WASHINGTON (AP)

The Supreme Court held Monday that Americans have the right to own a gun for self-defense anywhere they live, expanding the conservative court's embrace of gun rights since John Roberts became Chief Justice.

By a 5-4 vote, the justices cast doubt on handgun bans in the Chicago area, but signaled that some limitations on the Constitution's "right to keep and bear arms" could survive legal challenges.

On its busy final day before a three-month recess, the court also ruled that a public law school can legally deny recognition to a Christian student group that won't let gays join, jumped into the nation's charged immigration debate by agreeing to review an employer sanctions law from Arizona and said farewell to Justice John Paul Stevens, who is retiring after more than 34 years.

A short distance from the court, the Senate Judiciary Committee began confirmation hearings for Elena Kagan, nominated by President Barack Obama to replace Stevens.

In the guns case, Justice Samuel Alito said for the court that the Second Amendment right "applies equally to the federal government and the states."

The court was split along familiar ideological lines, with five conservative-moderate justices in favor of gun rights and four liberals opposed. Roberts voted with the majority.

Two years ago, the court declared that the Second Amendment protects an individual's right to possess guns, at least for purposes of self-defense in the home.

That ruling applied only to federal laws. It struck down a ban on handguns and a trigger lock requirement for other guns in the District of Columbia, a federal city with unique legal standing. At the same time, the court was careful not to cast doubt on other regulations of firearms here.

Gun rights proponents almost immediately filed a federal lawsuit challenging gun control laws in Chicago and its suburb of Oak Park, Ill., where handguns have been banned for nearly 30 years. The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence says those laws appear to be the last two remaining outright bans.