States Must Honor Gun Rights, U.S. High Court Says

Posted: June 28, 2010 in 2nd Amendment Rights, Law, Politics

Bloomberg
Greg Stohr
June 28, 2010

A divided U.S. Supreme Court said the constitutional right to bear arms binds states and cities, as well as the federal government, in a decision that raises questions about gun laws around the country.

The ruling doesn’t create any new unlimited right for individuals to carry weapons while restricting the power of cities and states to regulate firearms. A 5-4 majority said Chicago went too far by banning handguns even for self-defense in the home. The Chicago ordinance is now unenforceable, its mayor said, though the law remains in effect pending lower court proceedings.

The ruling leaves open the ability of states and cities to ban possession by convicted felons and mentally ill people and laws against bringing guns into schools or government buildings.

Chicago is the only major city with a blanket handgun ban, after a 2008 Supreme Court decision struck down a similar ban in Washington, D.C., a federal enclave. Jurisdictions with narrower weapons restrictions, including New York City, may now face new legal challenges.

The right to bear arms “is fully binding on the states and thus limits (but by no means eliminates) their ability to devise solutions to social problems that suit local needs and values,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the court.

Right to Bear Arms

The justices said the right to bear arms was among the central guarantees protected against state and local interference through a constitutional amendment after the Civil War.

“It is clear that the framers and ratifiers of the Fourteenth Amendment counted the right to keep and bear arms among those fundamental rights necessary to our system of ordered liberty,” Alito wrote.

Today’s ruling broadens the sweep of the court’s 2008 ruling interpreting the Constitution’s Second Amendment as protecting the rights of individuals, rather than just those of state-run militias. It’s a victory for the National Rifle Association, which joined a group of Chicago residents in challenging the city’s laws.

Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley said the ruling made his city’s 28-year-old ban “unenforceable.” Daley said he was “disappointed but not surprised.”

Gun Control Advocates

Gun control advocates question said the ruling wasn’t likely to lead to the invalidation of more than a handful of gun laws.

“The gun lobby and gun criminals will use it to try to strike down gun laws, and those legal challenges will continue to fail,” said Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Center and Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a statement that the two high court rulings mean that “we can work to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and terrorists while at the same time respecting the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens,” The mayor is founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.

The decision, which came on the last day of the court’s nine-month term, divided the justices along lines that have become commonplace. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy and Clarence Thomas joined Alito in the majority.

In dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer faulted the majority for “transferring ultimate regulatory authority over the private uses of firearms from democratically elected legislatures to courts or from the states to the federal government.”

Dissenting Justices

Justices John Paul Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor also dissented.

The high court’s 2008 decision said the right to bear arms “is not unlimited.” The majority said the ruling didn’t cast doubt on laws barring handgun possession by convicted felons and the mentally ill or restrictions on bringing guns into schools or government buildings.

“We repeat those assurances here,” Alito wrote. “Despite municipal respondents’ doomsday proclamations, incorporation does not imperil every law regulating firearms.”

Like the rest of the Bill of Rights, the Second Amendment was originally aimed only at the federal government. The Supreme Court in the 19th century refused to apply the Second Amendment to the states.

More recently, the court has said that some, though not all, of the rights in the first eight amendments are so fundamental that they are “incorporated” into the 14th Amendment’s due process clause, which binds the states.

No Doctrinal Shift

In saying that the Second Amendment is incorporated as well, the court declined to usher in a major doctrinal shift, as some litigants had sought. Advocates across the ideological spectrum urged the justices to rely on the privileges-or- immunities clause, a long dormant provision in the 14th Amendment.

Such a step might have reinforced established constitutional rights including abortion and opened the door to broader protection of other guarantees, including property rights.

Chicago has been the only major U.S. city with a blanket prohibition on handguns. The ban was challenged by four Chicago residents, including Otis McDonald, a 76-year-old homeowner in the Morgan Park neighborhood on the city’s South Side.

McDonald, who says his home has been broken into at least three times, says he wants to keep a handgun by his bed for protection.

The case is McDonald v. City of Chicago, 08-1521.

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Comments
  1. toboot13 says:

    As I British citizen I have no such right to bear arms. It is illegal for a private citizen to own a pistol, even for target practice. Olympic target pistol shooters must practice in another country. To own a rifle first a firearms certificate must be obtained from the police, no easy task. The application must be countersigned by two professional people, evidence produced to prove where the gun will be used, and the security of all firearms must be in authorised cabinets. If after all this a firearms certificate is issued, it will specify the number and calibre of the rifle(s), the amount of amunition that may be held at any one time and the amount that may be purchased at any time. For a criminal however, all that is required is to go into a bar in any city, contact the right people and they will either sell or rent a gun, no questions asked. Do not ever allow the politicians to take away your right to bear arms.

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