The Supreme Court’s 5-to-4 decision on June 28 in McDonald v. Chicago overturned that city’s strict ban on handgun ownership. The ruling means that a homeowner may keep a handgun for self-defense. It marks a setback for gun control advocates and a victory for gun-rights proponents who claim that guns in the home make people safer. But the National Institute of Justice says the opposite, that keeping a gun in the home is associated with an increased risk of violent death by suicide or homicide and offers little protection from homicide at the hands of an intruder.
Unlike its 2008 ruling in Heller v. District of Columbia, which applied only to federal enclaves like the District, the court’s current decision applies in all states and localities. But the court’s recent ruling notes that its decision does not necessarily strike down all local firearms regulations around the nation. Writing for the majority in the recent ruling, Justice Samuel Alito observed that the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms is not “a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever for whatsoever purpose,” nor was the court questioning regulations such as those that prevent the mentally ill and felons from having guns. The 14th Amendment also entered into the decision, when Justice Alito wrote that the court’s decision stemmed partly from the amendment, whose framers wanted to make sure that African Americans in the South could protect themselves from white supremacists.
Responding to the court’s decision, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley proposed alternative restrictions that he hopes will pass muster. In addition to requiring a firearms safety class and an exam, Daley’s proposal bans gun shops in Chicago. It also prohibits gun owners from stepping outside their homes, even onto their own porch with a handgun. In Chicago, on the third weekend of this past June, the very month of the Supreme Court’s decision, 50 people were shot; and seven of them died. Nationwide each year an average of 30,000 people die in gun violence, suicide and mass killings.
But Chicago’s new ordinance is already facing a lawsuit. The Illinois Association of Firearms Retailers has filed suit, alleging that the ordinance infringes on the residents’ constitutional right to bear arms. The months and years ahead will bring many such challenges to local and state laws by gun-rights activists intent on overturning anti-gun ordinances. Kristen Rand, legislative director of the Violence Policy Center, has predicted that the litigation will “force cities, counties and states to expend scarce resources to defend longstanding, effective public safety laws.” But she told America that many of the challenges will probably withstand judicial scrutiny. The reconstituted gun laws in the District of Columbia—close to what they were before the Heller case—now have restrictive licensing requirements “that discourage people from choosing to bring a gun into their home, and this has meant that comparatively few there have legally obtained handguns.” The U.S. District Court has upheld the new ordinance.
New York City’s stringent gun laws are almost sure to be challenged, as are New Jersey’s. The latter approved a law last year that prohibits individuals from purchasing more than one gun every 30 days. The New Jersey law also requires a prospective purchaser to obtain a police-issued permit for each handgun purchased and to undergo fingerprinting and background checks. On the West coast, California also expects challenges by gun-rights groups. It has long had statewide restrictions on the sale and possession of military-style automatic weapons. Los Angeles’ limits are among the most stringent: they ban the sale or transfer of easily concealed weapons and cheap handguns. Overall, the state’s strict laws have proven successful. Since 1993, the mortality rate from gun-related deaths there has fallen 20 percent more than in the rest of the nation.
Now, gun groups are intent on challenging restrictive laws around the nation and on expanding so-called open-carry and concealed weapons initiatives. The governor of Louisiana has signed into law a provision that allows people to carry handguns into churches. Virginia permits gun owners to carry their weapons into establishments that serve liquor. The gun violence prevention community is working to prevent such laws and to counter the gun lobby’s illusory message that more guns make us safer. The Centers for Disease Control has reported that American children age 14 and under are 16 times more likely than children in other industrialized nations to be murdered with a gun and 11 times more likely to commit suicide with a gun. Statistics like these suggest the need for more and better, rather than fewer and weaker, gun control laws.