The Supreme Court on Monday affirmed what most Americans have known all along – that individual Americans have the right to bear arms.
The 2nd Amendment in the plain language of the Constitution says, "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."
"We hold that the 2nd Amendment right is fully applicable to the states," wrote Justice Samuel A. Alito, who announced the decision for the majority. That view has been challenged in recent decades by liberal apologists and some municipal and state leaders who would have Americans believe otherwise.
The court’s 5-4 decision in McDonald v. Chicago – a consolidation of three cases brought by four Chicago residents; the National Rifle Association (NRA) and two Oak Park residents; and a challenge to Chicago ordinances – overturns Chicago and Oak Park, Ill., handgun-ownership bans, and affirms that the right to bear arms is guaranteed by the 2nd and 14th Amendments.
The court two years earlier issue a narrower decision in District of Columbia v. Heller overturning the Washington, D.C., gun ban. The 14th Amendment, was ratified July 8, 1878, to protect the rights of African-Americans after the civil war when the Freedmen’s Bureau Act and the Civil Rights Act (both of 1866) were found to be inadequate for that purpose. (Both guaranteed the right to bear arms.)
The passage applicable to McDonald in the 14th Amendment says, "No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."
The McDonald decision said: "Evidence from the period immediately following the ratification of the 14th Amendment only confirms that the right to keep and bear arms was considered fundamental."
The historical background and the rationale used in Heller featured largely in yesterday’s 214-page decision (including dissenting arguments).
It’s not just about militias. "In Heller, we recognized that the codification of this right [to bear arms] was prompted by fear that the federal government would disarm and thus disable the militias, but we rejected the suggestion that the right was valued only as a means of preserving the militias," the court said.
"For too long, Americans living in certain parts of the United States have been prevented by local governments from exercising their right to keep and bear arms," Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), chairman of the Republican Study Group, a caucus of conservative House Republicans, said yesterday. "Thankfully, the Supreme Court has correctly reaffirmed that the 2nd Amendment applies in every corner of the country."
Friends of the court briefs were submitted by 58 members of the Senate and 251 members of the House urging the court to hold that the right to keep and bear arms is fundamental.
While many groups and individuals celebrated the decision, just as many were cautious about the extent of the decision’s meaning for the future.
"The small margin by which this decision was reached also highlights the need for Supreme Court justices who fully appreciate the basic rights ensured by the Constitution," Price said. "Solicitor General Elena Kagan’s previous work to push the Clinton Administration’s anti-2nd Amendment agenda does not inspire confidence that she would use a seat on our highest court to protect the rights of the American people."
John R. Lott, Jr., author of More Guns, Less Crime, cautioned against the appointment of Kagan to the Supreme Court given the number of court cases that will surely follow McDonald. Lott called the McDonald decision a victory, but characterized it as a very narrow one. "It’s slightly better than Heller," he said, and applies to the states, "but Chicago has already gone into a post-Heller mode."
Lott – whose meticulous, detailed and peer-reviewed work has convincingly demonstrated that armed citizens deter violent crime – highlights some of the hurdles that will need to be overcome in Chicago for citizens there to keep and bear arms:
. $550 registration fees for handguns
. Successful completion of two written tests
. A ban on semi-automatic handguns, "because anything with a clip is classified as a machine gun"
The result of such restrictions, he says, is that only the wealthiest citizens will be able to carry handguns.
Lott’s work over the last decade has shown that where Americans are not prohibited from carrying concealed weapons, violent crime rates decrease significantly. The Supreme Court’s majority made similar observations.
Chicago and Oak Park’s gun bans have left their citizens vulnerable to criminals, the court acknowledged, and the "handgun murder rate has actually increased since the ban was enacted.Chicago residents now face one of the highest murder rates in the country and rates of other violent crimes that exceed the average in comparable cities."
NRA Executive VP Wayne LaPierre on Monday said now that the Supreme Court has decided that "the 2nd Amendment is an individual freedom for all, it "must have meaning. This decision must provide relief to law-abiding citizens who are deprived of their 2nd Amendment rights.
"I’m a practical guy. I don’t want to win on philosophy and lose on freedom. The end question is, can law-abiding men and women go out and buy and own a firearm? Today the Supreme Court said yes – anywhere they live," he said."
Chief Justice John G. Roberts, and Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy, and Clarence Thomas joined Alito in the majority. Justices Sotomayor, Stephen Breyer, John Paul Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissented.