Constitutional Gun Rights Apply Nationwide, Supreme Court Rules

BY Quinn Bowman  June 28, 2010 at 11:15 AM EDT

Updated 12:09 p.m. | The Supreme Court delivered a victory to proponents of gun ownership rights Monday, ruling that Constitution’s “right to keep and bear arms” applies nationwide.

The narrow 5 to 4 decision in McDonald v. Chicago follows the court’s 2008 decision in D.C. v. Heller, in which the same narrow majority ruled that Washington, D.C.’s ban on handgun ownership violated the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The Heller decision applied only to federal laws – the McDonald ruling applies the right to own a gun for defense to the entire country.

Otis McDonald and three other Chicago-area residents challenged handgun bans in Chicago and Oak Park, Ill., as unconstitutional. McDonald, who is in his seventies, said he lives in a high-crime area and needs a handgun for protection.

The city argued that its handgun ban was enacted to protect citizens from guns and that the court should not apply the Heller right, via the Fourteenth Amendment, to the states.

“Self-defense is a basic right, recognized by many legal systems from ancient times to the present day, and in Heller, we held that individual self-defense is ‘the central component’ of the Second Amendment right,” wrote Justice Samuel Alito in the majority opinion.

“Municipal respondents, in effect, ask us to treat the right recognized in Heller as a second-class right, subject to an entirely different body of rules than the other Bill of Rights guarantees that we have held to be incorporated into the Due Process Clause,” Alito added.

The court ordered that a lower court review the Chicago handgun ban.

Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, a group that supports the Chicago handgun ban, told the NewsHour Monday that the city will have time to rewrite its handgun ban in order to comply with the new ruling that requires citizens to license and register guns.

“Since we’re going to see a lot more laws challenged in courts across the country, I think communities are going to be more hesitant for some time to be willing to adopt smart restrictions on guns. I’m hoping that in Chicago they can get a new ordinance written pretty quickly that will be effective,” Helmke said.

Alan Gottlieb, founder and executive vice president of the Second Amendment Foundation, told the NewsHour Monday that the decision means that people in Chicago will be able to legally own a handgun for the first time in 25 years.

The Second Amendment Foundation helped bring the McDonald suit to court.

Gottlieb said that the Washington, D.C., and Chicago bans were the most restrictive in the country, but that there are other restrictions on gun rights his organization would like to see abolished.

“There are other laws: in New York, for instance, it takes six to nine months to get a permit to get a gun. What we say is a right delayed is a right denied. There are a number of laws that are over burdensome about allowing people to own guns inside their own home, and I think many of those are ripe for challenge,” he said.

The majority opinion was joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Thomas, Alito and Kennedy.

In his dissent, Justice John Paul Stevens argued that if the right to self-defense applies to the states, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the city of Chicago cannot ban handgun ownership.

“It is a very long way from the proposition that the Fourteenth
Amendment protects a basic individual right of self-defense to the conclusion that a city may not ban handguns,” Stevens wrote. His dissent was joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer and Sotomayor.

When the court heard arguments in the gun law challenge, Jim Lehrer talked to the National Law Journal’s Marcia Coyle about the impact of the case:

In other action Monday, the court rejected appeals by the Obama administration and major tobacco companies to get involved in a legal fight about the dangers of cigarette smoking that has lasted longer than a decade. The action, issued without comment, leaves in place rulings that the tobacco industry illegally concealed dangers of smoking for decades. However, it also prevents the administration from trying to extract billions of dollars from the industry either in past profits or to fund a national campaign to curb smoking.

The court also struck down part of an anti-fraud law enacted in response to Enron and other corporate scandals from the early 2000s. In a 5-4 vote, the justices said that the Sarbanes-Oxley law enacted in 2002 violates the Constitution’s separation of powers mandate. The court says the president must be able to remove members of a board that was created to tighten oversight of internal corporate controls and outside auditors.

We’ll have more analysis of the handgun decision on Monday’s NewsHour broadcast. Be sure to tune in.