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September 28, 2009

Does it Apply?

Last year, the Supreme Court overturned a handgun ban here in the federal enclave of Washington and ruled that the Second Amendment protects individual gun ownership (the justices did leave room for firearms regulation, saying government could prohibit guns in "sensitive places" and forbid ownership by certain dangerous people, such as felons). But the court did not say whether the Second Amendment also applies to the states.

Last Thursday, an 11-member panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals grappled with this specific question. The case, Nordyke v. King, involves a dispute over a firearms ban at the Alameda County Fairgrounds in California. Some members of the divided panel argued that the Second Amendment "right to keep and bear arms" is binding on states. Others argued that the Supreme Court has never overturned its earlier rulings that said the Second Amendment applies only to the federal government. One judge suggested the court uphold the ordinance as a valid public safety measure while side-stepping the constitutional argument.

Sayre Weaver, attorney for Alameda County, presented the argument that the earlier Supreme Court decisions that set precedents on the scope of the Second Amendment remain binding and can be overturned only by the high court. The 9th Circuit issued an order after the argument that they are holding the Nordyke case pending disposition by the Supreme Court of another case, National Rifle Association v. Chicago, where the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals found that the Second Amendment is not incorporated at the state level.

The Supreme Court’s decision on whether to accept the Chicago case for consideration will be a key one and have a significant effect on gun-related litigation across the country.

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