Handgun Bans Back in the Spotlight

Bloggers debate the far-reaching implications of the Supreme Court's decision to hear McDonald v. Chicago

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On Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court announced its decision to hear a challenge to a Chicago handgun ban. If the ban is struck down, as a similar law was in Washington D.C., the case could lay the groundwork for rolling back local gun restrictions across the country in what would be a major victory for guns rights advocates. With Justice Sotomayor newly seated on the bench, commentators are arguing over where she will fall, and the direction the gun rights debate will take.

  • Puts Focus on Second Amendment  "[L]ooks like this Supreme Court was serious," says Reason Magazine's Brian Doherty, "[w]hen they decided to actually start thinking about the Second Amendment again after decades of neglect." The decision to hear McDonald v. Chicago comes "hot on the heels" of another Second Amendment case, District of Columbia v. Heller, in 2008.
  • Puts Focus on the Fourteenth Amendment? And the Nineteenth Century?  Why is David Kopel over at The Volokh Conspiracy busy advising readers which scholar to read "[f]or 19th century history"? Well, as the Ammoland blog argues, the Seventh Circuit court that upheld the Chicago ban, ruling "that the Second Amendment does not apply to state and local governments ... incorrectly claimed it was bound by precedent from 19th century Supreme Court decisions in failing to incorporate the Second Amendment." In fact, "[m]any legal scholars believe that the Seventh Circuit should have followed the lead of [an] earlier ... decision ... which found that those cases don’t prevent the Second Amendment from applying to the states through the Due Process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment."
  • Puts Focus on Sotomayor  At Sotomayor's Senate hearing, writes Red State's Curt Levey, she defended what some saw as an insufficiently pro-gun rights record "by saying that her hands were tied by old Supreme Court precedent. Now that she’s on the High Court," Levey continues, "her hands are no longer tied. She will have a lot of explaining to do if she decides in McDonald that the right to keep and bear arms is the only significant right in the Bill of Rights that doesn’t apply to the states."
  • Puts Focus on Gun Owners Levey also points out that the court's decision to hear this case "ensures that gun owners will continue to play a big role in Supreme Court confirmations."
If the McDonald decision recognizes an individual Second Amendment right at that level, the number of gun rights cases--and thus the importance of the judges issue to gun owners--will explode. Should the Supreme Court rule the other way in McDonald, the anger of gun owners will be a force to reckon with every time there’s a Supreme Court nomination.
  • Conservative Mad Dash  Newsweek's Howard Fineman sees this latest move as more judicial activism from Chief Justice John Roberts, leading court conservatives on a desperate charge:
they are going to seek the most sweeping rulings they can manage to get on what they regard as their key Bill of Rights issues--gun rights, freedom of the marketplace from federal regulation, corporate rights to free speech and official public religious expression ... before the arrival of a moment they dread fear: when President Barack Obama get's the chance to nominate an ideological tide-changing justice. ... A lawyer I know who knows the Supreme Court and its habits as well as anyone in Washington (but who can't speak on the record because he practices before the court) agrees.

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