The Supreme Court hears arguments Tuesday that could result in striking down a handgun ban in Chicago and other places. But beyond that, the court must clarify how fundamental gun rights are. They shouldn't be viewed as equal to free-speech rights.
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court hears arguments in one of the most consequential cases of its term: Must Chicago and other locales drop their ban on handguns just as the justices forced Washington, D.C., to do two years ago?
If the high court decides yes, then state and local gun regulations across the nation could be shot full of holes. That’s why it’s so important for the justices to clarify not only where the “right to keep and bear arms” applies jurisdictionally, but how fundamental a right it is.
Is the Second Amendment right akin to First Amendment rights to free speech and the free practice of religion, which carry few restrictions? Or is it somehow a lesser right, subject to greater regulation?
This question is related to the case at hand – McDonald v. the City of Chicago – but it is not the issue immediately before the justices. What the plaintiff in the Chicago case wants to know is whether people living outside federal enclaves such as Washington, D.C., also have the individual right to own a gun for self-defense.
In the 2008 landmark case of the District of Columbia v. Heller, the justices ruled for the first time that gun ownership is an individual right – not just a right for militias. They overthrew Washington’s handgun ban, which was similar to Chicago’s, and allowed Richard Heller to have a gun in his home for self-defense. But the justices didn’t say whether this right extends beyond federal jurisdictions. Gun-rights supporters maintain that gun rights, like others in the Bill of Rights, must extend to the states.