The Washington, D.C., handgun-ban case being argued today before the Supreme Court will have a “huge impact,” Temple University law Prof. David Kairys tells USA Today. “A Supreme Court decision has a moral, political and cultural meaning as well as a legal meaning,” he says. A finding that there is an individual right to bear arms would be a huge victory for gun rights advocates, reversing years of legal precedent and emboldening politicians and groups such as the National Rifle Association that have touted gun rights. The possibility that the case could jeopardize federal firearms laws, including those banning individuals from owning machine guns and establishing rules for transporting weapons, has led the Bush administration to take a step back from its strong support of gun rights.
The White House is urging the justices to adopt a legal standard that would protect an individual right to own guns but keep in place federal firearms laws. University of Texas law Prof. Sanford Levinson, who believes the Second Amendment provides a right to individual gun ownership, says the government’s new position might be easier for the court to adopt. Many legal analysts predict that the court led by Chief Justice John Roberts is ready to declare some individual right to own guns. “My assumption is that there are at least five votes for the proposition that the Second Amendment protects an individual right,” says Yale University law Prof. Jack Balkin. Levinson says the Justice Department stance could appeal to most of the high court as well as the public: “I think laws that pass with genuine public support are likely to be upheld.”