Finally, after two centuries of silence on the central question of gun control, the Supreme Court found the intestinal fortitude last week to make a decision affirming the right to have guns for self-defense in the home and also addressing a constitutional question that’s almost 200 years old  over what it means to say the people may keep and bear arms.

The court ruled 5-4 and struck  down the District of Columbia’s ban on handguns and put similar bans in jeopardy in  other cities like Chicago and San Francisco. Federal gun statutes were expected to remain basically unchanged.

The court’s historic decision on the  Second Amendment brought a  mixed response.

The reaction in the Senate went mostly along party lines. Democrats have pretty much given up on their desire for stricter gun laws at the Federal  level after deciding it was a losing battle. Republicans of course were pleased by the decision.

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, sitting on the fence, said  ”that the court did not find an unfettered right to bear arms and that the ruling will provide much-needed guidance to local jurisdictions across the country.”

Republican presidential candidate John McCain was pleased with the ruling as “a landmark victory for Second Amendment freedom.”

President Bush said: “I applaud the Supreme Court’s historic decision today confirming what has always been clear in the Constitution: the Second Amendment protects an individuals right to keep and bear firearms.”

The full impact of the decision, however, has not yet been  sorted out.   Still to be seen, for example, is the extent to which the right to have a gun for protection in the home might apply to a gun used outside the home.

Judge Scalia said the Constitution does not permit “the absolute prohibition of handguns held and used for self-defense in the home.” Scalia also noted that the handgun is America’s preferred weapon of choice for self-defense largely because “it can be pointed at a burglar with one hand while the other hand dials the police.”   Although he said nothing in the court’s decision 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.”

In a dissenting opinion, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote that the majority “would have us believe that over 200 years ago, the Framers made a choice to limit the tools available to elected officials wishing to regulate civilian uses of weapons.” He said such evidence “is nowhere to be found.”

Justice Stephen Breyer, also dissenting, said, “In my view, there simply is no untouchable constitutional right guaranteed by the Second Amendment to keep loaded handguns in the house in crime-ridden urban areas.”

Gun rights advocates were elated over the decision. “I consider this the opening salvo in a step-by-step process of providing relief for law-abiding Americans everywhere that have been deprived of this freedom,” said Wayne LaPierre, EVP of the National Rifle Association.

The NRA will file suit in San Francisco, Chicago and several Chicago suburbs challenging handgun restrictions there based on the courts latest decision.

The  Supreme Court’s last ruling on the matter was in 1939 in U.S. v. Miller, which involved a sawed-off shotgun. Constitutional scholars agree that it did not  answer the question of individual versus collective rights. But now, we have a definitive answer to such a long-standing question.

What a great day for  Americans and the rights we have worked so hard to defend.