In one of the most closely watched cases of the year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled this morning, in a fractured, 5-4 decision, that the 2nd Amendment right to bear arms extends to the states and to local governments, as other amendments in the Bill of Rights do.
Two years ago, in another 5-4 decision reflecting the same split, the court declared the right to bear arms an individual, rather than collective, right, overturning a century-old interpretation of the amendment in an opinion by Justice Antonin Scalia. Today’s opinion was written by Justice Samuel Alito, the youngest member of the court. (Read the full ruling here.)
The ruling will not necessarily have significant implications on state and local gun regulations, even though those regulations must comply with the court’s new interpretation. Since 2008, lower federal courts have decided more than 80 gun-rights cases in light of Scalia’s opinion, upholding numerous laws restricting gun ownership. The Scalia opinion did not forbid gun regulation anymore than numerous First Amendment rulings forbid regulating free speech.
“So far, Heller is firing blanks,” Adam Liptak wrote in The Times in reference to District of Columbia v. Heller, the 2008 decision. “The courts have upheld federal laws banning gun ownership by people convicted of felonies and some misdemeanors, by illegal immigrants and by drug addicts. They have upheld laws banning machine guns and sawed-off shotguns. They have upheld laws making it illegal to carry guns near schools or in post offices. And they have upheld laws concerning concealed and unregistered weapons.”
That’s not to say that today’s decision adds clarity to Second Amendment law at the state and local levels. “Quite to the contrary,” Justice John Paul Stevens wrote in his dissent Monday, “today’s decision invites an avalanche of litigation that could mire the federal courts in fine-grained determinations about which state and local regulations comport with the Heller right—the precise contours of which are far from pellucid—under a standard of review we have not even established.”
In July 2009, the U.S. Senate defeated a measure that would have allowed gun owners with a concealed weapon permit in, say, Florida, to carry a concealed weapon in another state.