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« GOP Involved In AL | Blog Home Page | Court Hits BCRA Again »

SCOTUS Rules For Guns

The Supreme Court today issued a surprisingly narrow five-to-four opinion affirming the rights of Americans to own guns for certain purposes, striking down a Washington, D.C. law that banned handguns. Justices decided on the question of whether the Second Amendment protected individual rights to own a gun or if ownership needed to be tied to a militia.

The Court had not ruled on the Second Amendment since 1939, and has never, until today, had the opportunity to define the issue in such a broad way. The case, District of Columbia v. Heller, is already being seen as one of the most important decisions the Court has handed down in recent years.

Writing for the majority, Justice Antonin Scalia said the Second Amendment clearly guaranteed the individual right. "Putting all of these textual elements together, we find that they guarantee the individual right to possess and carry weapons in case of confrontation," he wrote.

Still, some restrictions are allowed. "We do not read the Second Amendment to protect the right of citizens to carry arms for any sort of confrontation, just as we do not read the First Amendment to protect the right of citizens to speak for any purpose," he continued. "Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited."

Scalia was joined in the majority by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Anthony Kennedy. Justices John Paul Stevens and Steven Breyer authored dissenting opinions, which Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and David Souter joined.

The lawsuit attracted friend of the court briefs from lawmakers and opponents and proponents of gun control, even causing a highly unusual public rift within the Bush Administration. Solicitor General Paul Clement wrote the Court in support of Washington's law, while Vice President Dick Cheney joined dozens of members of Congress in support of the Second Amendment.

Republican presidential nominee-in-waiting John McCain also signed the amicus brief on behalf of plaintiff Dick Heller, a District resident, and expressed support for the ruling. "Today's ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller makes clear that other municipalities like Chicago that have banned handguns have infringed on the constitutional rights of Americans," McCain said in a statement.

The GOP nominee couldn't resist the opportunity to take a shot at rival Barack Obama: "Unlike the elitist view that believes Americans cling to guns out of bitterness, today's ruling recognizes that gun ownership is a fundamental right -- sacred, just as the right to free speech and assembly."

Updated: Obama's campaign is out with a statement. Both complete statements below the jump.

Barack Obama on District of Columbia v. Heller:

"I have always believed that the Second Amendment protects the right of individuals to bear arms, but I also identify with the need for crime-ravaged communities to save their children from the violence that plagues our streets through common-sense, effective safety measures. The Supreme Court has now endorsed that view, and while it ruled that the D.C. gun ban went too far, Justice Scalia himself acknowledged that this right is not absolute and subject to reasonable regulations enacted by local communities to keep their streets safe. Today's ruling, the first clear statement on this issue in 127 years, will provide much-needed guidance to local jurisdictions across the country.

"As President, I will uphold the constitutional rights of law-abiding gun-owners, hunters, and sportsmen. I know that what works in Chicago may not work in Cheyenne. We can work together to enact common-sense laws, like closing the gun show loophole and improving our background check system, so that guns do not fall into the hands of terrorists or criminals. Today's decision reinforces that if we act responsibly, we can both protect the constitutional right to bear arms and keep our communities and our children safe."

John McCain's statement:

"Today's decision is a landmark victory for Second Amendment freedom in the United States. For this first time in the history of our Republic, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed that the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms was and is an individual right as intended by our Founding Fathers. I applaud this decision as well as the overturning of the District of Columbia's ban on handguns and limitations on the ability to use firearms for self-defense.

"Unlike Senator Obama, who refused to join me in signing a bipartisan amicus brief, I was pleased to express my support and call for the ruling issued today. Today's ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller makes clear that other municipalities like Chicago that have banned handguns have infringed on the constitutional rights of Americans. Unlike the elitist view that believes Americans cling to guns out of bitterness, today's ruling recognizes that gun ownership is a fundamental right -- sacred, just as the right to free speech and assembly.

This ruling does not mark the end of our struggle against those who seek to limit the rights of law-abiding citizens. We must always remain vigilant in defense of our freedoms. But today, the Supreme Court ended forever the specious argument that the Second Amendment did not confer an individual right to keep and bear arms."