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US Supreme Court leaves state assault weapons bans in place

The US Supreme Court has rejected challenges to assault weapons bans in the states of Connecticut and New York. The decision came after the shooting attack on a gay nightclub in Orlando that left 49 people dead.

US Supreme Court justices declined to hear an appeal of an October 2015 ruling by the Second US Circuit Court of Appeals, based in New York, upholding laws prohibiting semiautomatic weapons and large-capacity magazines in the two northeastern states. Instead, it left current gun control laws that ban such assault weapons in place in New York and Connecticut.

The laws had been introduced in response to another mass shooting involving a semi-automatic weapon at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in December 2012. The legislation in New York and Connecticut is considered to be among the strictest in the US.

Gun rights advocates have, however, repeatedly challenged existing laws, asking for the legalization of assault weapons - like the one used in the June 12 massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando.

Debate on gun control

In December 2015, less than a month after the deadly mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia, who has since died, dissented when the court refused to hear an appeal to overturn a Chicago suburb's ban on assault weapons. Scalia was one of the strongest gun advocates of the Supreme Court.

The court's action is regarded as representative of its reluctance to partake in the national debate on gun control in the US. The Supreme Court has not made any major rulings on gun rights for more than five years. A nationwide law barring assault weapons expired in 2004, resulting in congressional Republicans, backed by the influential National Rifle Association (NRA) gun rights lobby, beating back efforts to restore it.

Seven states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws banning assault weapons. The other states with such bans are California, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts and New Jersey, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. In addition, Minnesota and Virginia regulate assault weapons, the center said.

ss/kl (Reuters, AP)

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