A Chicago ordinance banning handguns and automatic weapons within city limits was upheld by a U.S. Court of Appeals panel, which rejected a challenge by the National Rifle Association.
The unanimous three-judge panel ruled today that a U.S. Supreme Court decision last year, which recognized an individual right to bear arms under the U.S. Constitution's Second Amendment, didn't apply to states and municipalities.
"The Supreme Court has rebuffed requests to apply the second amendment to the states," U.S. Circuit Judge Frank Easterbrook wrote, upholding lower court decisions last year to throw out suits against Chicago and its suburb of Oak Park, Illinois.
The Fairfax, Virginia-based NRA sued the municipalities in June 2008, one day after the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in District of Columbia v. Heller struck down a hand-gun ban in the U.S. capital district encompassing Washington.
"We recognize that this may not be the end of this litigation," Jenny Hoyle, a spokeswoman for the city of Chicago's law department, said in a telephone interview, acknowledging that the NRA was likely to seek Supreme Court review. "We're certainly prepared for that if this happens. We're prepared to aggressively defend our ordinance."
NRA attorney William N. Howard, a partner in Chicago's Freeborn & Peters LLP, declined to comment immediately on the court's decision.
Adopted in 1791 as part of the Bill of Rights, the Second Amendment reads in its entirety: "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."
In Heller, the high court struck down Washington's 32-year- old gun law, which barred most residents of the city from owning handguns and required that all legal firearms be kept unloaded and either disassembled or under trigger lock. Six residents had challenged the law, saying they wanted firearms available in their homes for self-defense.
"Heller dealt with a law enacted under the authority of the national government," Easterbrook wrote, "while Chicago and Oak Park are subordinate bodies of a state."
Chicago's law took effect in 1982, Hoyle said. While it allows ownership of long guns such as rifles, they must be registered annually with the city's police department. Concealed weapons, semi-automatic and automatic weapons are not permitted.
Some exemptions apply to members of the military and law enforcement agencies.
Chicago U.S. District Judge Milton Shadur on Dec. 4 rejected the NRA's request that he apply the Heller ruling to the Chicago and Oak Park laws, stating he was bound to follow a 1982 appeals court ruling upholding a ban by the Illinois village of Morton Grove.
That decision came from the U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago, the same body that issued today's opinion. The 15 judges of the Seventh Circuit hear appeals from the federal courts of Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin.
Easterbrook, joined by Circuit Court Judges Richard Posner and William Bauer, said they too were bound to follow the precedent of a higher court, the U.S. Supreme Court, in its ruling on the Second Amendment not applying to states.
An appellate court departure from high court precedent "undermines the uniformity of national law," Easterbrook wrote.
The judges rendered their ruling one week after hearing arguments.
The case is National Rifle Association of America v. City of Chicago, 08-4241, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit (Chicago).