McDonald v. City of Chicago

McDonald v. Chicago

Argued March 2, 2010
Decided June 28, 2010
Full case name Otis McDonald, et al. v. City of Chicago, Illinois, et al.
Docket nos. 08-1521

561 U.S. 742 (more)

130 S. Ct. 3020; 177 L. Ed. 2d 894
Argument Oral argument
Prior history Judgment for defendants, 617 F. Supp. 2d 752 (N.D. Ill. 2008), aff'd, 567 F. 3d 856 (7th Cir. 2009), cert. granted, 557 U.S. 965 (2009)
The Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms for self defense in one's home is fully applicable to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment. Seventh Circuit reversed and remanded.
Court membership
Case opinions
Majority Alito, joined by Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy; Thomas (all except parts II-C, IV and V)
Concurrence Scalia
Concurrence Thomas
Dissent Stevens
Dissent Breyer, joined by Ginsburg, Sotomayor
Laws applied
U.S. Const. amend. II, XIV

McDonald v. Chicago, 561 U.S. 742 (2010), is a landmark[1] decision of the Supreme Court of the United States that determined whether the Second Amendment applies to the individual states. The Court held that the right of an individual to "keep and bear arms" protected by the Second Amendment is incorporated by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and applies to the states. The decision cleared up the uncertainty left in the wake of District of Columbia v. Heller as to the scope of gun rights in regard to the states.

Initially the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit had upheld a Chicago ordinance banning the possession of handguns as well as other gun regulations affecting rifles and shotguns, citing United States v. Cruikshank, Presser v. Illinois, and Miller v. Texas.[2] The petition for certiorari was filed by Alan Gura, the attorney who had successfully argued Heller, and Chicago-area attorney David G. Sigale.[3] The Second Amendment Foundation and the Illinois State Rifle Association sponsored the litigation on behalf of several Chicago residents, including retiree Otis McDonald.

The oral arguments took place on March 2, 2010.[4][5] On June 28, 2010, the Supreme Court, in a 5–4 decision, reversed the Seventh Circuit's decision, holding that the Second Amendment was incorporated under the Fourteenth Amendment thus protecting those rights from infringement by local governments.[6] It then remanded the case back to Seventh Circuit to resolve conflicts between certain Chicago gun restrictions and the Second Amendment.


In McDonald v. City of Chicago, (2010), Chicago resident Otis McDonald, a 76-year-old (in 2010) retired maintenance engineer, had lived in the Morgan Park neighborhood since buying a house there in 1971.[7] McDonald decried the decline of his neighborhood, describing it as being taken over by gangs and drug dealers. His lawn was regularly littered with refuse and his home and garage had been broken into a combined five times, with the most recent robbery committed by a man McDonald recognized from his own neighborhood.[7] An experienced hunter, McDonald legally owned shotguns, but believed them too unwieldy in the event of a robbery, and wanted to purchase a handgun for personal home defense. Due to Chicago's requirement that all firearms in the city be registered, yet refusing all handgun registrations after 1982 when a citywide handgun ban was passed, he was unable to legally own a handgun. As a result, in 2008, he joined three other Chicago residents in filing a lawsuit which became McDonald v. Chicago.[7]

McDonald v. Chicago as compared to NRA v. Chicago

Despite being consolidated at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, the cases are different in scope in terms of the specific regulations challenged and the legal argument for applying the Second Amendment against state and local governments. The Second Amendment Foundation brought the McDonald case to the Supreme Court with its lead attorney Alan Gura. The cases were appealed separately to the U.S. Supreme Court.[8]

Regulations challenged

McDonald challenged four broad aspects of Chicago's gun registration law, which, according to the plaintiffs:[9]

Legal basis for incorporation

All of the post-Heller cases, including McDonald, NRA v. Chicago, Nordyke and Maloney, argued that the Second Amendment, in addition to applying to federal jurisdictions, should also be applied against state and local governments, using a judicial process called selective incorporation. Selective incorporation involves convincing the court that a right is "fundamental" by being “implicit in the concept of ordered liberty” or “deeply rooted in our nation’s history and traditions” as defined most recently in the Supreme Court case Duncan v. Louisiana, 391 U.S. 145 (1968).

In addition to claiming the Second Amendment should be incorporated through the selective incorporation process, McDonald is unique among post-Heller gun cases in that it asked the court to overturn the Slaughter-House Cases, 83 U.S. 36 (1873). Slaughter-House determined that the 14th Amendment's Privileges or Immunities Clause did not apply the Bill of Rights to the actions of states (and by extension, local governments). If it had been overturned, the Selective Incorporation process may have become unnecessary, since the entire Bill of Rights, including the 2nd Amendment, would arguably be applied to the states.[10][11]

In attempting to overturn Slaughter-House, this case garnered the attention and support of both conservative and liberal legal scholars interested in its potential application in areas outside of firearms law. Their interest was that if Slaughter-House had been overturned, it would have been possible that constitutional guarantees such as the right to a jury in civil cases, right to a grand jury in felony cases, and other parts of the Bill of Rights, as well as future court rulings and existing federal precedent, not universally guaranteed in actions by the states, would have been applied against the states automatically.[12][13][14]

In his concurring opinion, Justice Thomas alone supported overturning the Slaughter-House and Cruikshank decisions,[15] proposing that "the right to keep and bear arms is a privilege of American citizenship that applies to the States through the Fourteenth Amendment’s Privileges or Immunities Clause."[16]

Amici curiae

Thirty-three amici curiae ("friends of the court") briefs for this case were filed with the Clerk of the Supreme Court.[17]

One of these briefs was filed by U.S. senators Kay Bailey Hutchison (R, TX) and Jon Tester (D, MT) and U.S. representatives Mark Souder (R, IN) and Mike Ross (D, AR) asking the Supreme Court to find in favor of the petitioners and rule that the Second Amendment does apply to the states.[18] The brief was signed by 58 senators and 251 representatives, more members of Congress than any amicus curiae brief in history.[19] Moreover, thirty-two states under the aegis of Texas (and California independently) also filed amici curiae.[20]


Central Second Amendment findings

In People v. Aguilar (2013), the Illinois Supreme Court summed up the central Second Amendment findings in McDonald:

Two years later, in McDonald v. City of Chicago, 561 U.S. ___, ___, 130 S. Ct. 3020, 3050 (2010), the Supreme Court held that the second amendment right recognized in Heller is fully applicable to the states through the due process clause of the fourteenth amendment. In so holding, the Court reiterated that “the Second Amendment protects the right to keep and bear arms for the purpose of self-defense” (id. at ___, 130 S. Ct. at 3026); that “individual self-defense is ‘the central component’ of the Second Amendment right” (emphasis in original) (id. at ___, 130 S. Ct. at 3036 (quoting Heller, 554 U.S. at 599)); and that “[s]elf-defense is a basic right, recognized by many legal systems from ancient times to the present day” (id. at ___, 130 S. Ct. at 3036).[21]


Writing for the majority, Justice Alito held that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment incorporates the Second Amendment right recognized in Heller.[22] Writing a concurring opinion, Justice Thomas reached the same conclusion regarding the incorporation issue on different grounds: Privileges or Immunities Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.[23] The majority decision also reaffirmed that certain firearms restrictions mentioned in District of Columbia v. Heller are assumed permissible and not directly dealt with in this case.[24] Such restrictions include those to "prohibit...the possession of firearms by felons or mentally ill" and "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".[24]


Justice Stevens wrote a lengthy dissenting opinion. Among his disagreements with the majority was the statement that incorporation was not at issue in this case. Citing Cruikshank, Stevens wrote, "The so-called incorporation question was squarely and, in my view, correctly resolved in the late 19th century." In addition, he argues against incorporation, taking issue with the methodology of the majority opinions.

Justice Breyer wrote, "In sum, the Framers did not write the Second Amendment in order to protect a private right of armed self defense. There has been, and is, no consensus that the right is, or was, 'fundamental.'"[25]


The initial reactions of the Court's ruling were favorable from both the National Rifle Association[26] and the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.[27] Both issued statements to the public that they feel they were vindicated by the Court's holding. However, the court did not include a "clarification of the standard for review" as requested by the Brady group in their amicus brief. However, since these 2nd Amendment rights are both "fundamental" and "individual", the Strict Scrutiny Standard must necessarily be applied.[28] In a discussion on the day of the ruling Wayne LaPierre of the NRA and Paul Helmke of the Brady Center both agreed that the Court's ruling protected specifically against bans on handguns for "lawful purposes" such as self-protection in the home. But as to the general question of gun laws not covered in McDonald, a large number of lawsuits are needed in order to determine whether any other existing State gun regulations might also be unconstitutional. McDonald, supra., stated that the "2nd Amendment is 'fully applicable' to all of the States," but Wayne LaPierre expressed caution that the NRA has "a lot of work ahead" attempting to overturn other gun control regulations not covered by McDonald, while Paul Helmke voiced his personal opinion that the NRA was "going to lose most of those lawsuits".[29]

Related cases

The day after Heller was filed the National Rifle Association filed five similar lawsuits challenging local gun bans:

Other notable post-Heller Second Amendment court cases:

See also


  1. "In McDonald v. Chicago another Supreme Court landmark ruling on guns?". The Christian Science Monitor. 2010-03-01.
  2. National Rifle Ass'n of Amer., Inc. v. City of Chicago, 567 F.3d 856, 857 (7th Cir. 2009)
  3. Taff, Mark. "SAF Files Lawsuit Challenging Chicago's Handgun Ban". Retrieved July 6, 2009.
  4. Miller, Erin (March 2, 2010). "Podcasts: McDonald v. City of Chicago". SCOTUSblog. Retrieved March 2, 2010.
  5. Liptak, Adam (March 2, 2010). "Supreme Court Still Divided on Guns". The New York Times.
  6. Mears, Bill (June 28, 2010). "Court rules for gun rights, strikes down Chicago handgun ban". CNN.
  7. 1 2 3 Tanaka, Jennifer (January 2010). "On Otis McDonald and his lawsuit challenging Chicago's 1982 handgun ban". Chicago Magazine. Retrieved 10 October 2012.
  8. "A new Second Amendment case". SCOTUSblog. Archived from the original on June 17, 2009. Retrieved July 4, 2009.
  9. " » FAQs". Retrieved July 6, 2009.
  10. "[T]he words 'No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States' seems to me an eminently reasonable way of expressing the idea that henceforth the Bill of Rights shall apply to the States." Erwin Chemerinsky et al., Constitutional Law § 6.3.2 (3d ed. 2006) (quoting Duncan v. Louisiana, 391 U.S. 145, 166 (1968) (Black, dissenting))
  11. More precisely, the Privileges or Immunities Clause would incorporate the first eight amendments of the Bill of Rights; since the 9th and 10th Amendments refer to the unenumerated rights of individuals and reserved powers of the states respectively, their incorporation, at least for the 10th Amendment, would be paradoxical or meaningless.
  12. "Liberals Use Supreme Court Gun Case to Bolster Other Rights". Retrieved July 4, 2009.
  13. "Constitutional Accountability Center filed brief in NRA v. Chicago". Retrieved July 4, 2009.
  14. "Brief for Constitutional Law Professors as Amici Curiae" (PDF). Retrieved June 29, 2010.
  15. slip op., at 52-54 (Thomas, J., concurring)
  16. slip op., at 1 (Thomas, J., concurring)
  17. "Merit Briefs for February Supreme Court Cases, Term 2009-2010". American Bar Association. Retrieved June 29, 2010.
  18. "Brief for Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison et al. as Amici Curiae" (PDF). Retrieved June 28, 2010.
  19. "Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison press release". November 23, 2009. Archived from the original on 2011-02-04. Retrieved October 9, 2013.
  21. "People v. Aguilar, 2013 IL 112116" (PDF). Illinois Supreme Court. Illinois Supreme Court. September 12, 2013. p. 6. Retrieved September 14, 2014.
  22. McDonald, at ___-___ (slip op., at 44)
  23. SCOTUS blog
  24. 1 2 McDonald, at ___-___ (slip op., at 39-40)
  25. "OK, Let's Debate Gun Control!". The Wall Street Journal. 2012-07-23.
  26. "Statement by Wayne LaPierre Executive Vice President, NRA and Chris W. Cox Executive Director, NRA-ILA Regarding U.S. Supreme Court Decision McDonald v. City of Chicago". Retrieved June 25, 2010.
  27. "Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence: Media". Retrieved June 25, 2010.
  28. "Brief for the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence et al. as Amici Curiae" (PDF). Retrieved June 28, 2010.
  29. Interviewer: Gwen Ifill (June 28, 2010). "After Supreme Court Ruling, Cities Face Restructuring of Gun Laws". NewsHour. PBS.
  30. Egelko, Bob (January 14, 2009). "San Francisco Housing Authority settles gun lawsuit". Retrieved 2009-01-16.
  31. "NRA Eyes More Targets After D.C. Gun-Ban Win". NPR. Retrieved July 6, 2009.
  32. Koppel, David (11 December 2013). "Moore v. Madigan, key points". The Volokh Conspiracy. Retrieved 13 July 2013.
  33. "Appeals court won't reconsider concealed carry ruling". Associated Press. Chicago Sun Times. 22 February 2013. Retrieved 13 July 2013.
  34. McCune, Greg (July 9, 2013). "Illinois Is Last State to Allow Concealed Carry of Guns", Reuters. Retrieved July 20, 2013.
  35. Jones, Ashby (July 9, 2013). "Illinois Abolishes Ban on Carrying Concealed Weapons", Wall Street Journal. Retrieved July 20, 2013.
  36. McDermott, Kevin, and Hampel, Paul (July 11, 2013). "Illinois Concealed Carry Now on the Books — But Not Yet in the Holster", St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Retrieved July 20, 2013.
  37. DeFiglio, Pam (July 9, 2013). "General Assembly Overrides Veto, Legalizing Concealed Carry in Illinois", Patch Media. Retrieved July 20, 2013.

External links

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