McDonald v. City of Chicago ... will be argued before the Supreme Court on Tuesday and could reshape firearms regulations nationwide.
The case marks the second round of high-stakes litigation over the breadth of the Second Amendment — and will likely have wider impact nationwide than the first. In June 2008, the justices struck down a Washington, D.C., handgun ban and declared for the first time that the Second Amendment covers an individual right to keep and bear arms.
The new question is whether the 2008 decision also applies to cities and states, or only to laws in the federal government and its enclaves, such as Washington. It sets up another major constitutional question with ramifications for scores of mostly urban gun regulations.
Chicago defends the 1982 law that stops McDonald and other residents from keeping handguns in their homes, arguing that firearms violence is so serious that the court should not extend the 2008 landmark ruling to states.
The overriding question in the Chicago case: Does the Second Amendment grant a fundamental right comparable to, say, the First Amendment's guarantee of free speech and the Fourth Amendment's shield against unreasonable searches and seizures? Or, is the Second Amendment in a class of its own because it involves a right to possess a weapon designed to kill or cause injury?
Lower U.S. courts rejected the challenge and sided with Chicago.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, which covers Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin, stressed that the Supreme Court held more than a century ago that the Second Amendment applies only to the federal government. The appeals court said the 2008 Supreme Court ruling did not change that.
Among the groups backing McDonald and the other residents is the NRA, which won time to argue separately before the justices on the gun rights side.
Siding with Chicago are three states with populous urban centers: Illinois, Maryland and New Jersey. They contend that if McDonald wins, "nearly every firearms law will become the subject of a constitutional challenge, and even in cases where the law ultimately survives, its defense will be costly and time-consuming."
On the other side, Texas leads 38 states in saying the Second Amendment should apply beyond Washington. They note that 44 state constitutions include a right to keep and bear arms.
McDonald v. City of Chicago is shaping up to be one of the most consequential cases of the term.
The court's decision in Heller, which reinforced the popular notion in American culture of an individual right to bear arms, was decided on an ideologically split vote that has become a defining feature of the current bench under Chief Justice John Roberts.
About the time that case was argued, a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll showed that nearly three out of four Americans believed the Second Amendment covered an individual right to own a firearm.
Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the majority and was joined by fellow conservatives Roberts, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito. Liberals John Paul Stevens, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer dissented.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor succeeded Souter in 2009. Earlier that year, Sotomayor, a judge on the New York-based U.S. appeals court, had been part of a three-judge panel that found the Second Amendment did not apply to the states.
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