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Gun Rights Debates
The Supreme Court gave gun rights advocates a major victory on June 26, recognizing for the first time an individual right under the Second Amendment to own and possess firearms. The 5-4 decision struck down a handgun ban adopted by the District of Columbia in 1976. Gun rights advocates began filing suits the very same day challenging similar bans in Chicago and elsewhere. In his opinion for the court, Justice Antonin Scalia said the decision did not invalidate laws establishing qualifications to buy weapons, limiting the carrying of weapons in “sensitive” places or barring possession by felons or the mentally ill. Gun control groups hope the ruling sets the stage for more reasoned debate over gun regulations by removing the specter of weapons confiscation. But gun owners plan to use the ruling to challenge licensing schemes and urge state legislators to ease restrictions on carrying weapons in public.
By Kenneth Jost

Juvenile Justice
With juvenile crime on the decline, youth advocates are seizing the moment to push for major changes in iron-fisted juvenile justice systems nationwide. Above all, they want to roll back harsh state punishments – triggered by the crack cocaine-fueled crime wave of the late 1980s and early '90s – that diverted adolescents to adult courts and prisons. Today, as a result, an estimated 25 percent of all youth charged with crimes are now tried in adult courts, where judges tend to be tougher and sentences harsher. Many prosecutors say the get-tough approach offers society the best protection. But critics say young people often leave prison more bitter and dangerous than when they went in. Moreover, recent brain studies show weak impulse control in adolescents under age 18, prompting some states to reconsider their tough punishments. But youth advocates concede that any new uptick in juvenile crime could stop such efforts in their tracks.
By Peter Katel

The National Debt
With the national debt at around $12 trillion and the government running substantial annual budget deficits, the country faces a dire financial picture, some analysts argue. Over the past eight years, the Bush administration has begun running larger annual deficits, even when economic times are good, and most economists agree that the ever-rising debt load restricts the government’s ability to respond to a new crisis. Now the country is entering what could be a long economic slowdown, and the next president will be under pressure to use government fiscal policy – tax cuts and government spending – to bolster the economy, even though those policies will raise the debt further. Besides wrestling with that dilemma, the new president also must face the question of how to pay for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits for the large, soon-to-retire baby boom population.
By Marcia Clemmitt