The only people who do not want safer communities are the perpetrators of violence. Nearly everyone, no matter his or her political persuasion, wants fewer mass shootings, ideally none, fewer criminals with lethal weapons, and less crime generally.
Although we all, killers notwithstanding, want the same end, we differ in the means of attaining this goal.
But whatever our representatives do on our behalf to make communities safer, such state laws and local ordinances must comport with the rights guaranteed by the Constitution, namely the right to self-protection articulated in the 2nd Amendment and reinforced by the 14th Amendment.
U.S. District Court Judge Raymond Moore, an Obama-appointed judge, said as much when he granted the Rocky Mountain Gun Owners a temporary restraining order against the town of Superior’s ban on certain firearms.
Earlier this year, the town’s board of trustees adopted a ban on semiautomatic rifles with certain attributes such as a folding stock, detachable magazine, or flash suppressor. While the judge was sympathetic to lawmakers’ ends — the prevention of mass shootings — he believed the means were unlikely to pass constitutional muster.
The “Court is unaware of historical precedent that would permit a governmental entity to entirely ban a type of weapon that is commonly used by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes, whether in an individual’s home or in public,” he wrote.
Judge Moore’s decision echoes the reasoning of two Supreme Court decisions New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc. v. Bruen (2022) and District of Columbia v. Heller (2008), which affirm the basic right to bear arms and stipulate that courts examine firearm laws according to the text of the Constitution and history. Judges can feel sympathy for the intentions of lawmakers but must rule according to this standard alone.
The Bruen ruling invalidated a New York State law mandating gun owners show “proper cause” to carry a concealed firearm in public. Law-abiding individuals have a right to bear arms outside of their homes regardless of their reasons. While the ruling concerned a concealed carry law, it also applies to state laws that prohibit common types of firearms. After the High Court ruled in the Bruen case, the Court vacated and remanded several cases involving state bans on magazines and rifles.
Bans adopted by the town of Superior and other Boulder County municipalities will likewise not meet the standard. The modern sporting rifles targeted by the ordinances are popular with law enforcement and law-abiding citizens and are, in fact, quite common; around 20 million AR-15-style rifles are in circulation today. Law-abiding gun owners like them because they are accurate, customizable, and less likely to jam while hunting, target shooting, or home defense.
Such rifles are not, as Congressman Jason Crow recently implied in a recent tweet, “weapons of war.” The armed forces use fully automatic M4 and M16 rifles. With one pull of the trigger automatic rifles will fire in rapid bursts or continually until they are out of ammunition.
Semiautomatic firearms can’t do that. To fire a bullet, an individual must pull the trigger each time. While AR-15-style rifles look like their military counterparts in some ways, they are more like any other civilian rifle in function.
Semiautomatic rifles are thus not weapons of war. They are also not the first choice of criminals. Murderers with pistols cause the most firearm deaths.
The temporary restraining order issued by Judge Moore and a likely court invalidation of the ban on AR-15-style weapons does not disarm community leaders of the means to protect those in their jurisdiction.
Getting firearms out of the hands of criminals, prosecuting gun crimes to the full extent of the law, and the removal of guns from homes of potentially dangerous individuals (with due process) are constitutional means to reach the same ends desired by all.
Krista L. Kafer is a weekly Denver Post columnist. Follow her Twitter: @kristakafer.