Evidence points to the latter.
Gun advocates have been looking forward to this ruling ever since 2008 when the Supreme Court struck down a similar law in Washington DC.
In that case, the court ruled for the first time that individuals have a right keep guns for self-defense and other purposes. Because the nation's capital is a federal enclave, that ruling applied only to federal laws.
The challenges to the Chicago area laws, which are strikingly similar to the Washington law, are part of an aggressive push by gun rights proponents in the courts and state legislatures.
Chicago is defending its gun laws at the high court. Mayor Richard Daley said a ruling against his city would spawn even more suits nationwide and lead to more gun violence.
"How many more of our citizens must needlessly die because guns are too easily available in our society?" Daley said at a Washington news conference last week that also included the parents of a Chicago teenager who was shot on a bus as he headed home from school.
Annette Nance-Holt said her only child, 16-year-old Blair Holt, shielded his friend when a gang member boarded a bus and began shooting at rival gang members.
"You might ask, 'What good is Chicago's handgun law if so many of our young people are still being shot?'" Nance-Holt said. "All I can say is, imagine how many more would be if the law were not there."
Gun rights advocates say such killings should serve as reminders that handgun bans and other gun laws do nothing to protect people who obey the law.
Indeed, 76-year-old Otis McDonald said he joined the suit in Chicago because he wants a handgun at home to protect himself from gangs.
The thrust of the legal arguments in the case is over how the Supreme Court might apply the Second Amendment to states and cities.
In earlier cases applying parts of the Bill of Rights to the states, the court has done so by using the due process clause of the 14th Amendment, passed in the wake of the Civil War to ensure the rights of newly freed slaves.
The court also has relied on that same clause — "no state shall deprive any person of life, liberty or property without due process of law" — in cases that established a woman's right to an abortion and knocked down state laws against interracial marriage and gay sex.
This is the approach the NRA favors.
But many conservative and legal scholars — as well as the Chicago challengers — want the court to employ another part of the 14th amendment, forbidding a state to make or enforce any law "which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States."
They argue this clause was intended as a broad guarantee of the civil rights of the former slaves, but that a Supreme Court decision in 1873 effectively blocked its use.
Breathing new life into the "privileges or immunities" clause might allow for new arguments to shore up other rights, including abortion and property rights, these scholars say.
This approach might enable challenges to arcane state laws that limit economic competition, said Clark M. Neily III of the public interest law firm Institute for Justice. He pointed to a Louisiana law that protects existing florists by requiring a license before someone can arrange or sell flowers. The licensing exam is graded by florists, he noted.
"No reasonable person thinks that law has a legitimate purpose," Neily said. But he said, "Right now, once you get a law like this on the books, it's almost impossible to get rid of."
The case is McDonald v. Chicago, 08-1521.