A federal appeals court on Friday reversed course and agreed to reconsider a February ruling on Maryland's stringent gun control law, which includes a ban on so-called assault weapons.
A three-judge panel last month sided with gun-rights advocates when, for the first time, it determined that owning semiautomatic firearms such as AR-15s and AK-47s amounts to a "fundamental right" deserving the highest level of protection under the Constitution.
"In our view, Maryland law implicates the core protection of the Second Amendment -- the right of law-abiding responsible citizens to use arms in defense of hearth and home," wrote Chief Judge William Traxler in the divided ruling.
But in a brief order Friday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit effectively wiped out that earlier decision and agreed to rehear the case "en banc," which means all the judges in active service on the court -- 15 in total -- will hold a hearing jointly and decide the case anew.
The court set oral arguments in the case, known as Kolbe v. Hogan, for May 11.
Among the groups challenging the Maryland law are local gun rights groups, private businesses and individual gun owners. A coalition of 20-plus states and organizations such as the National Rifle Association have also filed legal briefs supporting the challengers.
The original decision didn't strike Maryland's gun-control regulations. Instead, it instructed a lower court weighing their legality to view them through a standard known as "strict scrutiny" -- a stringent test courts use when analyzing laws that may trample on rights secured by the Constitution.
The ruling was seen as significant because other courts considering similar firearm bans -- such as those passed in New York and Connecticut in the wake of the Newtown massacre -- have upheld the bans under lesser standards.
The Supreme Court, for its part, has refused to step into the fray to clarify what's the proper constitutional test governing these laws.
In December, the justices turned away a case from Illinois that upheld a ban similar to Maryland's -- a move that drew a fiery dissent from Justices Clarence Thomas and the late Antonin Scalia.
At least until the 4th Circuit decides the case again, it looks like there won't be a need for the high court to determine if these laws deserve a harder look.