Published on
The Sydney Morning Herald

Court Action Threatens Softer Handgun Laws

Simon Mann

An assortment of Colt and Glock semi-automatic handguns are on display at the Nations Gunshow in Chantilly, Virginia in 2009. 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. (AFP/File/Karen Bleier)

WASHINGTON -  A legal challenge to Chicago's 28-year ban on
handguns could shoot down the right of individual states and cities in
America to draft their own gun laws.

The Supreme
Court action by four citizens who want the right to defend themselves
against potential assault and robbery could unleash a chain reaction
that overturns restrictive gun laws across the country.

It comes 20 months after the highest court in the US ruled as unconstitutional similar handgun laws in Washington DC.

legal challenge touches a hot button issue in America where gun laws
are constantly derided by lobbyists, such as the powerful National
Rifle Association, as running counter to the constitution's Second
Amendment, which enshrines the right of citizens ''to keep and bear

In Virginia, legislators are also in the
midst of a battle over guns, with Republicans trying to repeal a
17-year law limiting the purchase of handguns to one a month. The
change would also allow Virginians to carry concealed weapons into bars
and restaurants, provided the holder does not drink alcohol and has a
so-called ''concealed-carry'' permit.

The plaintiffs
believe that allowing citizens to keep guns in their houses would make
some of Chicago's tougher neighbourhoods safer.

law-abiding citizens, responsible adults, the right to keep handguns in
their homes is not going to make [violence] any worse; it will likely
make it better,'' Mike Weisman of the Illinois State Rifle Association,
which is a plaintiff in the case, told the Chicago Tribune.

activists have been marshalling opposition, too; both sides are using
statistics to support their argument. Some studies suggest crime rates
rose after the gun ban was enacted in 1982 and that Chicago now ranks
higher on a list of most dangerous US cities. But city officials argue
that murder rates are down and more than 60 per cent of handgun
killings are gang-related.

Against that is the rising number of youth homicides. Last year, Chicago had the nation's highest youth murder rate.

A similar debate rages in Washington, where last year murders dropped by 25 per cent to 140 after the handgun ban was lifted.

The court's decision is not expected before midyear.

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