The Second Amendment's guarantee of an individual right to bear arms applies to state and local gun control laws, the Supreme Court ruled today, 5 to 4, reports the New York Times. The outcome was an enormous symbolic victory for supporters of gun rights, but its short-term practical effect is unclear. As in a similar case from Washington, D.C., two years ago, the justices left for another day the question of just what kinds of gun control laws can be reconciled with Second Amendment protection.
In more than 200 pages of opinions, the court did not decide the constitutionality of the two gun control laws that were at issue in the case, from Chicago and Oak Park, Il. The justices returned the case to the lower courts to decide whether those exceptionally strict laws, which effectively banned the private possession of handguns, can be reconciled with the Second Amendment. Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the majority that the Second Amendment, like other provisions of the Bill of Rights guaranteeing fundamental rights, must be applied to the states under the Fourteenth Amendment. Yet the majority offered the lower courts little guidance about how much protection the Second Amendment affords.