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Supreme Court affirms fundamental right to bear arms

Alito's reassurances

Organized by the group "Restore the Constitution," self-proclaimed patriots rallied in D.C. and Viriginia for Second Amendment rights. At the Virginia rally in Fort Hunt in Alexandria, many demonstrators carried guns intending to make history as the first people to rally with firearms in a national park.

Alito said the court had made clear in its 2008 decision that it was not casting doubt on such long-standing prohibitions on gun possession by felons and the mentally ill, or keeping firearms out of "sensitive places" such as schools and government buildings.

"We repeat those assurances here," Alito wrote. "Despite municipal respondents' doomsday proclamations, [the decision] does not imperil every law regulating firearms."

Dennis A. Henigan, vice president for law and policy at the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, noted that the District has survived a legal challenge to a new system of regulations implemented after Heller, including mandatory background checks, firearms training and other requirements for gun ownership.

"When you look at all these categories of presumptively legal gun laws, it's actually hard to find any regulation that doesn't fit into one of those categories other than the handgun bans that are now off the table," Henigan said. "Over the long run, this apparent victory for gun rights may be more symbol than substance. It's actually a very narrow holding."

But the Gun Owners of America, which fashions itself as a more conservative alternative to the NRA, predicted "tremendous ramifications" for gun-control laws in California, New York and elsewhere.

New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (I), who has joined other big-city mayors in advocating tougher gun restrictions, said the Heller and McDonald rulings "both make clear that we can work to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and terrorists while at the same time respecting the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens. That's what New York City has always done."

More litigation?

Stevens said the decision "invites an avalanche of litigation that could mire the federal courts in fine-grained determinations about which state and local regulations comport with the Heller right -- the precise contours of which are far from pellucid -- under a standard of review we have not even established."

Justice Stephen G. Breyer objected to the majority decision and read his dissent from the bench. He disagreed with the majority that it is a fundamental right, saying the court was restricting state and local efforts from designing gun-control laws that both fit their particular circumstances and save lives.

"In a nation whose constitution foresees democratic decision-making, is it so fundamental a matter as to require taking that power from the people?" Breyer wrote. "What is it here that the people did not know? What is it that a judge knows better?"

Although it might seem unsurprising to most that the Bill of Rights applies to states and cities, it was conceived as a restriction on the federal government. In the past century, the court has said most amendments also apply to state and local governments.

Until Monday, the court had not extended the Second Amendment, which holds that "a well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed."

Four members of the majority said the amendment was "incorporated" through the 14th Amendment's guarantee that the states may not "deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law."

Thomas agreed with the outcome of the case but said the right was more correctly located elsewhere in the 14th Amendment, in a clause that forbids laws that abridge "the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States."

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