WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court disappointed gun owner groups Monday, refusing to consider whether the Constitution (search) guarantees people a personal right to own a gun.
The court has never said if the right to "keep and bear arms (search)" applies to individuals.
Although the Bush administration has endorsed individual gun-ownership rights, it did not encourage the justices to resolve the issue in this case involving a challenge of California laws banning high-powered weapons.
Many other groups wanted the court to take the politically charged case, including the National Rife Association, the Pink Pistols (search), a group of gay and lesbian gun owners; the Second Amendment Sisters (search); Doctors for Sensible Gun Laws; and Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership (search).
"Citizens need the Second Amendment for protection of their families, homes and businesses," lawyer Gary Gorski of Fair Oaks, Calif., wrote in the appeal filed on behalf of his rugby teammates and friends.
The challengers included a police SWAT (search) officer, a Purple Heart recipient, a former Marine sniper, a parole officer, a stockbroker and others with varied political views.
Timothy Rieger, California's deputy attorney general, said the case involved regulations on "rapid-fire rifles and pistols that have been used on California's school grounds to kill children."
The Second Amendment (search) says, "A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."
A panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (search) said the amendment's intent was to protect gun rights of militias, not individuals. A more conservative appeals court in New Orleans has ruled that individuals have a constitutional right to guns.
Justices refused without comment to review the 9th Circuit decision.
One 9th Circuit judge, Alex Kozinski, said the panel was off-base and its "labored effort to smother the Second Amendment by sheer body weight has all the grace of a sumo wrestler trying to kill a rattlesnake by sitting on it — and is just as likely to succeed." He and some other judges had wanted to reverse the decision.
The decision was written by Judge Stephen Reinhardt, who said the Supreme Court's guidance on the meaning of the right to bear arms was "not entirely illuminating."
In 2002, the Bush administration told the Supreme Court in another case that it believed the Constitution protects an individual's right to possess guns. The announcement reversed the government's long-standing interpretation of the Second Amendment. Even then, Justice Department lawyers said the high court need not test the principle.
Gorski said he was surprised by the court's action Monday. "I guess the Supreme Court thinks its acceptable to deprive 20 percent of the people of a major constitutional right," he said.
Mathew Nosanchuk, an attorney for the pro-gun control Violence Policy Center (search), said that the California law is a model for legislation pending in Congress, to renew and strengthen the 1994 federal assault weapons ban.
The high court's last major gun case was in 1939, when justices upheld a federal law prohibiting the interstate transport of sawed-off shotguns.
Daniel Schmutter of Paramus, N.J., representing Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership, had told the justices in a filing that they should decide "once and for all" what protections gun owners have.