McDonald v Chicago

Have you ever loved a movie and couldn’t wait to talk to a friend about it, only to hear that they hated it? Maybe you've talked a friend into reading a book that you couldn’t put down, only to hear that it bored them to tears. People see the world through their experiences, and two people can read the same thing and come away with entirely different meanings. The 2nd Amendment of the U.S. Constitution is a perfect example of how one small passage can spark considerable differences in interpretation. It would be nice to be able to step back in time to interview the framers, and say, “Hey, could you clarify this?” In America, we rely on the Courts to interpret the Constitution, and their ruling in McDonald v. City of Chicago had a significant impact on gun rights in this country. 

McDonald v Chicago McDonald v Chicago

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Table of contents

    McDonald v. City of Chicago

    McDonald v. City of Chicago is a landmark Supreme Court case that applied the 2nd Amendment’s right to bear arms to state and local government.

    Incorporation Doctrine

    When the Bill of Rights was first added to the Constitution, they only protected individual liberties from the federal government, not state or local governments. The 14th Amendment was one of three Reconstruction Amendments, along with the 13th and 15th, that significantly impacted the freedoms of many Americans. The 14th Amendment promises that no state shall deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without the due process of law. After the Civil War, the Supreme Court began to decide that portions of the Bill of Rights did apply to state and local governments through a process known as selective incorporation. On a case by case basis, almost all the first ten amendments have been applied to the states.

    Incorporation Doctrine: a legal concept under which the Supreme Court has applied the Bill of Rights to the states through the 14th Amendment

    Gitlow v. New York was the first instance of selective incorporation. In 1925, the Supreme Court ruled that the portions of the First Amendment are fundamental personal liberties and are protected by the due process clause of the 14th Amendment; therefore, states may not abridge those rights.

    McDonald v. Chicago, 2010

    McDonald v. Chicago was argued on March 2, 2010, and decided on June 28, 2010. Before 2010, the Supreme Court had never decided whether the 2nd Amendment was a fundamental right in which states could not infringe.

    The question that the Court had to resolve was: Does the 2nd Amendment right to keep and bear arms apply to state and local governments through the 14th Amendment’s due process clause?

    McDonald v. Chicago Summary

    In the 2008 case, District of Columbia v. Heller, the Supreme Court concluded that the 2nd Amendment right to keep and bear arms included an individual citizen’s personal right to gun ownership for lawful purposes and is not connected to service in a militia. Washington, D.C. is unique in that it is the home of the federal government, and so the question remained whether states and local governments could ban individuals from owning firearms.

    In 1982, in an effort to combat crime, Chicago passed a law requiring its citizens to register any handgun they purchased. The registration process was complex, lengthy, and confusing. Owning a firearm that wasn’t registered was a crime. Many citizens complained that due to the difficult nature of the registration, the requirement was essentially a ban on gun ownership.

    Otis McDonald, a resident of Chicago, sued the city. He claimed that the 14th Amendment’s Due Process clause makes the 2nd Amendment apply to the state and local governments. McDonald lost in federal district court and in the Seventh Circuit of Appeals. McDonald asked the Supreme Court, the court of last resort, to hear his case. They agreed.

    Constitutional Provisions

    The Constitutional provisions central to the case of McDonald v. Chicago are the 2nd and 14th Amendments.

    2nd Amendment:

    A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed"

    Protestors at a 2nd Amendment Rally, StudySmarterFig. 1: Protestors at a 2nd Amendment rally - Wikimedia Commons

    14th Amendment:

    ……nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law."

    Arguments for McDonald:

    • The Second Amendment is deeply rooted in American history and applies to the states. Gun ownership pre-dates the founding of our county and is an important part of American culture.

    • Most of the other Bill of Rights have been incorporated to the states, so the 2nd Amendment shouldn’t be treated any differently.

    • The framers intended the 2nd Amendment for citizens to defend themselves against a tyrannical government. It doesn’t make sense that they could defend themselves against the federal government but not state or local governments.

    • The Chicago registration requirement is not reasonable. In practice, it is a ban, not reasonable regulation.

    • Applying the 2nd Amendment is not a public safety crisis. The Second Amendment does not threaten traditional regulations.

    Arguments for Chicago:

    • The Bill of Rights doesn’t historically apply to limits on state or local governments.

    • Heller concluded that individual gun ownership is a right of the 2nd Amendment; however, that doesn’t mean that states cannot regulate guns.

    • The United States has changed since the Constitution was written. The right to keep a handgun is not a fundamental right that merits incorporation of the 2nd Amendment.

    • The 2nd Amendment right to keep and to bear arms is not absolute, like many rights.

    • Chicago had not banned handguns. The city had simply placed regulations and restrictions on gun ownership and made registering a firearm mandatory.

    • States and cities have unique problems that the Court should not interfere with regrading gun safety. Applying the 2nd Amendment would nullify many existing local gun laws.

    McDonald v. Chicago Ruling

    McDonald v. Chicago, Justice Alito, StudySmarterFig. 2: Justice Samuel Alito - Wikimedia Commons

    In a 5-4 decision, the Court ruled in favor of McDonald, agreeing that the 2nd Amendment’s right to keep and bear arms is fully applicable to the states through the 14th Amendment’s due process clause. Justice Samuel Alito wrote the Majority Opinion and announced the decision of the Court. He was joined in the majority by Chief Justice Roberts, and Justices Scalia and Kennedy. Justice Thomas joined in part.

    They based their decision on history and tradition and said that the right to self-defense is a basic right and that Heller had set the precedent that individual self-defense is included in the 2nd Amendment.

    Justices Stevens, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Ginsburg dissented. They argued that the authors of the Constitution had never intended private gun ownership to be a fundamental right, and that the 2nd Amendment was not meant to be interpreted as the private right of self-defense with a firearm. They did not agree the 2nd Amendment was worth incorporating.

    Impact of McDonald v. Chicago

    As a result of the McDonald decision, Chicago’s handgun ban was struck down and the 2nd Amendment was incorporated to the states. Heller had impacted the District of Columbia, and McDonald extended that ruling to state and local governments. The impact of McDonald is that all state and local gun laws must be in compliance with the 2nd Amendment to be in adherence to the Constitution. Courts are still determining which gun restrictions are constitutional and which aren't.

    McDonald v. Chicago - Key takeaways

    • McDonald v. Chicago is a landmark Supreme Court case that applied the 2nd Amendment’s right to keep and to bear arms to state and local government.
    • The Constitutional provisions central to McDonald v. Chicago are the 2nd and 14th Amendments.

    • Incorporation Doctrine: a legal concept under which the Supreme Court has applied the Bill of Rights to the states through the 14th Amendment

    • In a 5-4 decision, the Court ruled in favor of McDonald, agreeing that the 2nd Amendment’s right to keep and bear arms is fully applicable to the states through the 14th Amendment’s due process clause.
    • As a result of the McDonald decision, Chicago’s handgun ban was struck down and the 2nd Amendment was incorporated to the states.

    References

    1. Fig. 1, Protestors at a 2nd Amendment Rally, (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Virginia_2nd_Amendment_Rally_(2020_Jan)_-_49416124651.jpg)
    2. Fig. 2, Samuel Alito (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samuel_Alito) by Steve Petteway (https://api.oyez.org/sites/default/files/images/people/samuel_alito_jr/samuel_a_alito_jr-photograph_0.jpg) license by Public Domain
    Frequently Asked Questions about McDonald v Chicago

    What was the McDonald v. Chicago case about? 

    McDonald v. Chicago is about whether a handgun ban in Chicago violated the 2nd Amendment rights of an individual to keep and bear arms. It is a selective incorporation case which applied the 2nd Amendment to the states through the 14th Amendment’s due process clause.

    What was the issue in McDonald v Chicago? 

    The issue in McDonald v. Chicago was whether state and local governments could ban gun ownership. 

    Who won McDonald v .Chicago?

    In a 5-4 decision the Supreme Court ruled in favor of McDonald. 

    Why Is McDonald v. Chicago important?

    McDonald v. City of Chicago is a landmark Supreme Court case that applied the 2nd Amendment’s right to keep and to bear arms to state and local government.

     

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Who won McDonald v. Chicago?

    What constitutional provisions are central to McDonald v. Chicago?

    What is the legal doctrine known as that refers to applying the Bill of Rights to the States through the 14th Amendment?

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