July 14, 2009 / 7:09 PM / 9 years ago

UPDATE 1-US top court nominee accepts gun rights decision

* Sotomayor says she will have open mind on gun cases

* Wins endorsement from gun control group (Adds details, paragraphs six to end)

By James Vicini

WASHINGTON, July 14 (Reuters) - U.S. Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor said on Tuesday that she accepted the high court’s ruling last year that an individual’s right to own guns is guaranteed by the Second Amendment of the Constitution.

“I understand ... how important the right to bear arms is to many, many Americans,” she told the Senate Judiciary Committee. “And I have friends who hunt. I understand the individual right fully that the Supreme Court recognized.”

Sotomayor said she had cited the Supreme Court’s decision in a ruling by a U.S. appeals court panel she was on that held that the right to keep and bear arms only prohibits the federal government from imposing restrictions, and not the states.

Federal appeals courts around the country have been divided on whether the ruling also applied to state laws, and the Supreme Court is expected to decide the issue during its upcoming term that starts in October.

Sotomayor said she would have an “open mind” on the gun rights issue. “I would not prejudge any question that came before me if I was a justice on the Supreme Court,” she said.

The appeals court panel that included Sotomayor said in the opinion that “it is settled law ... that the Second Amendment applies only to limitations that the federal government seeks to impose on this right.”

The panel rejected a challenge to a New York law that bans possession even in the home of a martial arts weapon called a chuka stick or nunchaku. James Maloney, who was arrested under the law, has appealed his case to the Supreme Court, where it is pending.

Sotomayor told the confirmation hearing the ruling held the state had a rational basis for prohibiting the possession of this kind of weapon.

“When the sticks are swung, which is what you do with them, if there’s anybody near you, you’re going to be seriously injured, because that swinging mechanism can break arms, it can bust someone’s skull,” she said.

A gun control group, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said it supported Sotomayor’s nomination to the Supreme Court, based on her testimony at the second day of her hearings.

Paul Helmke, the group’s president, said, “She has given clear and responsible answers, while not prejudging any issues that may come before her on the court. We have been impressed with her presentation.” (Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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