Chicago handgun ban faces SCOTUS scrutiny

March 2, 2010 5:15:24 PM PST
The United States Supreme Court may be ready to strike down Chicago's law that bans handguns.

Arguments on both sides were presented to the nation's highest court Tuesday in Washington. The final ruling will affect gun laws across the country.

"It's clear to me that this case is going to be tough for the City of Chicago," said Paul Helmke, Brady Center for Prevention of Gun Violence.

Even some gun control advocates think Chicago's nearly three-decade long ban on handguns may be about to fall, and from their comments Tuesday, it seems at least five of the justices see a right to bear arms with restrictions as national in scope, built around the individual and not the collective rights of a state militia.

"We're looking for some balance, we're looking for some flexibility and we're looking for choice, and we think choice should remain with state and local governments," said Benna Solomon, deputy Chicago corporation counsel.

Chicago argues that its handgun ban is based on over 200 years of law and that the second amendment is applied to federal law and that states and cities need the ability to draft gun laws based on local public health and safety concerns.

"How can you even imagine that law-abiding, elderly people like myself is going to be a danger to society?" said Otis McDonald.

A retired maintenance engineer from Morgan Park, McDonald is the lead plaintiff in the case to overturn Chicago's handgun ban. He was in court Tuesday, and heard several justices, including Anthony Kennedy, suggest in their questioning that the right to bear firearms is sufficiently fundamental, much like the first amendment.

"I have every confidence that the court will rule that this is a freedom for all the American people and not just those living in federal enclaves," said Wayne LaPierre, National Rifle Association executive vice president.

Still, when the court threw out the Washington, D.C. handgun ban two years ago, it did so saying that handguns ought to be available for a home owners' self-defense. Most believe that when the court decides McDonald versus the City of Chicago, there will be restrictions.

"I think once the court makes it clear that the core of the second amendment is just that gun in the home for self-defense and anything beyond gun in the home for self-defense is something that states and cities can regulate then I think we will have reasonable restrictions and we will be able to continue to do things to make our city safer," said Hemke.

The Supreme Court is deeply divided on this issue. There is every reason to believe that this decision will mirror the Washington, DC vote of 5-4, though there are constitutional issues, so it will be hard to predict when the Supreme Court renders its decision, probably sometime in June.

The case is McDonald v. Chicago, 08-1521.