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Supreme Court: Second Amendment rights apply across US

The US Supreme Court on Monday ruled that the Second Amendment's right to bear arms applies to every jurisdiction in the nation. It places in doubt the constitutionality of Chicago's handgun ban.

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“The right to keep and bear arms was considered no less fundamental by those who drafted and ratified the Bill of Rights,” Alito said.

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In a dissent, Justice John Paul Stevens said the majority opinion overturned more than a century of Supreme Court precedent. “Although the court’s decision in this case might be seen as a mere adjunct to its decision in Heller, the consequences could prove far more destructive – quite literally – to our nation’s communities and to our constitutional structure,” he said.

“Today’s ruling marks a dramatic change in our law,” he said. “I would proceed more cautiously.”

Chicago's handgun ban on tenuous ground

The decision sends the case back to the Seventh US Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago to reconsider the constitutionality of that city’s handgun ban. In effect, the appeals court judges must apply the same test the high court used to invalidate Washington, D.C.’s handgun ban.

Most legal analysts expect Chicago’s ban to be struck down.

The next major issue will be what legal standard lower court judges should apply when assessing whether a particular gun-control measure violates the Second Amendment.

A plurality of justices offered some guidance. “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,” Alito 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,’ ” he said.

“We repeat those assurances here,” Alito said. “Despite municipal respondents’ doomsday proclamations, incorporation does not imperil every law regulating firearms.”

'Due process' is basis of majority decision

In extending the Second Amendment to cities and states, the justices declined an invitation by gun rights lawyers to overrule prior legal precedents dating to 1873, 1876, and 1886.

Lawyers for the Second Amendment Foundation had asked the justices to consider relying on the privileges and immunities clause of the 14th Amendment. But that part of the high court’s jurisprudence has remained largely dormant since the 1800s and would have required the court to announce a major shift in the law.

Only one justice, Clarence Thomas, embraced this approach. Nonetheless, Justice Thomas joined the majority in most of its decision and concurred in the result.