By a majority of one, the Supreme Court decided Monday that the Second Amendment trumped state and local gun control laws. The 5-4 decision apparently struck down a Chicago ordinance banning handguns in the city. The court decision didn’t declare the Chicago law to be unconstitutional, however. It sent the case back to lower courts with instructions to try it again with the high court’s ruling in mind.
The handgun ban has been in effect in Chicago since 1983. Mayor Rich-ard M. Daley — not exactly a flaming liberal — said he was disappointed at the ruling.
“Across the country, cities are struggling with how to address this issue. Common sense tells you that we need fewer guns on the street, not more guns,” he said.
Justice Stephen Breyer, one of the four in dissent, agreed with the mayor. There is evidence, he said, that fire-arms caused 60,000 deaths and injuries in the United States each year and that Chicago’s handgun ban had saved many hundreds of lives since it was enacted.
The Chicago ordinance was singled out for legal attack by the National Rifle Association and other gun advocates following a similar 5-4 ruling against strict gun laws in Washington, D.C. two years ago.
The five justices in the majority argued primar-ily that the right to bear arms is a fundamental right granted by the Bill of Rights that must supersede state and local laws. If any of the five argued that arming the civilian population made the American people safer, their citations of proof of that proposition was not reported. Their central concern ap-peared to be the primacy of the constitution.
Justice John Paul Stevens, who is retiring, wrote in his final opinion that the court should have proceeded more cautiously because “fire-arms have a fundamentally ambivalent relationship to liberty.”
SECOND Amendment politics played no visible role in Monday’s decision, even though it was the elephant in the room. Yet the challenge to Chicago’s handgun ban would never have been taken to court if it had not been for the National Rifle Association and the right-wing political groups that support its extremist position on the issue.
Thirty-three state at-torneys general — in-cluding Steve Six of Kansas — filed friend of the court briefs supporting the case against the Chicago law.
Do Mr. Six and his fellow AGs really believe the 17-year-old handgun ban in Chicago has been bad for the Windy City? Most probably they do not; most probably not one of them studied Chicago’s experience with the ban before making their decision.
But every one of the 33 who are running for re-election this fall knows that currying favor with the NRA makes good political sense and that opposing that organization — which exists primarily to elect its supporters to public office and defeat its opponents — is not smart.
What the nation clearly needs are sensible gun laws similar to those that serve Britain and other modern nations so well.
But sensible gun laws require taking a middle path.
To the NRA and its fellow travelers there is no middle path — and on Monday five of the nine justices appeared to agree.
How should the Mayor Daleys and other American moderates react? Should they offer a new amendment, giving the power to regulate fire-arms to the cities and states, arguing that the government that is closest to the people is the best government?
Or should they be patient and wait for the court to change by one vote and send yet another city gun control law to the justices in hope of a ruling more in tune with urban realities in this armed-to-the-teeth land of ours? Patient waiting is the only practical course.
— Emerson Lynn, jr.