The Supreme Court says it will take up a challenge to Chicago’s ban on handguns, opening the way for a ruling that could set off a vigorous new campaign to roll back state and local gun controls across the nation.
Victory for gun-rights proponents in the Chicago case is considered likely, even by supporters of gun control, in the latest battle in the nation’s long and often bitter dispute over the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms. A ruling against the city’s outright ban could lead to legal challenges to less-restrictive laws across the country that limit who can own guns, whether firearms must be registered and how they should be stored.
The case is to be argued early next year.
Last year, the justices struck down a prohibition on handguns in the District of Columbia, a city with unique federal status, as a violation of the Second Amendment. Now the court will decide whether that ruling should apply to local and state laws as well.
The court has previously said that most, but not all, rights laid out in the Constitution’s Bill of Rights serve as checks on state as well as federal restrictions. Separately, 44 state constitutions already enshrine gun rights.
Though faced with potential limits from the high court on their ability to enact laws and regulations in this area, 34 states weighed in on the gun- rights side before the justices agreed to take the case Wednesday, an indication of the enduring strength of the National Rifle Association and its allies.
Outright handgun bans appear to be limited to Chicago and suburban Oak Park, Ill. But a ruling against those ordinances probably would “open up all the gun regulations in the country to constitutional scrutiny, of which there are quite a few,” said Mark Tushnet, a Harvard Law School professor whose recent book “Out of Range” explores the often bitter national debate over guns.
Already, Alan Gura, who led the legal challenge to the Washington law and represents the plaintiff in Chicago, is suing to overturn the District of Columbia’s prohibition on carrying firearms outside a person’s home. Illinois and Wisconsin have similar restrictions.
In voiding Washington’s handgun ban last year, Justice Antonin Scalia suggested that gun rights, like the right to speech, are limited and that many gun control measures could remain in place.
Ultimately, said Tushnet, the court will have to decide, possibly restriction by restriction, which limits are reasonable.
“It’s very hard to know where this court would draw the line between reasonable and unreasonable,” he said.
NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre said he hopes the court rules that “core fundamental freedoms like speech, religion and, we believe, the right to keep and bear arms are intended to apply to every individual in the country.”
The case is McDonald v. Chicago, 08-1521.