It has been too long since supporters of common sense gun regulations have had something to cheer about. But a federal appeals court recently ruled that assault rifles and other so-called "weapons of war" are not protected under the Second Amendment.
That is big news for those who are sick and tired of the mass shootings that have become so routine in America. Not to mention the lack of political will in response to the horrific killings.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit decision on Feb. 21 upheld Maryland's ban on assault rifles, which was implemented in response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Connecticut; a gunman murdered 20 children and six adults.
The court cited a 2008 Supreme Court ruling, Heller v. District of Columbia, which said weapons "useful in military service" are not covered by the Constitution. "Put simply, we have no power to extend Second Amendment protection to the weapons of war that the Heller decision explicitly excluded from such coverage," Judge Robert King wrote in the 116-page opinion.
The National Rifle Association may not like it, but, like most rights, the Second Amendment is not unlimited. In fact, the Heller opinion that provided the basis for the Maryland ruling was written by none other than the late Justice Antonin Scalia, a staunch defender of gun rights. "The Second Amendment does not protect those weapons not typically possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes," Scalia wrote. He said governments may prohibit "weapons that are most useful in military service - M-16 rifles and the like."
Sadly, the Maryland ruling comes too late for so many victims of so many mass shootings, including in Aurora, Colo., San Bernadino, Calif., and Orlando, Fla. But it at least makes clear that the Second Amendment does not give civilians a right to own weapons designed to kill large numbers of people in a short amount of time.
Only seven states have laws banning the sale or ownership of assault rifles: California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York, and the District of Columbia. Other states - including Pennsylvania - should follow suit.
But a better course would be for Congress to implement a nationwide ban on assault weapons. Polls show the majority of Americans support such a ban.
Congress banned the sale of assault weapons in 1994, but the measure expired 10 years later. Efforts to restore the ban have failed.
To be sure, reinstituting the nationwide ban would not stop the mass killings. But it would be a step in the right direction.
Unfortunately, it is unlikely that President Trump will take the lead on the issue. Not only in his 2000 book, The America We Deserve, did Trump write that he opposed gun control, he also said: "I support the ban on assault weapons." But the president, as he has been known to do, changed course in March 2016 and said during a debate that he no longer supported the ban.
That leaves it up to the individual states to do what Congress won't: Pass common-sense gun measures that protect innocent people from becoming victims.