WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court declined Monday to review bans on a lengthy list of firearms that Connecticut classified as “assault weapons,” the latest example of the court’s reluctance to be drawn into an emotional national debate on gun control.
The justices decided without comment not to review a lower court decision that upheld the laws; Connecticut’s was enacted shortly after a gunman used one of the military-style semiautomatic weapons on the list to kill 20 students and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown in 2012.
The decision was not a surprise, as the court has previously declined to review other court decisions that uphold bans passed by cities and states. Maryland, California, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York, as well as many cities and towns, have similar laws. None of the legal challenges to them has been successful in lower courts.
They were enacted after a federal ban expired in 2014. Attempts to revive the federal ban have failed. But Congress is once again embroiled in a debate over gun control after the massacre at an Orlando nightclub left 49 dead.
Like other laws, Connecticut’s ban includes semiautomatic guns and high-capacity magazines, and covers popular weapons such as AR-15s and AK-47s.
Gun rights advocates have urged the court to review such bans, saying that they violate the court’s 2008 decision in District of Columbia v. Heller that said individuals have a right to gun ownership for self-protection.
When the court declined last December to review a lower court decision upholding such a ban, Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia wrote that a similar law “flouts” the court’s Second Amendment jurisprudence. Scalia died in February.
They criticized lower court decisions that have allowed jurisdictions to impose what Thomas called “categorical bans on firearms that millions of Americans commonly own for lawful purposes.”
The court’s action Monday continues a pattern. After recognizing the individual right for the first time in Heller, which covered the federal enclave of the District of Columbia, the court made clear in a subsequent case that state and local governments, like Congress, could not prohibit individual gun ownership.
But since then, the justices have avoided all cases that might clarify whether that right is more expansive or which restrictions are too burdensome.
The lower court said the legislators in Connecticut were justified in banning the weapons.
The justices turned down a separate petition challenging New York’s law.
“Because the prohibitions are substantially related to the important governmental interests of public safety and crime reduction, they pass constitutional muster,” a unanimous panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit ruled.