Tuesday, June 29, 2010

McDonald Opinion’s Impact on the Nonprofit Sector

In yesterday’s decision of McDonald v. City of Chicago, the United States Supreme Court (in a 5-4 decision) held unconstitutional Chicago’s ban on handgun possession by private citizens.  The opening paragraph of the Court’s opinion, most (but not all) portions of which garnered the support of five justices, summarizes the legal significance of the case as follows:

Two years ago, in District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U. S. ___ (2008), we held that the Second Amendment protects the right to keep and bear arms for the purpose of self-defense, and we struck down a District of Columbia law that banned the possession of handguns in the home.  The city of Chicago (City) and the village of Oak Park, a Chicago suburb, have laws that are similar to the District of Columbia’s, but Chicago and Oak Park argue that their laws are constitutional because the Second Amendment has no application to the States.  We have previously held that most of the provisions of the Bill of Rights apply with full force to both the Federal Government and the States.  Applying the standard that is well established in our case law, we hold that the Second Amendment right is fully applicable to the States.

A notable qualification of the scope of the opinion appears in the following excerpt:

We made it clear in Heller that our holding did not cast doubt on such longstanding regulatory measures as “prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill,” “laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.” Id., at – (slip op., at 54–55).  We repeat those assurances here. Despite municipal respondents’ doomsday proclamations, incorporation does not imperil every law regulating firearms.

An interesting question is to what degree restrictions on hand gun possession on the premises of numerous types of nonprofits – not just schools, but also churches, hospitals, and homeless shelters, for example – would survive constitutional scrutiny.  The question is already being mulled over in Georgia, as reported in an article appearing in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.



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