WASHINGTON, June 28, 2010 -- A narrowly divided Supreme Court today ruled that the Second Amendment's right to bear arms is applicable to all states and municipalities. The ruling will most likely overturn Chicago's strict ban on handguns.
"It is clear that the framers and ratifiers of the Fourteenth Amendment counted the right to keep and bear arms among those fundamental rights necessary to our system of ordered liberty," wrote Justice Samuel Alito for the five-four majority.
In 2008, the Court issued a landmark decision in the case District of Columbia v. Heller that established for the first time an individual's constitutional right to have a gun in his house, striking down Washington D.C.'s, strict handgun ban. The ruling, however, applied only to federal enclaves.
Today's ruling applies to states and cities, such as Chicago, that have similar bans.
"We hold that the Second Amendment right is fully applicable to the states," wrote Alito in the 45-page decision.
But Alito was also careful to note that in some instances the right to bear arms can be limited.
"It is important to keep in mind that Heller, while striking down a law that prohibited the possession of handguns in the home, recognized that the right to keep and bear arms is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose," he wrote.
"We made it clear in Heller that 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."
Still, Justice John Paul Stevens disagreed with the majority decision. He was joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor.
"The fact that the right to keep and bear arms appears in the Constitution should not obscure the novelty of the Court's decision to enforce that right against the States," wrote Stevens.
Justice Breyer, in a separate dissent, worried that today's decision will cause havoc in the Courts. "Consider," he wrote, "that countless gun regulations of many shapes and sizes are in place in every state and in many local communities. Does the right to possess weapons for self-defense extend outside the home? In the car to work? What sort of guns are necessary for self-defense?"
Otis McDonald, 76, brought the case to the Court. He feared for his life in his crime-saturated Chicago neighborhood and wanted his city's strict ban on handguns in the home overturned.
"Self defense in America has been validated today," McDonald said praising the court's decision. "Today the playing field will be level and I don't have to be concerned about the gang bangers in my neighborhood. They will now think twice. And I hope others in my position will be safer."
For nearly 30 years, Chicago banned possession of handguns and automatic weapons inside city limits, one of the most stringent gun laws in the country.
Chicago's Strict Handgun Ordinance Stemmed From Gang and Firearm Violence
"It makes me feel like the city cares more for the thugs than they do me, and I'm the one paying taxes," McDonald said of being barred from owning a gun in his own house.
It was in 1982 that Chicago imposed the strict gun ordinance to help combat rampant gang and firearm violence that plagued the city.
In court papers, lawyers for the city of Chicago pointed out that 402 of the 412 firearm homicides occurred with the use of handguns in 2008.
"Handguns are used to kill in the United States more than all other weapons, firearms and otherwise, combined," Chicago Corporation Counsel Mara S. Georges wrote.
She argued that the Court should leave it up to the states and cities to regulate handguns.
"The genius of our federal system ordinarily leaves this type of social problem to be worked out by state and local governments, without a nationally imposed solution excluding one choice or the other," Georges wrote.
Paul Helmke, of the Brady Campaign, called today's opinion "not a surprise" and took comfort in the fact that Alito ruled that the Second Amendment is not unlimited.