Washington - Fifteen months after declaring that Americans have an individual right to keep and bear arms, the US Supreme Court on Wednesday agreed to decide an equally important issue – whether that constitutional protection applies not only in federal jurisdictions but in every city, county, and state in the nation.
The case is important not only because it will be a historic development in the interpretation of the Constitution, but also because it will establish basic ground rules for future gun control efforts.
An appeals court ruled in the Chicago case that the city's handgun ban did not violate the Constitution because the Supreme Court had not yet declared whether its decision in the Heller case established a fundamental right to guns applicable throughout the US.
Since Washington is a federal enclave, the Heller decision left open the question of whether the landmark ruling would also invalidate handgun and other weapons bans enacted by city governments such as Chicago.
The Chicago case hinges on an important feature of constitutional history. When first enacted, the Bill of Rights provided protection against encroachments on individual liberty by the national government. For example, the First Amendment says that Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of the press. However, it said nothing about restrictions enacted by a state legislature.