Earlier this month, Proskauer filed an amicus brief on behalf of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence in support of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ ban on assault weapons, such as the AK-47 or the AR-15, and large-capacity magazines. We filed the brief with the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Worman v. Healey, a case challenging the ban on Second Amendment grounds. Partner Kimberly Mottley and I led the team, with Lindsey Olson Collins and Steven A. Sutro co-authoring the brief.
Since 1998, Massachusetts has banned the sale and possession within the state of military-style assault weapons and large capacity magazines. These same weapons were used in some of America’s deadliest mass shootings: Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut; the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida; the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas, Nevada; Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida; and most recently, the Temple of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The popularity of such assault weapons among perpetrators led the New York Times to dub them the “rifles of choice for mass shootings.”
To prepare the brief, we delved into an extensive district court record that included 23 witness declarations and 19 depositions. That record helped us explain why assault weapons are so strongly associated with deadly mass shootings: they are designed to fire bullets at a faster pace and at a higher velocity than a handgun, a shotgun, and even many other types of semiautomatic weapons. As a result, they can quickly inflict a large number of casualties, and the wounds they inflict are unusually serious.
These features of assault weapons have also led many other states—including Maryland, New York, and Connecticut, as well as the District of Columbia—to enact bans similar to the one in Massachusetts. And, as our brief notes, there is evidence that those bans work to reduce violent crime. In the years following the enactment of the federal ban on assault weapons, crimes committed using assault rifles plunged; after the federal ban expired, crimes committed using large capacity magazines surged. To date, many of those bans have been upheld as constitutional in the face of Second Amendment challenges.
Defending reasonable gun-safety measures is an important part of our pro bono program. Proskauer has collaborated with the Brady Center on several other occasions, including an amicus brief in support of a Massachusetts regulation requiring all guns sold in the state to include a “load indicator” that plainly indicates whether a gun is loaded. In a 2016 decision drafted by retired Supreme Court Justice David H. Souter sitting by designation, the First Circuit in Draper v. Healey upheld that regulation.