could set a notable national precedent, was celebrated by gun control advocates:


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"Today's decision upholding the Assault Weapons Ban vindicates the right of the people of Massachusetts to protect themselves from these weapons of war and my office's efforts to enforce the law," declared Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey.

"Strong gun laws save lives, and we will not be intimidated by the gun lobby in our efforts to end the sale of assault weapons and protect our communities and schools," she said. "Families across the country should take heart in this victory."

Young's ruling, as The Boston Globe noted, "also upheld Healey's decision in 2016 to notify gun sellers and manufacturers that the state would be 'cracking down' on the illegal sale of assault weapons, including those firearms that had been altered slightly to sidestep the ban."

The decision comes amid marches, town halls, and walkouts across the country to pressure policymakers to enact tougher restrictions on firearms, including bans similar to Massachusetts' law.

On Monday, Deerfield, Illinois—a suburb of Chicago—passed an ordinance that makes it illegal to possess, manufacture, or sell assault rifles and large capacity magazines, reportedly to "increase the public's sense of safety." CBS News reported that "anyone refusing to give up their banned firearm will be fined $1,000 a day until the weapon is handed over or removed from the town's limits."

In Boulder, Colorado on Thursday night, the city council unanimously passed a first reading of a similar ordinance. City officials will make a final decision on the measure at a future meeting.

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