In the aftermath of a pivotal U.S. Supreme Court decision last year that imposed significant constraints on government intervention in gun regulation, states led by Democratic administrations have been navigating a complex legal landscape. Last week, however, proponents of new gun control measures faced setbacks in both Maryland and Oregon, highlighting the enduring impact of the court’s ruling.
Maryland’s Licensing Law Struck Down: On Tuesday (21), a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, Va., declared a ten-year-old Maryland law related to licensing requirements for handguns as unconstitutional. This decision reverberates as a notable blow to gun control efforts in the state.
Oregon’s Constitutional Challenge: Simultaneously, a state judge in southeastern Oregon ruled against a 2022 ballot initiative, approved by voters, that aimed to prohibit high-capacity magazines and mandate background checks and training for gun permits. The judge determined that this initiative violated the State Constitution, adding complexity to Oregon’s gun control landscape.
Gun Owners of America Celebrates: For the Gun Owners of America, a Virginia-based lobbying group active in litigation, these rulings were cause for celebration. Erich Pratt, the group’s senior vice president, expressed enthusiasm, particularly about the Oregon decision. He emphasized a growing sentiment among Americans that the government cannot be entirely trusted with their safety, citing a recent NBC News poll indicating a rise in gun ownership.
Legal Landscape Dynamics: Legal scholars, while cautious about drawing overarching conclusions, noted a discernible trend wherein judges, especially those appointed by Republican presidents, are interpreting the Second Amendment expansively. Recent court decisions and arguments in new gun cases, such as in Illinois, suggest ongoing momentum for gun violence prevention laws.
The Bruen Case and Shifting Standards: The pivotal Supreme Court case, New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, has set a new standard for firearm restrictions. The court’s conservative majority, in a 6-3 decision, shifted the evaluation of gun laws from a balancing act to a closer scrutiny of the Second Amendment’s text and historical tradition of gun regulation.
Challenges and Opportunities: Post-Bruen, there has been a surge in lawsuits challenging various gun laws, with over 450 decisions attempting to interpret the case. While some states, like New York and Illinois, have implemented new gun restrictions, legal battles and confusion surround these measures, exemplifying the complexity of the evolving legal landscape.
Looking Ahead: As the legal pingpong continues, with wins and losses for both sides, experts emphasize the need for additional clarity from the Supreme Court. The recent decisions in Maryland and Oregon underscore the ongoing struggle between gun rights and regulation, leaving both proponents and opponents of stricter gun control measures anxiously awaiting further developments.