Washington. The US Supreme Court on Tuesday takes a new look at the right to bear arms in a case that could impact the growing push by President Barack Obama’s opponents to loosen gun laws.
The nation’s top court will decide whether its landmark June 2008 decision recognizing the right of every US citizen to possess arms for self-defense should apply to local as well as federal laws.
Local regulations have increasingly been at the forefront in the battle over gun control in the United States, where some 200 million firearms are in circulation and the right to bear arms is enshrined by the Constitution.
While Obama has not moved to curb gun freedoms, arms sales have shot up since his election in 2008 and conservatives deeply suspicious of his intentions have stepped up their efforts to promote arms.
“State legislatures are flexing their conservative muscle and passing some laws that they would not otherwise have been able to pass,” said Peter Hamm of the Brady Campaign, a gun control advocacy group named after Ronald Reagan’s spokesman who was severely injured in the assassination bid on the president.
In Virginia, the legislature is on track to legalize the carrying of guns in bars and to drop restrictions that residents can only buy one firearm a month.
Such measures can pass due to last year’s election of Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell. His Democratic predecessor, Tim Kaine, supported some gun rules after the 2007 massacre of 32 people at Virginia Tech University.
Among other states, Tennessee last year approved a law allowing the carrying of guns in establishments serving alcohol and Arizona is looking at measures to allow arms on university campuses and without licenses.
At the federal level, US lawmakers have blocked Washington, DC, from voting representation in Congress due to opposition to its gun laws.
Meanwhile, continued gun violence has affected the United States . In February, a woman biology professor killed three staff members at an Alabama university; a month earlier, eight people were killed in another Virginia shooting.
Hamm said the Brady Campaign was “severely disappointed” in the Obama administration, which did not fight a new law allowing guns in national parks and trains after lawmakers attached it to unrelated legislation.
But Eugene Volokh, a professor of law at the University of California at Los Angeles, said that Obama’s election led to a spurt of concern and sales among gun enthusiasts. “A Democratic president coupled with a Democratic Congress coupled with occasional talk from Democratic leaders about banning guns or at least substantial restrictions — actually people do worry, why wouldn’t they?” he said.
The powerful National Rifle Association has waged a major push against the president under the slogan, “Obama would be the most anti-gun president in American history.”
In its June 2008 decision, the Supreme Court struck down a ban on handguns in the city of Washington in a 5-4 vote.
It marked the first time the highest court ruled that citizens have a right to own guns for self-defense. The Second Amendment to the Constitution speaks of the right to bear arms in the context of a “well-regulated militia.”
The latest case looks at a nearly 30-year ban on handguns in Chicago, Obama’s hometown, determining whether federal decisions should apply to local law.
The suit was filed by an elderly, African-American Chicago resident who said he wants to defend himself, part of a drive by gun rights advocates to present the issue as more than one led by rural whites.