The Right to Bear Arms

March 5, 2010
courtdaylogo.pngPeople began lining up in front of the United States Supreme Court building 36 hours in advance of Tuesday's oral arguments in McDonald v. Chicago, a case challenging Chicago's longstanding ban on handguns within city limits. Handguns have been outlawed in Chicago for nearly 30 years.

After the Court's decision in District of Columbia v. Heller in 2008 that reversed a ban on handguns in DC, gun-rights advocates were compelled to challenge a ban in Chicago.

So why is this case different than the Heller case? Because the District of Columbia is considered a federal enclave, in Heller, the Court was not forced to decide definitively whether the Second Amendment applies to the states. So, that piece is the major question that the Justices are now considering: should the right to keep and bear arms be incorporated to the states? And if so, what does that mean for local gun control laws?

The Court ruled in the 19th century that the Bill of Rights does not apply to state or local laws, meaning that the Second Amendment (part of the Bill of Rights) which establishes Americans' right to keep and bear arms does not apply to state and local laws. It is somewhat surprising that our Bill of Rights, so fundamental to our nation as a democracy, did not automatically apply to the states. Since then, many of the Amendments in the Bill of Rights have been "selectively incorporated" to apply to the states, but not yet this Second Amendment right.

After the eagerly awaited oral arguments this Tuesday, the Supreme Court seemed likely to extend Second Amendment rights to the states, but not without limitations. Dennis Henigan, leader of the Brady Campaign (which advocates for federal and state gun control legislation) commented on Fox News that the law should reaffirm legislatures' authority at the local and state level to enact reasonable restrictions on Americans' rights to bear arms, in order to protect all people from gun fire.

Where do we go from here? Now that the Justices have heard the oral arguments, they will meet to discuss where they stand on the case. They will meet behind closed doors in the coming weeks, but it will likely be late June before they issue a written ruling.

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