The Corner

A Quick Summary of Today’s Second Amendment Ruling

This afternoon, the United States District Court For The Northern District Of Illinois struck down Chicago’s egregious ban on gun sales. The summary from the case:

The ban covers federally licensed firearms dealers; even validly licensed dealers cannot sell firearms in Chicago. The ban covers gifts amongst family members; only through inheritance can someone transfer a firearm to a family member. Chicago does all this in the name of reducing gun violence. That is one of the fundamental duties of government: to protect its citizens. The stark reality facing the City each year is thousands of shooting victims and hundreds of murders committed with a gun. But on the other side of this case is another feature of government: certain fundamental rights are protected by the Constitution, put outside government’s reach, including the right to keep and bear arms for self-defense under the Second Amendment. This right must also include the right to acquire a firearm,although that acquisition right is far from absolute: there are many long-standing restrictions on who may acquire firearms (for examples, felons and the mentally ill have long been banned) and there are many restrictions on the sales of arms (for example, licensing requirements for commercial sales). But Chicago’s ordinance goes too far in outright banning legal buyers and legal dealers from engaging in lawful acquisitions and lawful sales of firearms, and at the same time the evidence does not support that the complete ban sufficiently furthers the purposes that the ordinance tries to serve. For the specific reasons explained later in this opinion, the ordinances are declared unconstitutional.

Some context. The Supreme Court’s 2008 D.C. v Heller decision recognized that the Second Amendment protected an individual right. As such, it struck down Washington D.C.’s rules requiring rifles and shotguns be kept unloaded and disassembled, and also invalidated the city’s ban on the ownership of any handguns that hadn’t been registered before 1975. McDonald v Chicago, decided by the court two years later, expanded this ruling to the states, effectively incorporating the Second Amendment – at least in part — and applying the same rules to Chicago (and the whole of Illinois, naturally) as to Washington D.C. McDonald thus made it clear that the Second Amendment did not just apply to federal law and to federal enclaves, but equally to the states. It also established that blanket bans on the ownership of handguns were illegal nationally.

Today’s case, which was issued by a district court and not the Supreme Court, takes this idea a little further, building on 2011’s Ezell v. Chicago, in which a blanket ban on firing ranges was deemed illegal. As in Ezell, the court argued today that there can be no meaningful right to keep and bear arms if one is unable to buy and to use them: for law-abiding citizens to enjoy it, the court decided, the right ”must also include the right to acquire a firearm.” (Italics mine.) 

Ezell’s basic standard was that if activity is inextricable from the basic purpose of the Second Amendment (and activities such as practicing shooting, buying a gun, etc. are), then the court must apply to it what has been termed “almost-strict-scrutiny.” That is, it must take into account that ”a severe burden on the core Second Amendment right of armed self-defense [requires] an extremely strong public-interest justification and a close fit between the government’s means and its end.” In Illinois today, the court found that the government’s action did not meet this test, arguing that:

the City has not demonstrated that allowing gun sales and transfers within city limits creates such genuine and serious risks to public safety that flatly prohibiting them is justified. If the City is concerned about reducing criminal access to firearms, either through legitimate retail transactions or via thefts from gun stores, it may enact more appropriately tailored measures. Indeed, nothing in this opinion prevents the City from considering other regulations—short of the complete ban—on sales and transfers of firearms to minimize the access of criminals to firearms and to track the ownership of firearms. But the flat ban on legitimate sales and transfers does not fit closely with those goals. MCC § 8-20-100 and its zoning ordinance (to the extent that it bans the operation of gun stores in Chicago) are therefore unconstitutional.

Illinois hasn’t done very well in recent years. Chicago lost in the McDonald case, it lost in the Ezell case, and it lost today. Illinois, meanwhile, was forced to institute a concealed-carry regime last year. Long may it continue. 

You can read the whole decision here.