A right to a gun

By Jermaine A. Wyrick

The crux of the peace versus violence controversy focuses on gun control versus the right to own a handgun. In the watershed McDonald v. Chicago 2010 decision, the United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of the right to own a handgun. The court held the Second Amendment right to bear arms must be regarded as a substantive guarantee. The Constitution restrains state and local governments from restricting an individual's right to bear arms. The ruling overturned Chicago's law that banned handgun ownership.

Justice Samuel Alito, who wrote the majority opinion stated, the "Second Amendment right applies equally to the federal government and the states." The court held the Second Amendment right is "fundamental" to the American scheme of ordered liberty. Duncan v. Louisiana, 391 U.S. 145, 149 (1968) and "deeply rooted in this Nation's history and traditions." Washington v. Glucksberg, 521 U.S. 702, 721 (1997).

Justice Anthony Kennedy stated that "states have substantial latitude and ample authority to impose regulations." Justice Samuel Alito further stated with respect to current regulations, "We repeat those assurances here."

Neither this decision nor the 2008 decision posed a threat to long-standing restrictions on the sale of firearms to felons and mentally ill people, or to laws that bar guns from "sensitive" venues such as schools and courthouses. In addition, the decision still allows states to impose reasonable regulations, such as requiring handgun owners to take a safety course.

In a vehement dissent, Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, and John Paul Stevens disagreed with the high court's determination that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to gun ownership. Justice Stevens stated the decision "could prove far more destructive - quite literally- to our nation's communities and to our constitutional structure." Hence, one can reasonably infer that violence could increase in urban communities.

Prior to 2008, lawmakers in Washington, D.C., a federal city, required handgun owners to register weapons, submit to a multiple-choice test, fingerprinting, and a ballistics test. Owners were also required to demonstrate they had instruction on handling a gun and spent at least an hour on the firing range. In the 2008 District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. _____ case, the court struck down the District of Columbia's handgun ban and a trigger lock requirement for other guns. In Heller the court held the Second Amendment protects an individual's right to possess guns, at least for self-defense in the home. The court reasoned that self-defense is "highly valued." Furthermore in Heller, the court stated, "Individual self-defense is 'the central component' of the Second Amendment right." Moreover, the need for defense of self, family and property is most acute in the home."

Washington, D.C. prohibited carrying loaded weapons outside the home.

The McDonald decision will have implications for other states. For instance, Massachusetts has a state law that requires gun owners to lock weapons in their homes. Virginia has a law that limits handgun purchases to once per month. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the decision allows cities "to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and terrorists while at the same time respecting the constitutional right of law-abiding citizens."

Chicago vigorously defended their handgun ban laws in this case before the court. Chicago Mayor Richard Daley emphatically stated, "How many more of our citizens must needlessly die because guns are too easily available in our society?" Mayor Daley was accompanied at a news conference by the parents of a Chicago teenager who was shot on a bus as he headed home from school. The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence urged the court to afford state and local governments the ability to enact "the reasonable laws they desire and need to protect their families and communities from gun violence." Conversely, Justice Alito stated that the Second Amendment is fully binding on states and cities "limits (but by no means eliminates) their ability to devise solutions to social problems that suit local needs and values."

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Jermaine A. Wyrick is an attorney with the Law Offices of Jermaine Wyrick PLLC in Southfield. He can be reached at (313) 964-8950, or by e-mail at Attyjaw1@Ameritech.net.

Published: Fri, Jul 30, 2010