The high court has ruled in a 5-4 decision that "the right to keep and bear arms" applies to cities and states, effectively striking down 30-year-old handgun bans in Chicago and its suburb of Oak Park, Ill.
A bloc of conservative justices said the Constitution prevents federal, state and local governments from placing limits on the Second Amendment.
Justice Alito, writing for the majority, affirmed that the Second Amendment "applies equally to the federal government and the states." But he also asserted that the ruling on states and cities "limits (but by no means eliminates) their ability to devise solutions to social problems that suit local needs and values."
That leaves the door open for aggressive background checks on potential gun buyers and other measures that stop short of a full ban. Chicago Mayor Richard Daley has already indicated that the city council will go to work on new gun legislation.
Although the ruling will no doubt be seen as a setback for gun opponents, Dennis Henigan of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence told NPR's Carol Anne Clark Kelly that there's "nothing in the decision that should bring into question firearms regulation generally."
While he concedes that a complete ban on handguns now appears to be ruled out, "there is a broad range of gun regulation that remains presumptively legal," Henigan said.
The Supreme Court's decision continues an approach the court adopted two years ago in a case involving gun laws in Washington, D.C. That case applied only to D.C. as a federal city.