By David G. Savage, Tribune Washington Bureau
The Supreme Court ruled Monday that cities and states must abide by the 2nd Amendment, strengthening the rights of gun owners and opening courthouse doors nationwide for gun rights advocates to argue that restrictions on firearms are unconstitutional.
In aÂ 5-4 decision, the justices said the right to have a handgun for self-defense is “fundamental from an American perspective [and] applies equally to the federal government and the states.”
The high court overturned 19th century rulings that said the 2nd Amendment restricted only federal gun laws, not local or state measures. The decision will almost certainly void ordinances in Chicago and Oak Park, Ill., that forbid residents to have handguns at home. The justices ruled in favor of the Chicago residents who wish to have guns and sent the case back to Chicago for a lower court to issue a final ruling.
Legal experts on both sides of the gun-control debate predicted the ruling would trigger more lawsuits. They disagreed, however, about whether it would lead to gun laws being struck down, beyond a city’s total ban on handguns.
“This case is only the beginning of the debate. Gun ownership rights â€” like free-speech rights â€” are not absolute, and state and local governments retain the authority to enact reasonable gun-control laws,” said Rick Garnett, a law professor at the University of Notre Dame.
Typically, residents can have a rifle or shotgun in any state without a permit. The main exceptions are for people with a felony record or who are mentally ill, and the Supreme Court has already said those “reasonable regulations” can stand.
Seven states, including California, forbid assault weapons or semiautomatic weapons, the court noted. Those restrictions will face a legal challenge, gun rights advocates said.
The National Rifle Assn. also said it planned to focus on how some laws were enforced. For example, California authorizes residents to carry concealed weapons in public with permits. But NRA lawyers say that police in Los Angeles and San Francisco rarely issue permits, and they want to sue to challenge that practice.
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