7th Circuit Upholds Suburb’s Weapons Ban

     CHICAGO (CN) – The 7th Circuit upheld an affluent Chicago suburb’s ban on a host of assault weapons and dangerous modifications, but restated its frustration with the lack of guidance as to what types of bans violate the Second Amendment.
     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. A district judge upheld the ordinance, leading to this appeal.
     Oral arguments in January revolved around the difficulty, under current precedent, of determining whether a given weapon is too dangerous for individuals to carry, with U.S. Circuit Judge Frank Easterbrook pointing out that it was once legal to own automatic weapons like Tommy guns.
     The judgment elaborates this critique, stating that: “How weapons are sorted between private and military uses has changed over time. Why should regulations enacted 130 years after the Second Amendment’s adoption have more validity than those enacted another 90 years later?”
     Easterbrook continued: “Nothing in Heller suggests that a constitutional challenge to bans on private possession of machine guns brought during the 1930s, soon after their enactment, should have succeeded – that the passage of time creates an easement across the Second Amendment.”
     The judge also rejected some of the city’s central logic.
     “Relying on how common a weapon is at the time of litigation would be circular to boot. Machine guns aren’t commonly owned for lawful purposes today because they are illegal,” Easterbrook wrote.
     However, he ultimately came down in favor of the ban. “We think it better to ask whether a regulation bans weapons that were common at the time of ratification or those that have ‘some reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia,'” he wrote. “The features prohibited by Highland Park’s ordinance were not common in 1791. Most guns available then could not fire more than one shot without being reloaded; revolvers with rotating cylinders weren’t widely available until the early 19th century.”
     He also rejected the notion that citizens would be unable to protect themselves without assault weapons.
     “True enough, assault weapons can be beneficial for self defense because they are lighter than many rifles and less dangerous per shot than large-caliber pistols or revolvers. Householders too frightened or infirm to aim carefully maybe able to wield them more effectively than the pistols James Bond preferred,” the opinion says. “But assault weapons with large-capacity magazines can fire more shots, faster, and thus can be more dangerous in aggregate. Why else are they the weapons of choice in mass shootings?”
     Given the ambiguity in the law, Easterbrook returned time and again to policy concerns, writing at one point: “A ban on assault weapons won’t eliminate gun violence in Highland Park, but it may reduce the overall dangerousness of crime that does occur.”
     U.S. Circuit Judge Daniel Manion wrote a vigorous dissent, stating that “the ultimate decision for what constitutes the most effective means of defending one’s home, family, and property resides in individual citizens and not in the government.”
     “To be sure, assault rifles and large capacity magazines are dangerous. But their ability to project large amounts of force accurately is exactly why they are an attractive means of self defense,” he continued.
     Manion also took issue with Easterbrook’s treatment of the specific types of rifles banned, most notably the popular AR-15.
     “The court ignores the central piece of evidence in this case: that millions of Americans own and use AR-type rifles lawfully,” he wrote.

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