When a deadly shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida claimed the lives of 49 people, Massachusetts began ramping up its enforcement of the state’s decades old ban on assault weapons.
On Friday, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit filed against the state challenging the ban.
In his ruling, U.S. District Judge William Young said that the firearms and large magazines banned by the state in 1998 are “not within the scope of the personal right to ‘bear Arms’ under the Second Amendment.”
“Other states are equally free to leave them unregulated and available to their law-abiding citizens,” Young added. “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.”
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey (D) was sued by the Gun Owners’ Action League of Massachusetts, an affiliate of the National Rifle Association, after Healey broadened the definition of which guns would be included in the assault weapons ban first instituted in 1998.
Healey responded to the judge’s decision via Facebook on Friday writing, “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.”
States are beginning to take the issue of gun control into their own hands, impatient with Congress’s inability to pass any meaningful legislation aimed at curbing gun violence. Efforts to deliver commonsense gun legislation have escalated in the weeks following the school shooting in Parkland, Florida that claimed the lives of 17 people in February.
Historically, states have been more successful than Congress at moving forward with gun-related measures, according to the State Firearm Law project, which has analyzed gun laws between 1991 and 2016. But this year has seen an especially high number of proposed gun control measures on the state level.
Florida was one of the first to take inventory of its own laws that enabled a 19-year-old to purchase an AR-15 assault rifle used in the Parkland shooting.
A few weeks after the massacre, Gov. Rick Scott (R) signed into law a suite of new gun control measures, and while the legislature failed to deliver an assault weapons ban like many shooting survivors pushed for, it did include a number of other common sense gun policies — like raising the minimum age to buy a long gun from 18 to 21, imposing a mandatory three-day waiting period on gun purchases, and banning the sale of bump stocks.
In Vermont, a traditionally blue state with a penchant for guns and hunting, the state House of Representatives recently gave a final approval to a bill that would raise the age for purchasing a gun to 21, ban the sale of bump stocks, impose universal background checks for all gun purchases, and partially ban high-capacity magazines.
A new Democratic governor in New Jersey has ushered in a number of gun control measures that were previously blocked by NRA-backed former Gov. Chris Christie (R). All six bills are nearly identical to other pieces of legislation that were previously introduced — and passed — in the state legislature, but failed to make it past Christie.
The gun control measures include a ban on the sale of magazines that hold more than 10 rounds and the sale of armor-piercing bullets. Two more bills are aimed at preventing access to guns for people with mental illness or people who might pose a threat to others (although the vast majority of people with a mental health diagnosis do not pose a threat to others). Another introduces stricter requirements for residents to prove a “justifiable need” in order to obtain a handgun permit. The final bill expands background checks to include all private gun sales.
Some states are even taking their gun control battle to the municipal level. Ten mayors in Florida are suing the governor and attorney general over a 2011 statute that prohibits mayors and city officials from instituting gun control laws in their municipalities, or else face a $5,000 fine and a threat of removal from office.