Chicago gun ban unconstitutional: high court

The Supreme Court of the United States has ruled a 28-year ban on handguns in the city of Chicago to be unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court of the United States has ruled a 28-year ban on handguns in the city of Chicago to be unconstitutional, advancing a recent trend by the conservative-led bench to embrace gun rights.

In a 5-4 vote, the justices signalled, however, that less severe restrictions could survive legal challenges.

Writing for the majority, Justice Samuel Alito said the U.S. Constitution's Second Amendment, which provides Americans the right to keep and bear arms, "applies equally to the federal government and the states."

"Individual self-defence is the 'central component' of the Second Amendment right," Alito wrote, adding handguns, as the most preferred firearm for home use, must be permitted.

"The right to keep and bear arms must be regarded as a substantive guarantee, not a prohibition that could be ignored so long as the states legislated in an evenhanded manner," he wrote.

The court was split along familiar ideological lines, with five conservative-moderate justices, including Chief Justice John Roberts, in favour of gun rights and four liberals opposed.

In 2008, the court struck down a District of Columbia law that banned the possession of handguns in the home, ruling that the Second Amendment "protects the right to keep and bear arms for the purpose of self-defence."

In that ruling, Scalia said nothing should "cast doubt on long-standing prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons or the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings."

But gun rights proponents almost immediately filed a federal lawsuit challenging gun control laws in Chicago and its suburb of Oak Park, Ill., where handguns have been banned for nearly 30 years. Lower federal courts upheld the two laws, noting that judges on those benches were bound by Supreme Court precedent and that it would be up to the high court justices to ultimately rule on the true reach of the Second Amendment.

Monday's decision did not explicitly strike down the Chicago area laws, ordering a federal appeals court to reconsider its ruling. But it left little doubt that they would eventually fall.

Still, Alito noted that the declaration that the Second Amendment is fully binding on states and cities "limits, but by no means eliminates, their ability to devise solutions to social problems that suit local needs and values."

With files from The Associated Press