Two years ago, the United States Supreme Court held that the Second Amendment protects the right to keep and bear arms for the purpose of self-defense. In doing so, the court struck down a District of Columbia law that banned the possession of handguns in the home. That case was decided on a 5 to 4 vote.
On June 28, 2010, the United States Supreme court affirmed in a 5 to 4 decision the “fundamental right” to bear arms. Justice Samuel Alito wrote: “It is clear that the Framers . . . counted the right to keep and bear arms among those fundamental rights necessary to our system of ordered liberty.”
Ruling Now Applies to all the States
It might seem a bit confusing as to why the Supreme Court would make two rules which appear to say the same thing two years apart. The difference is quite significant.
The original case, two years ago, applied only to the federal government, in that the statute the court struck down was in the District of Columbia.
McDonald v. Chicago involved two ordinances which basically banned the ownership of handguns in the City of Chicago and another suburban Chicago community. The court said these ordinances were unconstitutional on the United States Constitution.
Right to Bear Arms Not Absolute
The Chicago ruling involved the total ban of hand guns in the City. This total ban, the court said, is unconstitutional.
The majority of the court, however, was quick to point out that the “right to bear arms” is not absolute, and that some restrictions were constitutional.
Justice Alito wrote, “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.”
Case Does Not End the Debate
The McDonald case does not end the debate. There will be many more legal challenges to laws in the future.
Justice Stephen Breyer, in fact, said that the majority opinion set up such a vague standard that the lower courts would face a “mission-almost-impossible” when it came to interpreting ordinances and statutes in the future.
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