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US Supreme Court limits local gun bans

June 28, 2010

Justices rebuff Chicago, which defended ban as reasonable exercise of local power.

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court ruled Monday that the Constitution’s “right to keep and bear arms” applies nationwide as a restraint on the ability of the federal, state and local governments to substantially limit its reach.

By a 5-4 vote split along familiar ideological lines, the nation’s highest court extended its landmark 2008 ruling that individual Americans have a constitutional right to own guns to all the cities and states for the first time.

In doing so, the justices signaled that less severe restrictions could survive legal challenges. The ruling involved a 28-year-old handgun ban in the Chicago area.

The ruling was a victory for four Chicago-area residents, two gun rights groups and the politically powerful National Rifle Association.

It was a defeat for Chicago, which defended its ban as a reasonable exercise of local power to protect public safety. The law and a similar handgun ban in suburban Oak Park, Ill., were the nation’s most restrictive gun control measures.

Monday’s decision did not explicitly strike down the Chicago area laws, ordering a federal appeals court to reconsider its ruling. It left little doubt, however, that they would fall eventually.

Justice Samuel Alito, writing for the court, said the Second Amendment right “applies equally to the federal government and the states.”

Five conservative-moderate justices were in favor of gun rights and the four liberals, opposed.

Two years ago, the court declared that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to possess guns, at least for purposes of self-defense in the home.

That ruling applied only to federal laws. It 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 here.

Gun rights proponents almost immediately filed a federal lawsuit challenging gun control laws in Chicago and Oak Park, Ill. The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence says those laws appear to be the last two remaining outright bans.

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.

‘Freedom’

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.

Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the NRA, told MSNBC that the ruling reiterated that gun ownership was a “constitutional freedom … for every American citizen.”

“It’s a landmark decision,” LaPierre said. “The Second Amendment as an individual right now becomes a real part of American Constitutional law.

“The question before the court was ‘can law-abiding citizens go out and buy and own a firearm?’ And the court said, ‘Yes, anywhere they live.’”

The ruling on gun rights and three other cases came in its last meeting until the fall and the final day of Justice John Paul Stevens’ long service.

The Supreme Court also rejected appeals by the Obama administration and the nation’s largest tobacco companies to get involved in a legal fight about the dangers of cigarette smoking that has stretched more than 10 years.

The court’s action, issued without comment Monday, leaves in place court rulings that the tobacco industry illegally concealed the dangers of smoking for decades. But 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.

Retirement

The court met Monday morning just a couple of hours before high court nominee Elena Kagan goes before the Senate Judiciary Committee for her confirmation hearing.

The 90-year-old Stevens announced his retirement in April, paving the way for President Barack Obama to nominate Kagan to replace him. Kagan’s hearing begins early afternoon in Washington, in a Senate hearing room a short walk from the court.

Stevens will retire as the second-oldest justice, after Oliver Wendell Holmes, and tied for second-longest tenure with Stephen Field, whose service began during the Civil War. Stevens’ retirement will take effect on Tuesday, after 34 years, six months and 11 days as a justice.

William Douglas has the record, with more than 36 years on the Supreme Court.

Source: MSNBC.

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