Maryland Assault Weapons Ban in jeopardy after Court of Appeals ruling

Yesterday, the 4th Circuit Appeals Court ruled 2-1 to remand a case reviewing Maryland’s AWB back to the District court and for the District court to apply a more stringent standard of review to the case. In the majority opinion, Chief Judge William B. Traxler Jr stated that the Maryland AWB “significantly burdens the exercise of the right to arm oneself at home.”

Maryland had originally passed their assault weapons ban in the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings. The ban regulated over 40 specific guns by name, and as many such bans do, limited the possession and access to magazines with a capacity higher than 10 rounds. The law was challenged by a group of plaintiffs that included national organizations such as the NSSF; they were met with defeat at the US District Court level, when that court ruled that Maryland’s law was in fact Constitutional.

The victory at the Court of Appeals level means that the case will get sent back to the District Court for review. The Appeals court has found that Maryland’s law does violate the Constitution and that the District Court should apply strict scrutiny. The Maryland DA has said that he plans to seek an en banc or Supreme Court appeal to reverse the Appeal Court’s decision.

For a more detailed analysis from an actual legal expert, please visit the Volokh Conspiracy.

The Law of Self Defense Seminar – An excellent investment

A little while ago I got ticked off about annoying gunstore lawyers, people who have no real understanding of the laws or jurisprudence governing the use of force in self defense who nevertheless feel compelled to “share” their ignorant suppositions anyway. In the comments on that article Andrew Branca, author of The Law of Self Defense and proprietor of the Law of Self Defense blog contacted me and offered to send me his book for a review. I liked the book quite a bit and I’ve given a copy to some folks I know who were looking for good legal guidance.

Late last week John Murphy of FPF Training told me he was hosting Andrew for one of his seminars and there was a last minute opening. A part of my brain (the part that thought buying Apple and Google stock 15 years ago was a stupid idea) said “You’ve read the book. What could you possibly get out of attending the seminar that wasn’t in the book?” The rest of my brain thankfully overruled the moron within and I bought in to the open slot. It was a good investment. Maybe not quite Apple at 12 bucks a share good, but still a darn good use of time and money.

Having already read Andrew’s book, the primary benefit I got out of the seminar was the specific coverage of the laws and jurisprudence on self defense in my home state of Virginia. In his presentation, Andrew cited the major important cases that defines Virginias traditions on self defense (because Virginia doesn’t have actual language in the code covering the use of force in self defense…it’s all defined through established precedent in court decisions) including citation from the actual standardized jury instructions in use in the Commonwealth.

The academic discussion of the law was fast paced, fact filled, and sobering. As he did in the book, Andrew laid out the function of the criminal justice system and explained how police investigators and prosecutors can look at a set of facts and come to a very different conclusion about the meaning of them than you, the person who just defended himself from a lethal attack.

Andrew Branca wraps up an informative session on Virginia's laws on self defense.
Andrew Branca wraps up an informative session on Virginia’s laws on self defense.

The average law abiding citizen who pays their taxes and stops at red lights and spends their life trying to do well for their family goes through life believing that the criminal justice system and all those operating within it will see them as the good guy and will protect them when they are at their most vulnerable. Unfortunately this isn’t necessarily the case. Andrew repeatedly stated that prosecutors look at fact patterns for a “compelling narrative of guilt” and will sometimes proceed with that narrative whether or not it actually matches up with what really happened. The George Zimmerman episode is a perfect example of that, a blatantly politically motivated prosecution that had little to do with the actual bare facts of the case.

The Zimmerman fiasco combined with a growing mistrust of government authority seems to be driving defense minded individuals to explore the legal side of the equation more than they have in the past. It’s one thing to hear about the theoretical possibility of getting screwed over by the people who swore an oath to act honorably, but when you can actually see it happening in Technicolor it tends to bring the reality home in a more tangible way.

I expect there to be a number of attorneys across the country looking to do presentations on self defense in the very near future, giving Andrew some competition. I think the LOSD seminar stands out for a few reasons:

1. Andrew Branca has been researching this topic as it relates to law-abiding citizens for a very long time. This isn’t a topic he picked up recently due to noticing an increase in interest lately…it’s something he’s been passionately pursuing for a couple of decades.

2. Andrew is one of us…a gun guy. He holds IDPA member number 13 and has attended classes with a number of top notch firearms instructors. As one of us, he understands our motivations and intentions better than most outsiders would. He carries regularly…and was carrying at our class. Most criminal defense attorneys have no idea what the Tueller Drill is, but Andrew does because he’s a native to our culture.

3. All self defense cases are not created equal, and believe it or not actual criminals make specious and weak claims of self defense for violent acts fairly often. Genuine instances of self defense by good guys tend to be a very different animal. Andrew understands this, having worked on both types of self defense cases.

I found the book very useful and informative, but I found the seminar to be even moreso. Partially because of the very specific, knowledgeable discussion of the law in my area, and also because of seeing the impact the presentation was having on the other students. There were moments during the presentation when you could feel the air getting sucked out of the room as Andrew laid out some unpleasant truths about interaction with the legal system. This was obviously new information to many in the room and the looks on their faces told the story of preconceived notions being blown to kingdom come.

During a break in the presentation John Murphy, the class host, asked me what I thought. My exact response was wishing I could have had this class as my very first training course rather than the thoroughly awful first course I took umpteen years ago. That class consisted of a 3 hour video on the history of firearms, a brief safety lecture, a handout, and 50 rounds shot at an FBI Q target at 5 yards. It was functionally useless, and cost more then than Andrew’s exceptionally informative course costs now. I wanted to go back in time and drag my younger self into that classroom because he desperately needed the information being presented. Current me is a lot smarter than the younger me, but I still found myself learning things or considering things I hadn’t really thought about before all through the lecture.

Let me get on my soapbox for a minute:

I think courses like the LOSD Seminar should be a something you should get yourself into with all possible speed. I don’t claim to be an expert on the criminal justice system, but I have a bunch of people that actually are in my phone’s contacts list and I could tell you real-life tales from the criminal justice system that would make your blood run cold. Most people really don’t know what they don’t know, and in this context that is an invitation to disaster. Take the time to learn the law, the legal precedent that’s authoritative in your area, and the process you’re likely to go through if you ever have to use force. Just being the good guy isn’t always enough. Take the time to inform yourself and use that base of information to craft a reasonable self defense strategy that minimizes your danger on the street and in the courtroom. If you’re the average joe, you need this kind of class.

Ignorance on this topic isn’t bliss, folks. It’s a threat. The Law of Self Defense seminar is a supremely efficient method for curing that ignorance. Look for opportunities to get yourself into one of these presentations as soon as possible, folks.