Supreme Court applies 2nd amendment to state laws

On the heels of the controversial D.C. v. Heller decision which overturned Washington D.C’s handgun ban, the Supreme Court has gone further in its support for the second amendment with the McDonald v. Chicago ruling. Both rulings held that the second amendment applies both at the federal and state level.

Which means that, an individual’s right to keep handguns at home for self-defense is protected under the constitution. Justice Alito in his majority opinion, wrote that laws which currently prohibit felons or the mentally ill from owning handguns and others which allow regulation of the sale of guns are still permissible. However, an outright ban coming from a city or state government seems to be the line.

The court was split 5-4 with Alito, Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, and Thomas in favor and Stevens, Breyer, Ginsburg and Sotomayor against. Justice Stevens wrote a 60 page dissenting opinion arguing for, among other things, judicial restraint. The Court chose to incorporate the 2nd Amendment through the due process clause of the 14th Amendment. However, this decision wasn’t with out some dissent even on the majority – Justice Thomas argued in his concurring opinion that incorporation should be under the privileges and immunities clause instead.

The potential effect these rulings will have on state and local gun laws could be significant. While the decision includes several outs to maintain laws that keep guns away from sensitive areas and out of the hands of convicts, it may usher in softer rules in some of the nation’s most high crime areas. The ruling did not include any tests for what constitutes “reasonable” regulations going forward. Justice Stevens noted this in his dissenting opinion saying that the decision will leave the test to, “federal courts in fine-grained determinations about which state and local regulations comport with the Heller right…”

Some states go further than the caveats outlined by Justice Alito, such as prohibiting individuals from possessing handguns if they’ve been charged with crimes other than felonies, such as domestic violence. And while the court does not support an unlimited right to bear arms, without a clear test these laws may come under scrutiny.

Based on the statements coming from Governors’ across the country, states seem to be having predictable reactions. Those with more broad based support for gun ownership are welcoming the ruling while states with more restrictive gun laws have concerns. Court analysts and observers expect that this decision will open the floodgates when it comes to firearms related litigation. There may also be implications for search and seizure laws.

The complete case is available here.

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