Gun Rights: USSC Extends Heller Decision to States

By Tanya Roth, Esq. on June 28, 2010 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Today, June 28, the Supreme Court handed down a ruling that has been called a major symbolic victory for advocates of gun rights. In the case of McDonald v. City of Chicago, the Supreme Court followed up on a 2008 decision and held the 2nd Amendment right of individuals to own guns to extends to state and local, as well as federal, laws.

According to The New York Times, the Court's decision in District of Columbia v. Heller held, (in a 5-4 vote) that the federal laws which cover the District of Columbia could not prohibit individuals from owning guns for self protection. The Heller decision specifically did not address whether state laws would be affected in the same way as the federal laws included in that decision. The McDonald decision explicitly takes Heller further and applies it to state and local laws via the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment.

The McDonald case challenged several city of Chicago (and Oak Park) ordinances which effectively banned the ownership of hand guns by, according to the Opinion, "almost all private citizens." The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the ban as constitutional. The Supreme Court reversed that opinion and has sent the case back for further consideration.

The Times reports the majority found that the right to keep handguns for self-protection at home is constitutionally protected. Justice Samuel Alito Jr., writing for the majority, however, did not challenge some limitations set out by the Court in the Heller decision. Specifically, the the majority did not challenge laws prohibiting possession of guns by felons or the mentally ill, or those forbidding carrying guns in specific places like schools and government buildings, or those regulating the commercial sale of firearms. Justice Alito was joined by Justices Scalia, Roberts, Thomas and Kennedy.

The more liberal wing of the Court dissented, saying that the decision in Heller itself was incorrect and that even if it had been correctly decided, the protections under that decision should not be extended to cover state and local laws. The dissenting voices were from Justices Breyer, Ginsburg, Sotomayor and Stevens.

It should be noted that as The Times reports, that although the McDonald opinion sounds like a major shift in constitutional law, its short term practical impact is uncertain. The justices did not answer the question of just what kinds of gun control laws can still be reconciled with Second Amendment rights and might remain valid.

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