Supreme Court rules that all Americans have fundamental right to bear arms

Robert Barnes
The Washington Post
6/28/2010

The Supreme Court ruled for the first time Monday that the Second Amendment provides all Americans a fundamental right to bear arms, a long-sought victory for gun rights advocates who have chafed at federal, state and local efforts to restrict gun ownership.

The court was considering a restrictive handgun law in Chicago and one of its suburbs that was similar to the District law that it ruled against in 2008. The 5 to 4 decision does not strike any other gun control measures currently in place, but it provides a legal basis for challenges across the country where gun owners think that government has been too restrictive.

“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,” Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote for the conservatives on the court.

The victory might be more symbolic than substantive, at least initially. Few cities have laws as restrictive as those in Chicago and Washington.

Alito said government can restrict gun ownership in certain instances but did not elaborate on what those would be. That will be determined in future litigation.

Alito said the court had made clear in its 2008 decision that it was not casting doubt on such long-standing measures as keeping felons and the mentally ill from possessing guns or keeping guns out of “sensitive places” such as schools and government buildings.

“We repeat those assurances here,” Alito wrote. “Despite municipal respondents’ doomsday proclamations, [the decision] does not imperil every law regulating firearms.”…

Besides the decision in McDonald v. Chicago, the court completed its work by issuing opinions in its final cases of the term:

— It ruled that the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board, an independent board set up by the 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley Act in the aftermath of the huge corporate failures of Enron, WorldCom and others, is unconstitutional. The board was designed to provide much tougher regulation of the auditing of public companies than under previous regimes, but the court said that because it was insulated from direct control of the president, it violated the separation of powers.

It also said, however, that the problem could be corrected by allowing the Securities and Exchange Commission, which oversees the board and is more accountable to the president, to remove the board’s members at will…

…The case is Bilski v. Kappos.

The guns case was the logical sequel to the court’s 5 to 4 decision in District of Columbia v. Heller. That decision established for the first time that the Second Amendment’s “right to keep and bear arms” referred to an individual right, not one related to military service. But the decision that there is a right to keep a gun in one’s home did not extend beyond the federal government and its enclaves such as Washington.

Gun rights activists immediately filed suit against the handgun restrictions in Chicago and the suburb of Oak Park.

“Today marks a great moment in American history,” said Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, in a statement. “This is a landmark decision. It is a vindication for the great majority of American citizens who have always believed the Second Amendment was an individual right and freedom worth defending.”

The court’s decision means that the enigmatically worded Second Amendment — “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed” — identifies an individual right to gun ownership, like the freedom of speech, that cannot be unduly restricted by Congress, state laws or city ordinances.

Also voting in the majority were Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy and Clarence Thomas.

Justice Stephen G. Breyer objected to the majority decision, and read his dissent from the bench. He disagreed with the majority that it is a fundamental right, and said the court was restricting state and local efforts from designing gun control laws that fit their particular circumstances, and turning over all decisions to federal judges. Joining him with dissenting votes were John Paul Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor. Stevens wrote his own dissent and did not join Breyer’s….

The complete article is at The Washington Post.

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