WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court held Monday that Americans have the right to own a gun for self-defense anywhere they live, advancing a recent trend by the John Roberts-led bench to embrace gun rights.
By a 5-4 vote, the justices cast doubt on handgun bans in the Chicago area, but signaled that some limitations on the Constitution’s “right to keep and bear arms” could survive legal challenges.
Justice Samuel Alito, writing for the court, said that the Second Amendment right “applies equally to the federal government and the states.”
The court was split along familiar ideological lines, with five conservative-moderate justices in favor of gun rights and four liberals opposed. Chief Justice Roberts voted with the majority.
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Two years ago, the court declared that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to possess guns, at least for purposes of self-defense in the home.
That ruling applied only to federal laws. It struck down a ban on handguns and a trigger lock requirement for other guns in the District of Columbia, a federal city with unique legal standing. At the same time, the court was careful not to cast doubt on other regulations of firearms here.
As expected, midstate businesses with an interest in the Supreme Court ruling praised the decision.
“My personal stance is that I follow the Constitution,” said Mark Mann, owner of The Rifleman gun shop in Macon. “The Constitution and the amendments thereof state that you have these inalienable rights.”
Paul King, general manager of Chuck’s Gun and Pawn Shop in Warner Robins, said he followed the case through the National Rifle Association’s magazines, letters, and e-mails with updates on legislative and court battles. “I wasn’t crazy about how the ruling went down — a 5-4 split — but I’ll take it,” said King, who is a member of the NRA.
“We try to pay pretty close attention” to gun laws, King said. “It’s our livelihood,”
Local opponents of the Supreme Court ruling were more difficult to find. A spokesman for the Democratic Party in Georgia declined to comment on the subject.
“I certainly support the Second Amendment and all the amendments as well,” said Amy Morton, an active member in the Bibb County Democratic Party, “but there has to be an element of reason to this.”
Morton said her father taught her how to shoot a .22 caliber pistol, but “he also taught me not to bring it to church.”
The gun issue divide is illustrated by two groups calling themselves “Georgians for Gun Safety.” One group advocates for tighter gun control laws. The other is for safer gun use and has links to the NRA on its Web site.
Gun rights proponents almost immediately filed a federal lawsuit Monday challenging gun control laws in Chicago and its suburb of Oak Park, Ill., where handguns have been banned for nearly 30 years. The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence says those laws appear to be the last two remaining outright bans.
Lower federal courts upheld the two laws, noting that judges on those benches were bound by Supreme Court precedent and that it would be up to the high court justices to ultimately rule on the true reach of the Second Amendment.
The Supreme Court already has said that most of the guarantees in the Bill of Rights serve as a check on state and local, as well as federal, laws.
Monday’s decision did not explicitly strike down the Chicago area laws. Instead, it ordered a federal appeals court to reconsider its ruling. But it left little doubt that the statutes eventually would fall.
Still, Alito noted that the declaration that the Second Amendment is fully binding on states and cities “limits (but by no means eliminates) their ability to devise solutions to social problems that suit local needs and values.”
Justices John Paul Stevens and Stephen Breyer, joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor, each wrote a dissent. Stevens, in his final day on the bench after more than 34 years, said that unlike the Washington case, Monday’s decision “could prove far more destructive — quite literally — to our nation’s communities and to our constitutional structure.”