WASHINGTON - In a victory for gun-control advocates, the Supreme Court on Monday rejected a Second Amendment challenge to laws that forbid the sale or possession of semiautomatic weapons that carry more than 10 rounds of ammunition.
The justices, by a 7-2 vote, refused to review rulings by judges in Chicago who upheld a ban on assault weapons in Highland Park, Ill., as a reasonable gun-control regulation.
Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia dissented.
The court's decision, while not a formal ruling, strongly suggests the justices do not see the Second Amendment as protecting a right to own or carry powerful weapons in public. In the court's only two decisions upholding gun rights, the justices struck down ordinances in Chicago and Washington, D.C., that prohibited residents from keeping a handgun at home for self-defense.
Since then, the justices have repeatedly refused to hear appeals from gun-rights advocates who have sought to extend the Second Amendment right to protect the carrying of weapons in public.
The high court's action comes at a time of renewed anger and fear over the use of military-style assault weapons in the shootings in San Bernardino, Calif.; Paris; and Colorado Springs, Colo.
Advocates of the bans on military-style weapons had pointed to mass shootings before this year and argued that these rapid-fire rifles and handguns posed a special danger to public safety.
Several cities in the Chicago area as well as California and seven other states have adopted laws similar to the Highland Park ordinance.
The justices meeting in their private weekly conferences had considered the gun-rights appeal over two months during a time when the mass shootings had highlighted again the devastating impact of rapid-fire weapons.
In the eyes of some, those shootings also demonstrated the limited effectiveness of such gun-control measures, since France and California have strict regulations on the sale of such weapons.
But in the end, the court decided against hearing the appeal, which has the effect of upholding the laws in Highland Park and elsewhere.
In dissent in Friedman v. City of Highland Park, Thomas said the decision upholds "categorical bans on firearms that millions of Americans commonly own for lawful purposes. ... If broad bans on firearms can be upheld based on the conjecture that the public might feel safer (while being no safer at all), then the 2nd Amendment guarantees nothing."
Thomas also said the decision had the effect of "relegating the 2nd Amendment to a second-class right." In addition to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago, the federal appeals courts in San Francisco and New York have also upheld laws restricting rapid-fire weapons and rejected challenges based on the Second Amendment.