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Published: Tuesday, 10/6/2009

Shots in the dark

LIKE most alarmists needlessly pan•icked about the direction of the Obama Administration, people who thought that their firearms would be taken away - and who flocked to gun stores to stock up - have lived a fiction. In reality, this has been a boom time for the Second Amendment.

Congress has fallen all over itself to show that it is the vassal of the National Rifle Association, and the administration, saving its political ammunition for issues like health-care reform, hasn't had a pole long enough to touch gun control. In May, legislation on credit cards - credit cards! - was amended to allow people to bring loaded guns into national parks. Mr. Obama signed it.

Now comes the Supreme Court to perhaps seal the deal for the United States of Arsenals.

Last year, the court declared what its predecessors had never done before: that "the right of the people to keep and bear arms" is an individual right, and never mind the inconvenient antecedent in the Constitution of "a well regulated militia" that suggests a collective right.

Justice Antonin Scalia softened the blow by declaring that "nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on long-standing prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools or government buildings "

But, as we remarked at the time, "the court, in settling one battle, has invited a thousand." Last week, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a challenge of Chicago's handgun ban.

This begs a question concerning the reach of the Second Amendment, because last year's case came from Washington, D.C., a federal enclave. The court previously has said that most (but not all) rights spelled out in the Constitution's Bill of Rights should apply to state and local laws as well.

This question is more than academic. If Chicago's gun ban is overturned, that ruling has the potential to start fights over state and local gun control laws across the country.

But in a country awash with guns and with a Supreme Court majority that has a broad interpretation of the Second Amendment, Americans who see gun control as a sane response to the national epidemic of gun violence have reason to be concerned. What new woes will be released by opening this Pandora's Box?



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