George Leef’s latest Forbes column focuses on the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals’ recent ruling on gun rights.

In an extremely important decision on Feb. 4, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a lower court’s ruling in favor of Maryland’s 2013 “Firearms Safety Act.” That statute (like so many supposed gun control laws) banned a wide range of “assault weapons” and prohibited the sale of magazines that can hold more than ten rounds.

Crucially, in Kolbe v. Hogan, the majority held that courts must use “strict scrutiny” when they evaluate laws that impinge upon the Second Amendment rights of Americans. If the decision is upheld (and enemies of the Second Amendment will try desperately to get it overturned), then a great many laws that whittle away at the right of self-defense will fall.

To begin with, non-lawyers may be wondering what “strict scrutiny” means.

In litigation over constitutional rights, the level of scrutiny that a court chooses to employ is exceedingly important. Although the Constitution itself says nothing about this, the Supreme Court long ago created a dichotomy between “strict scrutiny” and lower levels of scrutiny. (It’s a bad dichotomy, since judges shouldn’t decide which rights are fundamental and which ones are relatively unimportant – but that’s an article for another day.)

When a court uses the former, the judges look very carefully at the government’s rationale for enacting a law. …

… When courts employ strict scrutiny, the government has a heavy burden to show that the challenged law should stand. Quite often, it fails and the law is invalidated. But when courts use a lower level, the burden on the government is relaxed. In practice, it often means no scrutiny at all, but just accepting any rationale that the counsel for the government offers.