"Most of the Supreme Court justices who two years ago said the 2nd Amendment protects individual gun rights signaled during arguments Tuesday that they are ready to extend this right nationwide and to use it to strike down some state and local gun regulations," David A. Savage reports for the LA Times.

All signs Tuesday were that five justices saw the right to "bear arms" as national in scope and not limited to laws passed in Washington.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy described the individual right to possess a gun as being of "fundamental character," like the right to freedom of speech. "If it is not fundamental, then Heller is wrong," Kennedy said, referring to the decision two years ago that struck down the handgun ban in the District of Columbia. Kennedy was part of the 5-4 majority in that case.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. called it an "extremely important" right in the Constitution. Justices Antonin Scalia and Samuel A. Alito Jr. echoed the theme that the court had endorsed an individual, nationwide right in their decision two years ago. The fifth member of the majority, Justice Clarence Thomas, did not comment during the argument, but he had been a steady advocate of the 2nd Amendment.

On Monday, RAW STORY reported that the court's decision in a challenge to Chicago's municipal handgun ban could shift the balance of power between the states and Washington.

If the Supreme Court rules to strike down the ban, it could lead to a slew of challenges against state laws on everything, not just guns.

The suit, filed by Otis McDonald, a 76-year-old African-American afraid for his life in his Chicago neighborhood, is part of a drive by gun rights advocates to present the issue as more than one led by rural whites.

The Supreme Court must determine to what extent the right to bear arms, as enshrined in the Second Amendment of the Bill of Rights, must be incorporated into local law by states like Chicago, where handguns have been banned for nearly 30 years.

The New York Times reported that five of the Supreme Court justices appear to be leaning towards striking down the ban.

An unusually intense Supreme Court argument Tuesday showed that the justices remain bitterly divided about the meaning and scope of the Second Amendment. And it suggested that the five-justice majority in the 2008 decision that first identified an individual right to keep and bear arms was prepared to take another major step in subjecting gun control laws to constitutional scrutiny.

Justice Breyer asked Alan Gura, a lawyer for residents of Chicago challenging its strict gun control law, whether the city should remain free to ban guns if it could show that hundreds of lives would be saved. Mr. Gura said no.

Justice Antonin Scalia, who wrote the majority decision in Heller, objected to the inquiry. A constitutional right, he said, cannot be overcome because it may have negative consequences.

Firearms are responsible for about 30,000 deaths each year in the United States, of which more than half are suicides and more than 10,000 murders.

The city of Chicago argues that its handgun ban saves 700 a lives a year.

"Firearms, unlike anything in the Bill of Rights, are designed to harm and kill," said city attorney James Feldman as opening arguments got under way.

The powerful National Rifle Association, a strong supporter of the Republican party, has waged a major legal push against the federal government since Obama was elected, labeling the Democratic president, "the most anti-gun president in American history."

The Supreme Court's ruling could build on a landmark June 2008 decision striking down a handgun ban in the city of Washington, which is not a state and operates under federal law.

That decision, greeted with fury by opponents of gun ownership in poor urban areas that see daily gun-related violence, was the first time the court had ruled that US citizens had a legal right to own guns for self-defense.

Local regulations have increasingly been at the forefront in the battle over gun control in the United States, where some 200 million firearms are in circulation -- in a population of 300 million -- and the right to bear arms is enshrined by the Constitution.

While Obama has not moved to curb gun freedoms, arms sales have shot up since his election in 2008 and conservatives deeply suspicious of his intentions have stepped up efforts to promote them.

At the federal level, US lawmakers have blocked the capital city of Washington from voting representation in Congress due to opposition to its gun laws.

(with AFP report)