The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday extended gun rights to every state and city in the nation, in a ruling likely to spur new challenges to gun control measures across the United States.
The 5-4 ruling could ultimately make it easier for individuals to own handguns.
Splitting along conservative and liberal lines, the nation's highest court extended its landmark 2008 ruling, that individual Americans have a constitutional right to own guns, to all cities and states for the first time.
The decision was a setback for Chicago's 28-year-old ban on handguns, which will now face a fresh judicial review and is likely to be eventually overturned.
Legal challenges to existing laws restricting gun use in other states and cities are also expected.
The right to bear arms, under the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, previously applied to just federal laws and federal enclaves, like Washington D.C., where the court struck down a similar handgun ban in its 2008 ruling.
Gun rights has been one of the country's most divisive social, political and legal issues. Some 90 million people in the United States have an estimated 200 million guns.
The United States is estimated to have the world's highest civilian gun ownership rate. Gun deaths average about 80 a day, 34 of them homicides, according to U.S. government statistics.
The ruling, issued on the last day of the Supreme Court's term, was a victory for four Chicago-area residents, two gun rights groups and the politically powerful National Rifle Association.
It was a defeat for Chicago, which defended its law as a reasonable exercise of local power to protect public safety.
The law. and a similar handgun ban in suburban Oak Park, Illinois, were the nation's most restrictive gun control measures.
"We hold that the Second Amendment right is fully applicable to the states," Justice Samuel Alito concluded for the court majority, ruling that the right to bear arms was a fundamental right.
It could take years of lawsuits before courts draw a clear line between an individual's right to a gun for self-defense and reasonable government gun regulations to reduce violent crimes like murder, suicides and accidental shooting deaths.
The justices did not strike down the Chicago law directly, but sent the case back to a U.S. appeals court for review, where it appeared likely to be struck down under the ruling.
Gun control advocates had expected the ruling and predicted that reasonable regulations would survive future legal challenges.
FUTURE CHALLENGES MAY FAIL
Paul Helmke of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence said, "We can expect two things as a result of today's decision ... the gun lobby and gun criminals will use it to try to strike down gun laws, and those legal challenges will continue to fail."
In its 2008 ruling, the court said gun rights were limited. It said the decision did not cast doubt on federal laws barring firearm possession by felons and the mentally ill, forbidding firearms in schools and government buildings and imposing conditions on gun sales.
The court's four liberal justices issued an impassioned dissent from the decision in the Chicago case.
Retiring Justice John Paul Stevens wrote in a 57-page dissent that the "consequences could prove far more destructive -- quite literally -- to our nation's communities and to our constitutional structure."
It was widely seen as one of the Supreme Court's most important rulings this term, along with the decision in January that corporations can spend freely to support or defeat candidates for president and Congress.
Gun rights could emerge as a key issue at the Senate confirmation hearings that start on Monday for Elena Kagan, who has been nominated by President Barack Obama to replace Stevens.
In light of the anticipated ruling, Chicago's City Council may consider new gun restrictions as soon as its meeting on Wednesday, a prominent city council member said.
Mayor Richard Daley, who has been outspoken in his opposition to gun violence and has denounced the gun industry as having "carte blanche" in the United States, has suggested he might adopt regulations taken up in Washington, D.C., after its gun law was struck down.
Washington's law now stipulates that gun owners have to take a firearms safety course.
The Supreme Court case is McDonald v. City of Chicago, No. 08-1521.
ReutersGüncelleme Tarihi: 28 Haziran 2010, 22:45