Supreme Court extends gun rights to states

2nd Amendment trumps local laws

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The Supreme Court on Monday said the Second Amendment gives all Americans a right to keep and bear arms for self-defense that can’t be infringed by state and local laws — a landmark ruling likely to result in scores of lawsuits seeking to further test the boundaries of gun restrictions nationwide.

In a 5-4 decision, the court rejected arguments that overturning Chicago’s near-30-year-old handgun ban would have grave implications for cities and states attempting to control crime, with Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. noting that gun ownership is “not the only constitutional right that has controversial public safety implications.”

“The right to keep and bear arms must be regarded as a substantive guarantee, not a prohibition that could be ignored so long as the states legislated in an evenhanded manner,” Justice Alito wrote for the majority. The majority did signal that some gun restrictions could pass constitutional muster.

The ruling considering Chicago’s ban was similar to the court’s decision in the 2008 case District of Columbia v. Heller, which recognized the right of D.C. residents to register handguns and keep them in their homes for their protection.

Because of the District’s status as a federal enclave, the Heller decision did not apply to states and localities. But Monday’s ruling in McDonald v. City of Chicago establishes that the Second Amendment offers a fundamental right to gun ownership that can be enforced nationwide, not only against the federal government but also against the states.

In a dissent that struck not only at the majority opinion but also at the premise of the Heller decision, Justice Stephen G. Breyer said he could “find nothing in the Second Amendment’s text, history, or underlying rationale that could warrant characterizing it as ‘fundamental’ insofar as it seeks to protect the keeping and bearing of arms for private self-defense purposes.”

“Nor can I find any justification for interpreting the Constitution as transferring ultimate regulatory authority over the private uses of firearms from democratically elected legislatures to courts or from the states to the federal government,” Justice Breyer said in a dissent that was joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor. Justice John Paul Stevens issued a separate dissent.

The five justices who formed the majority — Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Alito, Clarence Thomas, Anthony M. Kennedy and Antonin Scalia — also formed the majority in the 5-4 decision on Heller.

Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, called the ruling a “great moment in American history.”

“The Supreme Court said what a majority of the American public believes,” he said. “The people who wrote the Second Amendment said it was an individual right, and the court has now confirmed what our Founding Fathers wrote and intended.”

The decision does not immediately overturn Chicago’s gun laws, instead sending the case back to a federal appeals court, where the gun ban is virtually certain to be lifted.

The decision also suggests that state and local governments should be given leeway in crafting gun restrictions that benefit their communities. Justice Alito wrote that the ruling “limits (but by no means eliminates) their ability to devise solutions to social problems that suit local needs and values.”

“Despite municipal respondents’ doomsday proclamations, incorporation does not imperil every law regulating firearms,” he said.

Paul Helmke, president of the nonprofit Brady Center and Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, was encouraged by that aspect of the ruling.

“The court again recognized that the Second Amendment allows for reasonable restrictions on firearms, including who can have them and under what conditions, where they can be taken, and what types of firearms are available,” he said.

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