After Supreme Court ruling, will gun-control laws be under siege?

A Supreme Court decision Monday threw doubt on a Chicago handgun ban. The ruling could lead to a spate of legal challenges against gun-control laws nationwide.

By MARK GUARINO | Staff Writer Christian Science Monitor
posted June 28, 2010 at 6:31 pm EDT

Chicago — Gun-rights advocates say that a US Supreme Court ruling today will embolden them to challenge gun-control laws in cities across the country.

The ruling says that the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms applies to every jurisdiction in the country – throwing doubt on a Chicago law that bans handguns in the home.

But lessons from Washington, which had a similar law declared unconstitutional in 2008, suggest that if tough gun-control laws are rewritten carefully, they can survive constitutional scrutiny.

In both the Chicago and Washington cases, the Supreme Court rulings focused on the right to possess a handgun in the home for self-defense. But the rulings also made it clear that the court would not stand in the way of reasonable local gun laws outside the home.

After their gun ban was struck down, Washington lawmakers adopted tougher requirements for anyone seeking a gun license, including a four-hour class on firearm safety and passing an exam. It also enacted an assault-weapons ban and required registration of all firearms in the home.

These narrower gun laws have been consistently upheld despite numerous attempts to overturn them.

What next for Chicago?

In all likelihood, Chicago will follow Washington by introducing legislation that increases the restrictions on gun ownership – including some of the same restrictions put in place by Washington. In a press conference Monday, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley said that the city’s legal counsel was currently redrafting the handgun ordinance “in a reasonable and responsible way to protect Second Amendment rights and protect Chicagoans from gun violence.”

Chicago also has the option of creating a database of all guns sold in the city, which would require owners to bring in their guns for test firing by police. The ballistics information would then be stored in a database for use in the event that the gun was ever used in a crime.

“There’s a variety of laws short of handgun bans that could be adopted, and we would say are legally defensible,” says Juliet Leftwich of Legal Community Against Violence, a San Francisco-based law center advocating gun-violence prevention.

But the more cities pursue these types of laws, the more they will encourage gun-rights advocates to seek to strike them down, experts say.

Monday’s ruling “opens up any state or local gun laws that go too far – that are not truly effective in terms of public safety and are designed to discourage gun ownership,” says Alan Gura, a lawyer who won the Washington case and represented the plaintiffs who challenged Chicago’s handgun ban.

“Some laws will be in trouble and some will survive,” Mr. Gura says.

Gun-rights advocates are expected to track Chicago’s next steps. If the city “takes an obstructionist approach to resist the [Supreme Court] opinion, they’re going to find out this will be a very expensive and lengthy process,” says Gura.

“They need to come to terms with reality. People have a meaningful constitutional right and [the city] needs to respect that and move on,” he says.

Chicago mayor ‘never giving up’

Yet if laws are written the right way, gun-control advocates are confident that they will withstand legal challenges. “All of those challenges should fail,” says Jonathan Lowy of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence in Washington.

What works, he says, are “strong, common sense gun laws allowing law-abiding people guns in their home for self-defense.” The Second Amendment does not prohibit laws that were drafted to prohibit gun trafficking, he adds.

For his part, Mayor Daley said Monday that he was “never giving up” in this particular fight. He likened the National Rife Association to embattled oil giant BP: “If you think BP is tough to tackle, this is tough to tackle.”

He added: “They are stronger than Obama, Daley. They can’t be sued. They are the power of America.… They give a lot of money to politicians.”

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