While gun rights advocates are understandably pleased about the Supreme Court's decision this week to overturn Chicago's ban on private citizens keeping handguns in their homes, it's far from clear how far this ruling pushes current law. Certainly, it's no surprise in light of the court's decision to strike down a similar Washington, D.C. prohibition on gun ownership two years ago.
In essence, the court's conservative majority has merely chosen to extend to local government the same restrictions on gun control that it previously assigned the federal government. As we noted at the time of the District of Columbia v. Heller decision, the ruling does not say gun ownership is an absolute right but is subject to regulation.
Very few cities ban guns broadly, but many jurisdictions, including Maryland, place reasonable restrictions on gun ownership and sales to keep them out of the hands of the wrong people. That's entirely appropriate and, frankly, where the gun control debate has always been centered.
Writing for the majority, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. noted that the right to bear arms is not a "right to carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever for whatever purpose." And he specifically endorses existing restrictions on bringing guns to schools or government buildings and banning ownership by felons and the mentally ill.
In that light, it's difficult to see how the various restrictions that have been debated in recent years — requiring background checks for all guns purchases, for instance, or repealing a Bush era rule that allows people to carry concealed, loaded weapons into a national park — would run afoul of the court's interpretation of the Second Amendment.
Yet one can bet that the National Rifle Association and others will try to seize on the opportunity to push the envelope as far as possible and bring lawsuits against these kinds of common sense restrictions, knowing there is a sympathetic audience in the nation's highest court. That is easily the most troubling consequence of the McDonald v. City of Chicago decision.
Most Americans believe in the right to bear arms, but they also believe in sensible gun laws. These laws can reduce the flow of weapons into the hands of dangerous people, and for cities like Baltimore where gun violence claims so many lives each year, that's critically important.
Justice Alito has signaled that the court understands this. We trust that he and the rest of the 5-member majority will show appropriate restraint when such restrictions are tested in the future.