The U.S. Supreme Court's decision declaring that the Constitution protects an individual's right to own a gun is already sending ripples across the law enforcement and political landscapes.
Advocates of gun rights say there will be a flood of lawsuits attempting to have regulations on gun ownership eased, and they expect those efforts to be successful. Big city mayors and police chiefs are predicting an increase in gun violence.
Reaction to the decision is almost as sharply divided as the justices were.
By a 5-4 vote, the court struck down the District of Columbia's ban on handguns, declaring for the first time that the Constitution protects not just gun ownership connected with military service, but also private gun ownership for self-defense. Writing for the court majority, Justice Antonin Scalia said handguns are the preferred weapons for self-defense because, in his words, a handgun "can be pointed at a burglar with one hand, while the other hand dials the police." A total ban on guns in the home, he said, is unconstitutional, as is any requirement that they be trigger-locked.
Scalia's opinion, however, left open the possibility — even the likelihood — that the court will uphold some, and maybe many, restrictions on gun ownership and use. "Nothing in our opinion," he said, "should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill." Nor should it cast doubt on laws banning guns in places like schools or government buildings, or laws that impose conditions and qualifications on the sale of guns.
But Scalia acknowledged that the court has left unresolved dozens, maybe hundreds, of issues: First and foremost, does this decision apply to more than the federal government and the federal city of Washington — does it apply to state and local governments? Are registration laws constitutional — waiting periods, laws banning armor-piercing bullets? What about laws that deny gun permits to people who have had restraining orders against them stemming from domestic violence? What category of guns, if any, can be banned? Assault weapons? And if so, which ones?
Pro- and anti-gun forces agreed the nation is in store for years of court battles over these questions, most of which, until Thursday, had been deemed settled in favor of regulation.