Tuesday, June 9, 2009

NRA takes gun case to high court

By Joan Biskupic • USA TODAY • June 8, 2009 WASHINGTON — One year after the Supreme Court ruled that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to keep handguns, the justices have before them a new test of that right. The National Rifle Association has appealed a ruling from a U.S. appeals court in Chicago that said the right to bear arms cannot be invoked by gun owners challenging state and local firearm regulations. It said the high court's groundbreaking decision last term in a case from Washington, D.C., allows the Second Amendment to cover only regulations by the federal government — at least until the high court weighs in again. If the justices decide to take up the appeal, it would probably be heard next fall by a bench that could include Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, who is now on a federal appeals court in New York. She was part of a court panel in January that similarly held that the 2008 guns decision did not apply to state regulations. A U.S. appeals court in San Francisco, however, ruled this year that the Second Amendment, indeed, covers state gun restrictions. "Because of the split in opinions (on the breadth of the 2008 ruling), it seems likely that the court would take it," says Daniel Vice, a lawyer with the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. He says a ruling could affect gun laws nationwide. The June 2008 decision, decided by a 5-4 vote, said for the first time that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to keep handguns at home for self-protection. A 1939 high court decision had led lower courts to say the Second Amendment covered gun rights only for state militias. The new decision in National Rifle Association v. Chicago by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit in Chicago, written by Ronald Reagan appointee Frank Easterbrook, echoes the closely scrutinized decision from a three-judge panel of the U.S. appeals court for the 2nd Circuit that included Sotomayor. She joined an opinion that rejected a challenge to a New York ban on certain weapons used in martial arts and emphasized that the high court has never specifically ruled that the Second Amendment can be applied to state regulations. The NRA's Stephen Halbrook, representing Chicago and Oak Park residents who want to keep handguns at home, urged the justices to take up the 7th Circuit case. Halbrook said the right to guns "allows one to protect life itself."

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