In the United States, a Supreme Court decision issued Monday prohibits states and cities from undermining the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Supporters of the right to bear arms claimed a victory. The final barriers that had prevented American citizens from defending themselves have just been removed. In a landmark decision — and the most anticipated one of the year — the Supreme Court ruled that from now on neither states nor cities can restrict or prohibit the carrying of firearms.
Since the Heller case in 2008, this principle had applied only to federal authorities. Some cities, like Chicago, had rushed into the breach by taking measures to restrict the carrying of firearms, which is a right written in stone in the American Constitution since 1791. Angered by this challenge to the sacrosanct Second Amendment, Otis McDonald, a resident of Chicago, did not hesitate to take the issue to court and asked that the court invalidate the measures taken by the city.
His request found strong support among the conservative judges of the Supreme Court, but there was a split within the institution. In the end, it was a close vote of five to four that guaranteed the right to bear arms. Any questioning was unthinkable for Judge Samuel Alito, who believes that this right is "fundamental." In the most liberal ranks of the Supreme Court, the verdict was cause for concern. "Unlike other forms of substantive liberty, the carrying of arms for that purpose often puts others' lives at risk," Justice Stephen Breyer said, noting that firearms cause approximately 60,000 deaths or accidents each year.
Far from having removed all the legal loopholes, the Supreme Court decision could lead to a new wave of litigation. In Georgia, there is already debate surrounding the possibility of legalizing the carrying of weapons in places of worship even though there is a federal law against it. "All they’ve done is establish what the Second Amendment means, generally. They haven’t begun to develop all of the contours of it. We don’t know in what kinds of places states and local governments can prevent carrying," explained John Monroe, a Georgia lawyer and staunch defender of the Second Amendment.
The Supreme Court decision did not elaborate on the issue, considering it the responsibility of lower courts to exercise "reasonable control" over the nature of the weapons carried and the conditions under which the owners possess them. In the wake of this ruling, one thing is certain: America remains highly polarized over the consequences of the strengthening of the right to bear arms. While the National Rifle Association lapped it up, anti-violence organizations have their backs against the wall: "People will die because of this decision. It is a victory only for the gun lobby and America's fading firearms industry," said Kristen Rand, head of the Violence Policy Center Foundation.
According to a survey conducted in January 2010 by Harris Poll, 80 percent of Americans are in favor of owning rifles and 74 percent are in favor of owning handguns.