High Court Will Decide Whether Strict Gun Laws Violate Second Amendment Rights

The Supreme Court says it is now prepared to resolve an issue about gun ownership it left unanswered when it made its historic 2008 ruling striking down the District of Columbia's strict handgun law.

The justices announced Wednesday they will hear an Illinois case asking if their ruling last year in District of Columbia v. Heller extends to the states.

The lawsuit the justices agreed to hear was originally filed within hours after the high court's ruling that overturned a ban on possessing handguns in the nation's capital. Chicago and Oak Park, Ill. have similar bans that are now being challenged.

The case is led by the lawyer who successfully argued Heller before the high court last year and is sure to become the focus of all interests in the gun debate but the legal question that is now before the Court is a bit more mundane.

Incorporation is the technical word for making a Constitutional Amendment applicable to the states. When the Bill of Rights was passed, the Founders specifically rejected a proposal to incorporate the Amendments. Instead, the laws were only applicable to the federal government.

But starting in 1897, the high court has undergone a piecemeal process of incorporating various parts of the Bill of Rights. Today's cases are asking the justices to extend the federally protected Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms to the states. Something has yet to do.

Last year, in a 5-4 decision, the high court ruled that individuals do have a Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms. But Justice Antonin Scalia's opinion specifically avoided the question of whether or not that ruling extends to the states. Since then, lower courts have divided on the matter.

In the Illinois case, the Seventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled against the gun advocates saying that there was no high court precedent allowing it to apply the Second Amendment to the states.

The Court isn't expected to hear arguments in the case until next year.