The fundamental question of an individual's right to own guns was finally laid to rest by the U.S. Supreme Court yesterday, in a contentious decision that shifted the legal ground for the nation's gun control debate.

The 5 to 4 decision, driven by the court's conservative majority, isn't the death knell for all gun regulation. But it placed the burden on states and localities to prove that their laws aren't tantamount to a ban on gun ownership. So the gun fights aren't over; however, federal judges, rather than elected officials, will now have the final word on regulation.

The decision came as no great surprise. The court affirmed the constitutional right to gun ownership in 2008 when it overturned a District of Columbia ban on handguns. Yesterday's ruling, involving similar laws in Chicago and nearby suburban Oak Park, broadened it to states and municipalities.

Government can still restrict guns in some instances, like keeping them out of schools and barring sales to felons and the mentally ill. But it's unclear what yesterday's ruling will mean for restrictions like bans on assault weapons or attempts to slow the flow of guns into urban areas like New York City. Such questions will have to be sorted out in litigation.

What is clear is that gun owners no longer need to fear that every restriction is a step toward taking away their guns. That should eliminate some unreasonable resistance to reasonable regulation. hN

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