A Non-Partisan Resource for Journalists

McDonald v. City of Chicago, Illinois

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A Journalists’ Guide to Heller from David Kopel: Journalist-guide-to-Heller-and-McDonald

This July 2010 Supreme Court decision was a blockbuster.  It took the Heller decision of 2008, which applied only to Washington D.C. and spread the ruling to the rest of the country. (Read the decision)

Until this ruling, Chicago effectively banned residential handgun ownership by private citizens.

As the Washington Post explained,

The 5 to 4 decision does not strike down any gun-control laws, nor does it elaborate on what kind of laws would offend the Constitution. One justice predicted that an “avalanche” of lawsuits would be filed across the country asking federal judges to define the boundaries of gun ownership and government regulation.

But Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., who wrote the opinion for the court’s dominant conservatives, said: “It is clear that the Framers . . . counted the right to keep and bear arms among those fundamental rights necessary to our system of ordered liberty.”

At the time of the ruling, Chicago had the most restrictive handgun law in the country. The mayor said while the ruling didn’t overturn the city’s gun laws, the ruling effectively made the laws unenforceable.

The Cornell Law School analysis said:

In McDonald v. Chicago,8  a plurality of the Court, overturning prior precedent, found that the Second Amendment is incorporated through the Fourteenth Amendment and is thus enforceable against the states.9 Relevant to this question, the Court examined whether the right to keep and bear arms is “fundamental to our scheme of ordered liberty”10 or “deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition.”11 The Court, relying on historical analysis set forth previously in Heller, noted the English common law roots of the right to keep arms for self-defense12 and the importance of the right to the American colonies, the drafters of the Constitution. and the states as a bulwark against over-reaching federal authority.13 Noting that by the 1850s the perceived threat that the National Government would disarm the citizens had largely faded, the Court suggested that the right to keep and bear arms became valued principally for purposes of self-defense, so that the passage of Fourteenth Amendment, in part, was intended to protect the right of ex-slaves to keep and bear arms. While it was argued by the dissent that this protection would most logically be provided by the Equal Protection Clause, not by the Due Process Clause,14 the plurality also found enough evidence of then-existent concerns regarding the treatment of blacks by the state militia to conclude that the right to bear arms was also intended to protect against generally-applicable state regulation.

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