The Supreme Court of the United States heard oral arguments on Tuesday in a case about gun ownership rights that could have far-reaching implications on the ability of states and local communities to enact and enforce gun control laws.
The case stems from a long-standing handgun ban in Chicago.
Seventy-six-year old Otis McDonald lives in a crime-ridden community on Chicago's South Side and he wanted a handgun to defend himself against criminal gangs and drug dealers.
McDonald spoke to reporters outside the Supreme Court about his decision to challenge the Chicago handgun ban. "How can you even imagine that law-abiding elderly people like myself are going to be a danger to society when the young people running around with all these guns, they are the ones doing the shooting and killing and all that stuff. Those are the ones who need some discipline," he said.
Attorneys for McDonald and gun rights groups like the National Rifle Association argued that the 2008 Supreme Court decision legalizing handguns in Washington, D.C., should also apply to the rest of the country.
In that decision, the high court ruled that the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees individuals the right to keep and bear arms in the District of Columbia.
Attorney Alan Gura argued McDonald's case before the nine-member Supreme Court. "Of course, we are not against all gun laws. But those gun laws that are designed only to make gun ownership expensive, burdensome or impossible are going to fall by the wayside. Those which actually do achieve a public safety benefit, of course, are not going to be threatened by this," said the attorney.
Gura contends that the court should extend the Second Amendment right to bear arms to the rest of the country. Washington, D.C. is considered a federal enclave, so the 2008 decision was limited to that jurisdiction.
Arguing to uphold the handgun ban was Chicago city attorney Benna Solomon. Solomon said that of the 412 murders involving firearms in Chicago in 2008, handguns were used in 402 of them.
"We in the city of Chicago have not taken the position that other governments around the country have to regulate handguns in the way that our citizens have chosen to do so. It works for Chicago and that is why we do it. It may not work other places and those places don't have to do it," said Solomon.
Supporters of gun control fear that a Supreme Court decision to extend a constitutional right to own a firearm nationwide would severely undermine the ability of state and local officials to enact reasonable restrictions on the ownership and use of firearms.
Paul Helmke is with the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. "With 30,000 people killed every year in this country with guns and 80,000 people injured every year in this country with guns, elected officials need to have some choices they can make to reduce crime and violence in their communities," he said.
Many legal scholars say that the five-member conservative majority on the Supreme Court will likely extend gun ownership protections in connection with the Chicago case, while leaving the door open to some regulation and restrictions by states and local communities.
A high court ruling is expected sometime before the end of June.