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But that right only extends to gun ownership in the home, and even then, it's subject to all sorts of restrictions and licensure requirements. Just how strict those requirements can be (could D.C. pass a six-month waiting period for handgun purchases?) will need to be resolved by litigation.
Outside of D.C., nothing has changed. The Heller decision won't affect other cities with gun restrictions as severe as those in D.C. So-called "assault weapon bans" still are valid. All Heller did outside the nation's capital was remove the possibility that Congress might one day pass a blanket federal ban on all firearm ownership, which seemed like a remote possibility, anyway.
Pan back a bit and the cause for skepticism grows. The Bill of Rights never was intended to be a list of the only rights we have; in fact, the founders worried that future generations might interpret it that way, which is why they included the Ninth and Tenth amendments.
Rather, the Bill of Rights includes the rights the founders considered most important, those necessary to secure and preserve all of the others.
The right to bear arms appears second on the list. And yet even here, on an issue that's become a central tenet of conservative philosophy, we have a decision written by the Court's most conservative justice that can't even uphold the second addition to the Bill of Rights without a series of caveats, exceptions, and asides. And it's a ruling that, practically speaking, applies that right to only a sliver of the country's 300 million residents.
As the short-lived "federalism revolution" demonstrates, an incrementalist approach to winning back the liberties we've lost over the years isn't likely to be successful. Indeed, the general trajectory of the Court over American history has—with some exceptions—been toward more power for the government at the expense of individual liberty, not the other way around.
Heller was a symbolic victory, and the lawyers who brought the longshot case should be commended. But time will tell if this symbolic victory evolves into a practical one.
For now, we're still a long way from a blanket, real-world right to keep and bear arms.
Radley Balko is a senior editor of reason. A version of this article originally appeared on FoxNews.com.