Supreme Court Rules On Gun Ownership

The Supreme Court wrapped up its term Monday with major decisions on several cases. One of most eagerly anticipated was a case involving the issue of gun ownership. The court ruled that the Constitution's "right to keep and bear arms" applies nationwide as a restraint on the ability of federal, state and local governments to substantially limit its reach.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The Supreme Court wrapped up its term today with major decisions on several cases. One of the most watched: a case involving the issue of gun ownership. NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg joins us now, live from Supreme Court to discuss the details.

Nina, good morning.

NINA TOTENBERG: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: And what did the court decide today?

TOTENBERG: Well, two years ago, the court ruled that there is an individual right to bear arms for self defense in one's home. But that ruling only applied to federal laws, because it involves a ban on handguns in the District of Columbia.

The case decided today at issue was whether that - those same rules apply to state and local laws. And the Supreme Court, by a five-to-four vote, said it did, so that state and local regulations that impede the right to bear arms may now be challenged in court.

MONTAGNE: And tell us a little bit more about what that means.

TOTENBERG: Well, what it means, you can tell by the announcement from the bench today. Justice Alito wrote for the five justices in the majority. Justice Breyer wrote for the dissenters. And Justice Breyer said that we have no reason to think that the political process can't protect the right to bear arms, that there are very different circumstances in crowded urban areas versus rural areas, where people much more want to carry arms. And he said now the judges will have to decide who can sell arms, who can purchase them. These are the kinds of questions that, in the past, have been decided by state and local governments, and now, in the last analysis, will have to be decided by the courts.

Justice Alito, writing for the majority, said - called those doomsday predictions. He said that we made it clear before that our holding doesn't cast doubt on longstanding regulatory measures like prohibitions on the possessions of firearms by the mentally ill or felons. It doesn't say that laws that restrict the carrying of guns in certain kinds of places like public buildings and schools, that those aren't fine, and that other provisions of the Bill of Rights have to be decided by courts, too, and that this is no different.

MONTAGNE: Nina, thanks very much.

TOTENBERG: Thank you.

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