Top US court extends gun owners’ rights

WASHINGTON – The top US court, in a blow to gun control advocates, has ruled that Americans throughout the United States have the right to own a gun.

The ruling by a narrowly divided Supreme Court said states and cities cannot bar Americans from owning firearms.

It builds on a case decided two years ago in which the court found that the city of Washington’s ban on handguns violated the US Constitution’s guarantee of the “right to keep and bear arms”. The earlier ruling applied only to Washington, a federal district with a unique legal standing.

The ruling effectively expands that decision to prevent states and other cities from imposing similar rules.   The court was divided along ideological lines, with five conservative and moderate justices in favour of gun rights and the four liberals opposed.  Among the justices dissenting was John Paul Stevens, on his final day on the court after more than 34 years.

Comparing the ruling to the Washington case, he said it “could prove far more destructive – quite literally – to our nation’s communities and to our constitutional structure”.

While the ruling prevents outright bans, Justice Samuel Alito, writing for the court, said the constitutional guarantee does not eliminate the ability of states and cities “to devise solutions to social problems that suit local needs and values”.

More cases are likely to determine what gun control laws are acceptable. Washington already faces a lawsuit over the restrictions it imposed after its ban was rejected.  The case was brought by gun rights proponents who challenged gun control laws in Chicago and its suburb of Oak Park, Illinois, where handguns have been banned for almost 30 years.

The Brady Center to Prevent Gun violence, an advocacy group, says those laws appear to be the country’s last remaining outright bans.

Monday’s decision came as the Senate began hearings on President Barack Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court, Elena Kagan.

Even if Kagan were confirmed, as is expected, she would be unlikely to shift the balance of the court, because she would replace Stevens, a liberal who is retiring.

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