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Assault weapons not covered by Second Amendment, federal judge rules in Mass. lawsuit

A salesman shows a bump stock installed on an AR-15 rifle on Oct. 6 at Blue Ridge Arsenal in Chantilly, Virgina. A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Massachusetts' assault weapons ban, ruling that the weapons don't fall within the scope of the Second Amendment. (Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit that challenged Massachusetts' ban on assault weapons, ruling that the weapons don't fall within the scope of the Second Amendment, The Hill reports.

Massachusetts passed its assault weapon ban in 1998 with language that mirrored a federal ban that existed at the time and expired in 2004.

"Other states are equally free to leave them unregulated and available to their law-abiding citizens," U.S. District Judge William Young wrote about assault weapons. "These policy matters are simply not of constitutional moment. Americans are not afraid of bumptious, raucous, and robust debate about these matters. We call it democracy."

The judge's ruling

Young's ruling depended heavily on an analysis in late former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia's majority opinion in District of Columbia v. Heller (2008), which struck down a Washington, D.C. ban on possession of handguns.

From Young's ruling:

"Another important limitation articulated by the Supreme Court is that the weapons protected under the Second Amendment 'were those "in common use at the time."' More specifically, Justice Scalia explained that 'weapons that are most useful in military service -- M-16 rifles and the like' are not protected under the Second Amendment and 'may be banned.'"

Young noted that the AR-15 was developed for the military and adopted by the Army (and renamed the M-16) in 1964.

In his ruling, Young wrote that assault or military-style weapons are not within the scope of Second Amendment rights, and made a key distinction based on Heller:

"As noted...the Supreme Court explained in Caetano that 'Heller rejected the proposition 'that only those weapons useful in warfare are protected' ... Heller did not make such a rejection, however, in order to conclude that all weapons useful in warfare are protected."

The debate continues

The dismissal of this Second Amendment-based lawsuit comes as an assault weapons ban in Deerfield, Illinois, faces a similar legal challenge from gun rights groups. Also, many gun control advocates are calling for a federal ban on assault weapons in the wake of recent mass shootings in which the killers used assault-style guns.

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