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Supreme Court rejects challenge to assault weapons bans in Conn. and N.Y.

On Monday, the justices rejected a challenge to assault weapons bans in two states. The laws were originally passed in response to the gun massacre at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012. 

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A pedestrian walks in front of the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C. on May 19, 2016. On Monday, the Court rejected challenges to assault weapons bans in Connecticut and New York.

Carlos Barria/ Reuters/ File

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The Supreme Court has rejected challenges to assault weapons bans in Connecticut and New York, in the aftermath of the shooting attack on a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, that left 50 people dead.

The justices on Monday left in place a lower court ruling that upheld laws that were passed in response to another mass shooting involving a semi-automatic weapon, the elementary school attack in Newtown, Connecticut.

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The Supreme Court has repeatedly turned away challenges to gun restrictions since two landmark decisions that spelled out the right to a handgun to defend one's own home.

In December, less than a month after a mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia dissented when the court refused to hear an appeal to overturn a Chicago suburb's ban on assault weapons. Scalia died in February.

Seven states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws banning assault weapons. The others 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.

Yet attacks with semiautomatic rifles do not represent a significant percentage of gun violence, some analysts and gun rights advocates say, arguing that such bans and limitations are more "cosmetic" than effective, as The Christian Science Monitor reported in October:

"It has become a gun rights meme, that these gun bans are all cosmetic," says Saul Cornell, chair of American history at Fordham University in New York and an expert in Second Amendment issues. "And at the level of ballistics, that may be true," he says, since other semiautomatic weapons could be just as lethal.

"But when you have people with impulse control issues, and you give them this very lethal and very effective tool, they will do more damage with it."

And Professor Cornell believes that many of the perpetrators of mass shootings are enamored of the military style of these weapons, a "cosmetic" paramilitary look they seek to emulate.

Connecticut and New York enacted bans on assault weapons and large-capacity magazines in response to the December 2012 massacre of 20 children and six educators at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. The gunman, Adam Lanza, shot and killed his mother before driving to the school where he gunned down the victims with a Bushmaster AR-15 rifle. Lanza then killed himself.

In Orlando, gunman Omar Mateen used a Sig Sauer MCX semi-automatic rifle and a pistol during the attack at Pulse nightclub. Mateen was killed in a shootout with police after killing 49 others.