The Supreme Court hears arguments Tuesday on a landmark gun-
control case, McDonald v. Chicago, on whether cities and states have
the right to ban handguns.
The US Supreme Court on Tuesday takes up another landmark gun
rights case, this time examining whether the constitutional right of
individuals to keep and bear arms extends to every city and town in
The case, Otis McDonald v. City of Chicago, challenges a citywide
ban on the possession of handguns.
In June 2008, the court struck down a similar handgun ban in
Washington, D.C., declaring that the constitution's Second Amendment
protects a right of individuals to have commonly available firearms -
including handguns - in their home for self defense. (For Monitor
coverage of that decision, click here.)
The decision applied to the federal government and to federal
enclaves such as the District of Columbia. But it remained unclear
whether the holding would also apply to state and local governments.
That's the key question in McDonald v. Chicago.
At issue is whether the protections of the Second Amendment apply
to gun-control measures passed by state and local governments. If
they do, Chicago's handgun ban may go the way of Washington's ban.
But first the justices must decide whether the Second Amendment
applies to the states, or whether it remains one of the few areas in
the Bill of Rights that binds only the national government.
It is no small question. In examining the issue, the justices
must go back to the founding era and the debates over passage of the
Bill of Rights. After that, they must go back to a watershed moment
in American history after the Civil War, when the 14th Amendment was
passed in an effort to protect and empower freed slaves in the
Constitutional controversy 150 years in the making
The Chicago gun case is forcing the justices to confront a
constitutional controversy that has dogged the Supreme Court for
nearly a century and a half.
The Bill of Rights was originally conceived and written as a
check on national power, a protection to the states and their
residents that the federal government would be powerless to infringe
certain fundamental rights. But after the Civil War, members of
Congress worked for ratification of the 14th Amendment, which seemed
by its text to extend the protections of the Bill of Rights to state
residents - including freed slaves - facing infringement of those
rights by state governments.
The 14th Amendment, passed in 1868, accomplished this by
declaring that anyone born in the US was a US citizen. The Amendment
added: "No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge
the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor
shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property,
without due process of law; nor deny any person within its
jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."
Those 51 words formed the backbone of what would become the
American civil rights movement. There was just one problem: Not
everyone supported such a radical reorganization of constitutional
protections - including a majority of the members of the Supreme