The Supreme Court on Tuesday signaled its willingness to make gun ownership a national right.
In an hour of arguments on a case that could overturn a 28-year ban on handguns in the city of Chicago, the justices seemed to suggest it was time to affirm the right to bear arms granted by the Second Amendment apply not only to the federal government, but to states and municipalities as well.
In their questioning of lawyers for the city and for a group of citizens challenging the Chicago ban, the justices echoed some of the same thinking that they applied in the landmark District of Columbia v. Heller case that overturned the capitol city’s handgun ban and recognized the right to possess a gun in the home for self defense.
On Tuesday, Chief Judge John Roberts called gun ownership an "extremely important" right in the Constitution. Justice Anthony Kennedy described it as being "fundamental in character," like the right of free speech.
Chicago’s attorneys argued that the city has the right to make laws that protect it’s citizens.
"The question is why should that police power be taken from local governments, not why should we have it…we’ve had it all along,” said deputy corporation counsel Benna Solomon.
But constitutional experts say this is a battle that the court has struggled with since the Civil War: Are the protections of the Bill of Rights applicable to the states and municipalities as well?
"I think it’s very likely the court is going to answer that question: yes it does," said Sheldon Nahmod, a constitutional scholar and professor at Kent College of Law. "The Second Amendment, like so many other constitutional rights, is not an absolute right, Nahmod cautions, “there are all kinds of restrictions and qualifications."
That means Chicago would have to go back and come up with new ways to impliment what Mayor Richard Daley has called "common sense gun laws."
A court ruling against Chicago could have national repercussions, argued Paul Helmke, the director of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
"It will make it easier for criminal defendants to argue that they should get off the hook," he says. "It will also make it easier to convince elected officials they should be loosening the few (gun control) laws that are on the books"
Among those bringing the case to the Supreme Court is Morgan Park resident Otis McDonald. On the steps of the high court, even he applauded the court’s comments.
"How can you even imagine that law-abiding, elderly people like myself are going to be a danger to society when it’s the young people with the guns doing all the shooting and killing and stuff," he said.
The Supreme Court is expected to issue its ruling sometime in June.