Today, in the landmark decision of McDonald v. Chicago, the United States Supreme Court held that the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms now applies against state and local governments, in addition to the federal government. If you want to see the opinion, here it is. Don’t accidentally hit print; the thing is 214 pages long. It was a ”5-4″ decision, meaning five justices voted in favor, and four against.
This decision is another big victory for gun owners. The first came in 2008, and I previously posted on that decision here. The first decision basically resolved the arguments that had been going on forever about whether the Second Amendment really gave an individual the right to keep and bear arms. The Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that ”the Second Amendment protects a personal right to keep and bear arms for lawful purposes, most notably for self-defense within the home,” and that the federal government could not make laws that infringe upon that right.
The decision today was a natural follow-up to the first decision. Today’s ruling extended the Court’s 2008 ruling to state and local governments as well. Here is a key quote from today’s opinion, penned by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., that lays out the reasoning:
In Heller, we held that the Second Amendment protects the right to possess a handgun in the home for the purpose of self-defense. Unless considerations of stare decisis counsel otherwise, a provision of the Bill of Rights that protects a right that is fundamental from an American perspective applies equally to the Federal Government and the States. . . . We therefore hold that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment incorporates the Second Amendment right recognized in Heller. The judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings.
I support this decision, and the reasoning behind it, if for no other reason than it is consistent. Most of the other rights have already been incorporated against the states. So once this right was finally found to be an individual right, it made sense to apply it to the states as well as the federal government.
On an unrelated note, Justice John Paul Stevens, 90, retired today, having served on the Supreme Court for an astonishing 35 years. He was one of the most liberal Justices on the Court, and I personally didn’t see it his way on a number of things, but he wrote in a letter to his colleagues that “if I have overstayed my welcome, it is because this is such a unique and wonderful job.” A class act, and I wish him well.
So practically, what does this mean? Does this mean that if you are a convicted felon you can head out to Bass Pro, Surplus City, or Vann’s and stock up? No it does not.
States and cities have a variety of laws restricting gun ownership, such as requiring mental health background checks or waiting periods before gun purchases. These restrictions, which some will argue are “reasonable,” may now have to be challenged to to define the now-different boundaries of gun ownership and government regulation. But the Supreme Court made it clear in the 2008 Heller decision that long-standing reasonable restrictions on gun ownership, such as possession by felons, mentally ill persons, and persons convicted of domestic violence, as well as geographic restrictions, such as prohibitions against guns in schools, courthouses, etc., are still intact.
You can still get into trouble in the following ways, which are (currently) valid restrictions on the possession and use of firearms:
- Carrying a concealed weapon
- Assault with a deadly weapon
- Possession of an unregistered gun
- Brandishing a firearm
- Unlicensed firearms
- Felon in possession
- Possession by a minor
- Unlawful discharge of a weapon
- Unlawful sale of firearms
- Carrying a concealed and loaded firearm in a vehicle
- Federal firearms violations, including possession of a machine gun or silencer
- Possession of assault weapons