With another closely decided 5 to 4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled today that state governments are not able to ban most Americans from owning most types of handguns. The court ruled that firearms are "essential for self-defense." The court found that if the Second Amendment indeed protects an individual right to own a gun, the notion that the government can't ban all handguns is the minimum protection the Constitution can offer.
Yet, just as with abortion, this is the first of what is likely to be a long string of court decisions.
The decision is an important win for Americans who want the right to self-defense, but the decision also indicates how many questions still must be answered.
When the “Heller” decision was handed down in 2008 striking down Washington, D.C.'s handgun ban and gunlock regulations, Chicago's Mayor Richard Daley predicted disaster. He said that overturning the gun ban was "a very frightening decision" and predicted more deaths along with Wild West-style shootouts and that people "are going to take a gun and they are going to end their lives in a family dispute." Washington’s Mayor Adrian Fenty similarly warned: "More handguns in the District of Columbia will only lead to more handgun violence."
Yet, Armageddon never arrived.
Washington’s murder rate has plummeted -- falling by 25 percent in 2009 alone. This compares with a national drop of only 7 percent last year. And D.C.'s drop has continued this year.
Comparing Washington’s crime rates from January 1 to June 17 of this year to the same period in 2008, shows a 34 percent drop in murder. This drop puts D.C.'s murder rate back to where it was before the 1977 handgun ban. Indeed, the murder rate is as low as was before 1967.
Other gun crimes have also fallen in Washington. While robberies without guns fell by 7 percent, robberies with gun fell by over 14 percent. Assaults with weapons other than guns fell by 7, but assaults using guns fell by over 20 percent.
The expected narrowness of the court's decision today had already encouraged Mayor Richard Daley and the city of Chicago to threaten last week to effectively undo the Supreme Court decision with new regulations.
Daley promised to quickly adopt all the regulations that Washington adopted in 2008 after its gun ban was struck down, as well as some additional ones. To get a handgun permit in Washington, applicants must pay fees over $550, make four trips to the police station, and take two different tests.
Taking the court's 2008 decision that all handguns can't be banned, Washington went so far as to still ban all semi-automatic handguns that can hold a clip. Chicago plans on doing the same but adding a requirement that gun owners buy insurance that covers any incidents that might arise from the weapon.
Obviously, if Chicago were to impose any tax on newspapers, the courts would strike it down as an infringement on free speech.
But the new Chicago and Washington gun "fees" will be allowed until the Supreme Court revisits that issue.
Where that line will be drawn on this closely divided court will be influenced by its newest member and the potential new member whose confirmation hearings get underway today.
Neither the latest justice, Sonia Sotomayor nor the next potential justice, Elena Kagan are sympathetic to an individual's right to self-defense.
In Washington, about 1,000 people now have permits to own handguns. With the gunlock law that made it illegal to have a loaded gun now struck down, over 70,000 people have permits for long guns that can now be used protect victims.
Yet, if over 70,000 armed citizens can produce 26 fewer murders and 375 violent crimes, imagine what can be accomplished if even more citizens are allowed to defend themselves.
We can only hope that Chicago will not adopt such high fees and stiff regulations that only allow the wealthiest will have the opportunity to defend themselves.
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