A narrowly divided U.S. Supreme Court overturned the District of Columbia’s longstanding ban on gun ownership marking a huge victory for 2nd Amendment rights Thursday.
The decision also highlights a marked difference between the Republican presidential candidate John McCain and his Democratic opponent, Barack Obama.
In a landmark 5-4 decision the Supreme Court declared it is “unconstitutional” to ban gun ownership, thereby making such laws illegal. The justices disputed whether or not the 2nd amendment protects each individual the right to own a gun, or whether the 2nd amendment should be interpreted to only giving rights related to service, or state militias.
Before the ruling DC had one of the most stringent bans in the nation, forbidding anyone to own a handgun who did not own one before the law was originally enacted in 1976. The historic suit was brought to the Supreme Court by DC residents who desired gun ownership rights. In their ruling, the Supreme Court overturned a previous ruling by an appellate court that the DC gun ban was constitutional.
"The Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home," Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in the 157-page majority opinion He was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Anthony Kennedy and Clarence Thomas.
Justice John Paul Stevens wrote the dissenting opinion. He wrote the majority "would have us believe that over 200 years ago, the Framers made a choice to limit the tools available to elected officials wishing to regulate civilian uses of weapons." He was joined by Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and David Souter.
Repercussions of this ruling will likely play out on the presidential campaign trail in coming weeks.
A bipartisan majority of Capitol Hill urged the court to overturn the ban, which excluded Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. 55 senators, including GOP presidential candidate John McCain and 250 House members joined Vice President Dick Cheney in signing an amicus brief urging the Supreme Court to overturn the ban last February.
Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama was not one of the signers. His voting record is decidedly anti-gun, but he sought to soften his stance on gun rights in the run-up to the Supreme Court decision Thursday.
Last November Obama’s aides told the Chicago Tribune Obama believed the DC gun ban was “unconstitutional.” Obama spokesman Bill Burton told ABC News Thursday morning, before the ruling was released, that statement was “inartful.”
“That statement was obviously an inartful attempt to explain the Senator's consistent position," Burton said.
ABC anchor Charlie Gibson asked Obama directly if he believed the DC gun ban was constitutional in a Democratic primary debate earlier this year. Obama dodged the question by replying, “Well, Charlie, I confess I obviously haven't listened to the briefs and looked at all the evidence.”
Shortly after the decision was announced the McCain campaign held a conference call to call attention to Obama's reluctance to speak frankly about the DC gun ban.
He "seems to be sidestepping the issue," Republican Sen. Brownback (Kans.) told reporters on the call. Brownback added that "given the narrowness of the decision" the candidate's stance on gun rights and the judges he may appoint as president has "is significant."
McCain senior policy adviser Randy Scheunemann said Obama "has a clear and consistent record of opposing second amendment rights, but we expect he'll try to have it both ways."