Gun-Rights Decision May Have Limited Impact


For gun controllers, the bad news is that the Supreme Court Monday ruled for the first time that the right “to keep and bear arms” in the U.S. Constitution’s 2nd Amendment restricts state and local power to impose gun controls.

The good news for gun control is that this new-found right may not restrict gun-control laws very much.

The 5-4 decision does appears to doom the exceptionally strict bans imposed by Chicago and Oak Park, Ill., on possession of handguns, even in the home for self-defense, that were before the court in the case at hand. A strict New York City handgun ban may also fall.

But no statewide gun-control law appears to be in immediate jeopardy, because nothing in Justice Samuel Alito’s majority opinion appeared to undercut the court’s assertions in a 2008 decision striking down a similarly strict handgun ban in the District of Columbia that a wide range of less stringent gun-control laws could be upheld as reasonable public-safety measures.
“We made it clear in Heller,” Alito wrote, “that our holding did not cast doubt on such longstanding regulatory measures as ‘prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill,’ ‘laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.’ We repeat those assurances here.”

The 2008 decision held for the first time that the 2nd Amendment restricts federal gun-control laws by guaranteeing an individual right to own a gun for self defense, and not merely for service in the now-defunct state militias, as the four dissenters had argued.

Because the District of Columbia is a federal enclave, the 2008 decision did not resolve whether the 2nd Amendment also restricts state and local gun-control laws. That was the issue resolved by Monday’s decision.

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