McDonald v. Chicago Case Analysis

McDonald v. Chicago case, which deals with a Chicago ordinance that banned gun ownership, involves a challenge of the Second Amendment to the US Constitution. In this case, the Supreme Court made a landmark decision as to whether the Second Amendment is applicable to individual states. Below is the case brief, which explains the question in the case, its issue, reasoning and conclusion of the judges.

Facts of the Case

A Chicago resident named Otis McDonald, who was a retired engineer, wanted to buy a handgun for the sole purpose of protecting his home. Due to the increasing crime rate in Chicago neighborhood where he had been living for about 40 years, McDonald had become aware of the need to defend himself and his property. He was a victim of several break-ins of thefts. Though he was a legal owner of shotguns and rifles, he believed that with the aid of a handgun, he would protect himself better in close quarters. The city of Chicago, however, had required the registration of all handguns in the city for legal ownership. At that time, the city had not been issuing new permits for over thirty years and this was a concern to many. To McDonald, this restriction was a tactful operation aiming to ban possession of all handguns and this would deprive him of his right to keep and bear arms as prescribed in the Second Amendment. MacDonald thus filed a suit and claimed that the near-total ban of handguns was outraging his rights guaranteed by the Second Amendment. Moreover, he joined other plaintiffs who had sued states for the same case and had unsuccessful attempts in overturning the ban. This is because the cases were rebuffed by both the district and appeal courts. The Supreme Court was the one that finally granted certiorari in clarifying whether the Second Amendment was applicable equally to both the states’ and federal governments.


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Issues in the Case

The issue here was whether the Second Amendment guaranteeing the right to keep and bear arms created the right of an individual to own firearms. It was also critical to determine whether this right is enforceable against the states through incorporating the Second Amendment via due process clause in the Fourteenth Amendment. The main question was “is the right to keep and bear arms being protected by the privileges and immunities clause?”

It was held that the Second Amendment created an individual right as opposed to the collective one, which generally guaranteed the citizens’ right to own guns legally. It was held that the right to bear and keep arms is a citizens’ guaranteed right and is enforceable against states, as this has been incorporated via the Fourteenth Amendment. The court was unable to reach a consensus regarding the privileges and immunities question, with the majority pronouncing an opinion that an analysis was vital while the court decided that a specific right is protected by the Bill of Rights. This was done in accordance with the incorporated by the Fourteenth Amendments’ due process clause.

Reasoning in the Case

A decision that was made by judge Alito was the opinion of the court regarding the final section. It was made by joining the views of the majority by the chief judge together with judges Scalia and Kennedy. By citing historical analysis, judge Alito analyzed how the Bill of Rights has limited the federal government’s authority by specifically protecting certain enumerated rights. Originally, the protection had only limited the federal government’s authority but with the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment, the court held that most guarantees in the Bill of Rights were incorporated to states via the due process clause. The judges argued that historically, many factors could influence the determination as to whether a specific right ought to have been incorporated whereby many rights were afforded such treatment. The court, however, maintained the selective incorporation’s doctrine and addressed each and every individual’s liberty guarantee in a separate way.

Though the court had previously avoided incorporating the Second Amendment, in this case, it opted to do so citing the nature of self-defense, which is fundamental as well, that is the necessity of the right to bear arms in order to guarantee self-protection. In addition, the court relied much on the history of the Fourteenth Amendment as well as on the contemporaneous issues regarding the right to self-protection being a part of a basic guarantee which is protected by the US Constitution. The majority of the judges rejected the opportunity to accept the Fourteenth Amendment narrower perspective and the doctrine of incorporation with their refusal to provide antidiscrimination of the Second Amendment. This instead continued the tradition of extending the other basic guarantees as they have been recognized by the Bill of Rights. Judge Alito finally gave an opinion regarding the final section where he argued that the court ought to refuse to entertain the question of privileges and immunities, as that analysis was unnecessary with the court having determined the right to bear arms to be a substantive guarantee under the Fourteenth Amendment terms. Judge Alito claimed that it would be unwise to treat the right to bear arms by any standards other than the rights guaranteed by the Bill of Rights except a good cause.


The majority of the judges concurred with that opinion. For instance, judge Scalia agreed with the majority but simultaneously noted his hesitance with regard to the substantive due process being a general matter. In his opinion, judge Scalia  stated that the view of the dissenters was fundamentally irrelevant and opted for more subjective standards in reference to the selection of protected liberties. At the same time, he argued against historical tradition being used to aid interpretations. Judge Thomas, in his turn, joined the majority and concurred with its opinion in all but the final section. Pronouncing his ideas, judge Thomas asserting that the court ought to have addressed the question of privileges and immunities with regard to the right to bear arms as a vital and fundamental right that is protected by the clause. This rendered the more complicated question of due process unwanted and unnecessary. To add on that, judge Thomas reiterated the view that the due process clause was protecting the process and not the substance thus rejecting the general principles of incorporation under which the court had extended the right to bear arms to be not restricted by state authority.

Dissenting Opinions

Being dissenting, judge Stevens agreed with the majority in reference to the privileges and immunities question, but disagreed with its treatment of the Second Amendment., Judge Stevens was very clear in the way he regarded the case as being a substantive due process case. While agreeing with the long-standing interpretation of due process to be having procedural and substantive components, he objected inherently to the subjective nature of any standard in reference to the rights, which are covered. He thus suggested that uniformity between the protection of state and federal government was neither a goal nor was it desirable. Another judge who dissented was judge Breyer who agreed with Stevens with regard to the substantive portion of due process in the majority’s opinion. He argued that the due process protection essence did not concern the right to possess firearms for self-defense at home. Judge Breyer went further in clarifying his view that the majority was wrong with regard to incorporation, noting that nothing in history and text of the Second Amendment suggests that it is fundamental to an extend that it needs protections binding on the states via due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The dissenters often disagreed with each other concerning whether the Constitution protected a general right of people to bear arms.


It was reiterated by the court that the Second Amendment guarantee of the right to keep and bear arms was a liberty to an individual. It extended those protections by limiting the states in prohibiting people to own firearms. However, the court failed to revisit the question of privileges and immunities instead resting its decision squarely on the grounds of due process. The decision was reached by the majority of five to four, which means a simple majority.

My Opinion

I totally agree with the decision of the court as the ban on possessing handguns at home would amount to a prohibition of all arms that Americans decided to buy for self-defense. The requirement by the state that any firearm in one’s home should be disassembled would make it impossible for the US citizens to use arms for self-defense. Though I agree that legalizing firearms to be in the hands of individuals increases cases of homicides and manslaughter, self-defense is vital for all people in these days when the rates of crime have been on the increase. The states should understand that self-defense is a basic right of all Americans, which has been recognized by many legal systems from the ancient times up to now.

Discount applied successfully