Supreme Court decision reinforces N.J. assault weapons ban, experts say

The court's decision, coming on the heels of the mass shooting in San Bernadino, Calif. in which assault-style weapons were used, means New Jersey's law remains firmly in place, said Prof. Bernard Bell, who teaches constitutional law Rutgers University School of Law.

However, the nation's highest court has not decided whether a municipality can ban certain types of weapons, he said. Until then, New Jersey residents should be "reasonably certain" the state ban is constitutional, Bell said.

"The Supreme Court's decision to not hear the Highland Park case sends a strong signal that laws prohibiting military-style assault weapons, such as New Jersey's assault weapon ban, do not violate the Second Amendment," added Mike McLively of the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, which supports assault weapons bans.

He said the Law Center has tracked more than 1,000 cases since the Supreme Court decided that citizens had a right to bear arms, "and more than 93 percent of Second Amendment claims have been rejected by the lower courts, demonstrating that sensible gun regulation is completely compatible with the Second Amendment."

A spokesman for the National Rifle Association said it's not surprising that the court did not hear the case, since the vast majority of cases brought before it are not heard. 

"It's important to remember the Supreme Court has regularly maintained that a denial is not an affirmation of a lower court's ruling," added the spokesman, Lars Dalseide. 

He agreed that New Jersey's law won't change because of the decision.

New Jersey has had a ban on so-called assault weapons since 1990. It prohibits individuals from owning more than 50 specific types of guns or copies of them. It also prohibits guns with fixed magazine capacities of more than 15 rounds, as well as guns that can be converted into assault firearms.

The law being challenged was enacted by Highland Park, a suburb of Chicago, in 2013. Like New Jersey's law, the Highland Park ordinance also tightly restricted the sale of high-capacity magazines to feed bullets into the gun.

A Highland Park resident, Arie Friedman, and the Illinois State Rifle Associaiton, appealed the ordinance, but lost in district court and in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, court records show.

MORE: In N.H., Christie pivots away from gun laws he once backed

The Supreme Court did not state its reason for not hearing the appeal. Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas dissented in the decision not to hear the case.

The subject of restricting the availability of assault-style weapons came up in President Obama's Oval Office speech Sunday evening. 

"We also need to make it harder for people to buy powerful assault weapons like the ones that were used in San Bernardino," he said.

The two shooters there were armed with pistols and .223-caliber rifles that were purchased legally but altered in ways that made them illegal under California law, according to The Wall Street Journal. 

New Jersey State Police and the Attorney General's office declined to comment about the Supreme Court's decision. 

Gov. Chris Christie has supported some laws banning assault weapons but recently has changed his position as a candidate for president. 

"We need an attorney general who's going to understand that we don't need to pass new laws," Christie said in July. "We have plenty of laws on the books to stop this."

Two years earlier, Christie proposed banning .50 caliber assault-style weapons but later vetoed the bill. 

Six other states have some form of an assault-style weapons ban: Maryland, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts and New York. 

In October, the federal appeals court in New York largely upheld bans in Connecticut and New York, among a handful of states that ban semi-automatic weapons.

[Original Article]