Monday, June 28, 2010

Supreme Court Strikes Down Chicago Handgun Ban

CNN: High Court Strikes Down Chicago Handgun Ban

In another dramatic victory for firearm owners, the Supreme Court has ruled unconstitutional Chicago, Illinois', 28-year-old strict ban on handgun ownership, a potentially far-reaching case over the ability of state and local governments to enforce limits on weapons.

A 5-4 conservative majority of justices on Monday reiterated its 2-year-old conclusion that the Constitution gives individuals equal or greater power than states on the issue of possession of certain firearms for self-protection.

"It cannot be doubted that the right to bear arms was regarded as a substantive guarantee, not a prohibition that could be ignored so long as states legislated in an evenhanded manner," wrote Justice Samuel Alito.

While encouraging, it isn't a complete victory. The standard used to reach this decision was not taken from the Privileges and Immunities clause of the constitution, which would have made state governments as beholden to the second amendment as the federal government, but from the Due Process clause, which simply means that the states cannot presumptively declare that a person cannot own a handgun, with no due process given.

The difference between the two standards is apparent if we use an analogy and change the amendment in question from the second to the first. Imagine Chicago had a law saying that you couldn't criticize any elected city official at any time. Also imagine, that when you went to the supreme court and challenged this law under the first amendment, they said "The first amendment really only applies to the federal government, and not to state and local government. However, we will limit them and say they can only restrict the speech of people through due process instead."

Sure, it's nice that they slapped down an obviously unconstitutional law, but at the same time they left the path wide open for other "lesser" restrictions of free speech. Instead of the "no one can ever criticize an elected city official" law, you get laws like "No convicted felon can ever criticize an elected city official" or "No one is permitted to criticize a city official in public" or "No one is permitted to use the following words when discussing a city official" and so on.

Better? yes. Fixed? Not by a long shot.

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