WASHINGTON — Fresh off the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history, the Supreme Court refused Monday to hear a challenge to assault weapons bans passed in Connecticut and New York after the Newtown elementary school massacre of 2012.
The challenges were denied, as expected, without comment from the court. Just last December — five days after a terrorist attack killed 14 people in San Bernardino, Calif. — the justices had refused to hear a challenge to a Chicago suburb's ban on such semi-automatic weapons.
The Connecticut law was signed by Gov. Dannel Malloy in April 2013, four months after 20 students and six educators were gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Expanding on an earlier assault weapons ban in the state, it banned more than 100 types of firearms along with magazines that can hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a similar ban in New York that created a registry of existing assault weapons in the state, banned their future sale, and blocked the sale of high-capacity magazines.
Assault weapons bans are in place in five other states: California, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Maryland and Hawaii. The federal government had such a ban for 10 years, but it expired in 2004. Ever since, Congress has defeated proposed bans, most recently in 2013.
Since its landmark 2008 decision upholding the right to possess guns at home for self defense, the Supreme Court also has refused to strike down lesser state and municipal restrictions. Those include bans on carrying guns in public, requiring them to be disabled or locked when not in use, limiting ownership by those under age 21 and restricting interstate gun transfers.
In March, however, the court said Massachusetts likely went too far in banning non-lethal stun guns. The justices did not strike down the ban itself, but they unanimously reversed a state court ruling upholding it and ordered a rehearing.
Federal courts have ruled that statutes such as Connecticut's and the one in Highland Park, Ill., are not at odds with the Supreme Court's rulings in 2008 and 2010 permitting handguns to be kept at home for self-defense. Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in the first case, District of Columbia v. Heller, that the court was not upholding “a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose."
Still, Scalia and Justice Clarence Thomas wanted to hear the Illinois case. "Roughly 5 million Americans own AR-style semiautomatic rifles," Thomas wrote in December. "The overwhelming majority of citizens who own and use such rifles do so for lawful purposes, including self-defense and target shooting. Under our precedents, that is all that is needed for citizens to have a right under the Second Amendment to keep such weapons."
In the wake of the Orlando shootings, Thomas issued no such dissent Monday from the court's decision not to hear either of the latest cases.