WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court steered clear of the intensifying gun debate after the mass shootings in Nevada and Texas, turning away two appeals from firearms advocates, including one that sought a constitutional right to own a semi-automatic assault rifle.
The justices, without comment Monday, left intact a ruling that upheld Maryland’s ban on assault weapons. In a separate case, the high court refused to require Florida to let handguns be carried openly in public.
The Supreme Court has repeatedly rebuffed gun advocates since it ruled in 2010 that people across the country have the right to keep a firearm in the home for self-defense. That case represents the last time the high court heard arguments on the reach of the Second Amendment.
Opponents say easy access to guns is to blame for continued mass shootings in the U.S., including the Oct. 1 massacre of 58 people at a concert in Las Vegas and the slaughter just a month later of 26 people in a Texas church.
In the Maryland case, a federal appeals court said assault weapons, including the popular AR-15, aren’t protected by the Second Amendment. The appeals court pointed to the Supreme Court’s 2008 Heller decision, which included a line suggesting that states and cities could ban the M-16 rifle, a military version of the AR-15.
“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 for the majority. The appeals court voted 10-4 to uphold the ban.
Maryland enacted its assault weapon ban after the 2012 shooting that left 20 children and six adults dead at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn. The measure also bans detachable magazines that have a capacity of more than 10 rounds.
A group of residents, gun dealers and associations challenged the restrictions with support from organizations that included the National Rifle Association.
“Maryland has banned the most popular semi-automatic rifles and magazines — arms that are indisputably in common use for self-defense — from the homes of law-abiding citizens,” the appeal argued.
The Florida case involved Dale Lee Norman, who was arrested in 2012 while walking on a sidewalk with a handgun in a holster. Florida permits the carrying of licensed handguns outside the home, but the state requires the weapons to be concealed.
In urging the court not to hear the appeal, state officials said Florida, South Carolina and Illinois are the only states that allow carrying concealed weapons but bar carrying guns openly.