CHICAGO (CN) - The 7th Circuit appeared skeptical of both sides Thursday as it heard arguments over an affluent Chicago suburb's ban on assault weapons, with one judge bemoaning the Supreme Court's failure to provide guidance on how to legally distinguish bazookas from pistols.
In June 2013, the city of Highland Park passed a complex ordinance prohibiting the possession, sale, or manufacture of certain types of weapons and large capacity magazines. Punishments include fines and up to six months of imprisonment.
The ban includes semiautomatic pistols with fixed or large capacity magazines, semiautomatic shotguns able to accept detachable magazines and various modifications such as telescoping stocks, barrel shrouds and muzzle brakes. It does not cover permanently inoperable weapons or those designed for Olympic target shooting.
Government officials, peace officers and military personnel are exempt to the extent that they are authorized to possess such weapons in the scope of their duties.
According to a ruling written by U.S. District Judge John Darrah, this was "based on the belief that certain designated weapons pose an undue threat to public safety" and "was particularly intended to address the potential threat of mass shootings involving semi-automatic weapons like those in Aurora, Colorado (12 killed, 58 injured); Newtown, Connecticut (28 killed); Casas Adobes, Arizona (six killed, 14 injured); and Santa Monica College in Santa Monica, California (six killed, two injured)."
Darrah's opinion specifically pointed out that Highland Park is home to several places where people congregate, several schools and the popular Ravinia Music Festival.
The Illinois State Rifle Association and an individual gun owner, Dr. Arie S. Friedman, sued to stop the ban just before it went into effect, but Darrah threw out their suit, holding the ban served important public interests and did not violate the Second Amendment.
The 7th Circuit held oral arguments on the lawsuit Thursday in a courtroom filled with interested community members. Several times during the plaintiffs' poetic waxing on the merits of assault weapons, a small boy in a baseball T-shirt turned for approval to his father, who nodded vigorously.
Plaintiffs' attorney James Vogts was calm and collected throughout the proceedings, insisting that these weapons are so common that banning them would be unconstitutional.
"The Supreme Court made it clear in Heller that law abiding people have a core constitutional right to keep commonly owned firearms in their homes."
But U.S. Circuit Judge Frank Easterbrook cut him off abruptly: "What if somebody decides to possess a bazooka?"
"It'd fall into a longstanding prohibition," Vogts replied.
"No, there's no such prohibition; they were only invented recently. It was once perfectly legal to own automatic weapons like Tommy guns."
"But that dates back 80 years ago."
Easterbrook was not convinced. "Yes," he said, "but the Second Amendment dates back to the 18th century. Why does that matter? I don't see how you can say fully automatic weapons are okay to ban because some states banned them in the 1950s. How is it rational to distinguish a ban laid down 150 years after the Second Amendment from one laid down 200 years after?"
Vogts stuck to his position. "The firearms here are without question some of the most commonly used. One out of nine guns sold since the invention of AR-type rifles is an AR rifle."