The Supreme Court held Monday that the Constitution's Second Amendment restrains government's ability to significantly limit "the right to keep and bear arms," advancing a recent trend by the bench to support gun rights.
However, in the narrow, 5-4 vote, the justices also signaled that some limitations on the right could survive legal challenges, according to a reporting in the Associated Press.
The case before the bench, McDonald et al vs. The City of Chicago, involved restrictive laws in Chicago and one of its suburbs. Writing for the court, Justice Samuel Alito said that the Second Amendment right "applies equally to the federal government and the states."
The court decision was split along familiar ideological lines: five conservative-moderate justices voted in favor of gun rights, four liberals opposed them. Chief Justice Roberts voted with the majority.
Two years ago, the court declared that the Second Amendment protects an individual's right to possess guns for purposes of self-defense in the home.
That ruling applied only to federal laws amd struck down a ban on handguns and a trigger lock requirement for other guns in the District of Columbia, a federal city with a unique legal standing. At the same time, the court was careful not to cast doubt on other regulations of firearms.
Gun rights proponents almost immediately filed a federal lawsuit challenging gun control laws in Chicago and its suburb of Oak Park, Ill, where handguns have been banned for nearly 30 years. Chicago and Oak Park had argued that their laws were constitutional because the Second Amendment has no application to the States. The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence says those laws appear to be the last two remaining outright bans.
Chicago residents who want to keep handguns in their homes for self-defense but are prohibited from doing so by Chicago’s firearms laws sued the state. The petitioners argued that the handgun ban had left them vulnerable to criminals. According to the court's decision, Chicago Police Department statistics provided to the justices revealed that the City’s handgun murder rate has increased since the ban was enacted. According to the data, Chicago residents now face one of the highest murder rates in the country and rates of other violent crimes exceed the average in comparable cities.
Lower federal courts upheld the two laws, noting that judges on those benches were bound by Supreme Court precedent and that it would be up to the high court justices to ultimately rule on the true reach of the Second Amendment.
The Supreme Court already has said that most of the guarantees in the Bill of Rights serve as a check on state and local, as well as federal, laws.
Monday's decision did not explicitly strike down the Chicago area laws. The court ordered a federal appeals court to reconsider its ruling, but it left little doubt that those laws would be striken eventually.
Still, Alito noted that the declaration that the Second Amendment is fully binding on states and cities "limits (but by no means eliminates) their ability to devise solutions to social problems that suit local needs and values."
Today marked the last day of the Supreme Court's session and Justice John Paul Stevens' final day on the bench.