The Second Amendment’s guarantee of an individual right to bear arms applies to state and local gun control laws, the Supreme Court ruled on Monday in a 5-to-4 decision (McDonald v. Chicago). The ruling came almost exactly two years after the court first ruled that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to own guns in District of Columbia v. Heller, another 5-to-4 decision. But the Heller case addressed only federal laws; it left open the question of whether Second Amendment rights protect gun owners from overreaching by state and local governments.
Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., writing for the majority, said that the right to self-defense protected by the Second Amendment is fundamental to the American conception of ordered liberty. Like other provisions of the Bill of Rights that set out such fundamental protections, he said, the Second Amendment must be applied to limit not only federal power but also that of state and local governments. The ruling is an enormous symbolic victory for supporters of gun rights, but its short-term practical effect is unclear. As in the Heller decision, the justices left for another day the question of just what kinds of gun control laws can be reconciled with Second Amendment protection.