The gun control battle has shifted from Capitol Hill to the states, where both sides have gone to court to challenge laws passed in the wake of December’s school shooting in Connecticut.
Most recently, a coalition of gun rights groups and supporters filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Bridgeport against Connecticut’s new bans on military-style, semi-automatic rifles and high-capacity magazines — about 20 miles from Newtown, where the deaths of 20 first-graders and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary helped reignite the national debate over guns.
The suit argues that the laws violate their Second Amendment rights and says that Hiller Sports, a retailer and one of the plaintiffs in the suit, has had to refund about $60,000 worth of back orders on “AR”-type firearms to its customers because wholesalers wouldn’t ship them.
Similar court action has been taken against anti-gun measures passed in New York, Colorado and Maryland in the wake of the Connecticut shootings.
Gun rights advocates in Maryland, however, are weighing a push to put the state’s new law before the voters in a ballot initiative prior to going to court.
The group MDPetitions.com secured enough petition signatures to challenge three laws passed during the 2012 General Assembly session: legalizing same-sex marriage, providing in-state tuition for certain illegal immigrants, and the state’s congressional redistricting plan (voters ended up signing off on all three). The group’s most recent effort is to get a law passed this year repealing the death penalty in the state onto the ballot in 2014.
But the National Rifle Association, which is engaged in litigation in multiple states, said court action was the right way to go on guns in Maryland, and the group ultimately opted against a ballot push.
“After careful evaluation of all options to address this deeply flawed legislation, it is the position of the National Rifle Association that litigation is the best and only responsible avenue to remedy this egregious attack on the law-abiding gun owners and sportsmen of Maryland,” the group said in a recent statement.
State Delegate Neil C. Parrott, Washington Republican and the founder of MDPetitions.com, said the group “does not believe that fundamental rights granted by God and acknowledged in the U.S. Constitution should be brought to referendum for popular vote.”
A Sikh man sued the state of California in March on First Amendment grounds, arguing that the state’s gun control laws infringe on his right to carry the weapons he says he needs for self-defense.
But the action isn’t all on the gun rights side.
The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence recently sued a Georgia town over legislation passed last month requiring every “head of household” to own a gun. The group argues that the town of Nelson’s requirement that residents own a firearm and ammunition violates citizens’ First, Second, and 14th Amendment rights.
But Nelson officials have said that the law is mostly symbolic: There’s no real penalty, and it isn’t being enforced. There are also a number of exemptions to the law — including for those who oppose owning firearms.
Both sides can claim victory in recent legal battles. A federal court ruled that the Illinois legislature must craft a concealed-carry law for the state, while a separate court upheld a law preventing firearms dealers from selling handguns to people younger than 21.
The courthouse battles accompany multiple advertising campaigns seeking to put political heat on U.S. senators for their recent votes on a failed bill to expand background checks on gun buyers, an attempt to keep the issue on the front burner.