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Noah Feldman

Gun Laws Upheld, But It's Complicated

Appeals court was looking for a way to satisfy the Supreme Court.
Protected by the Second Amendment?

Protected by the Second Amendment?

Photographer: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

On the surface, Monday's decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit upholding most of the assault weapons bans passed by New York and Connecticut is a win for gun-control advocates. But down in the weeds, the unanimous decision by a panel of three Democratic appointees nevertheless points to potential trouble for similar laws should they ever be reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court. The court held that assault weapons do in general fall within the core protections of the Second Amendment. But the judges applied a lenient standard to uphold the laws -- and a more aggressive Supreme Court might well apply a tougher standard and strike them down.   

You might think it’s settled law that states can ban assault rifles. It isn’t. The factual and legal background is more complicated. In the 1990s, Congress passed federal legislation banning what it called “semiautomatic assault rifles.” That ban lasted only a decade, until 2004, and wasn’t re-enacted.