Wednesday, September 27, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Wednesday, September 27, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Supreme Court lets Illinois ban assault weapons, for now

A Trump appointed federal judge had enjoined the law passed in response to last year's deadly Fourth of July shooting, but the latest ruling will keep the ban alive as litigation ratchets up. 

WASHINGTON (CN) — The Supreme Court declined Wednesday to ensure access to assault weapons in Illinois, turning down an entreaty from proponents of the Second Amendment. 

Illinois passed its ban after a gunman wielding a semiautomatic AR-15 rifle fired 83 rounds into a crowd at a Fourth of July parade in Highland Park last year, killing seven people. Though the Chicago suburb where the massacre occurred already has an ordinance prohibiting the sale of assault weapons, the shooter bought the gun in nearby Naperville. That city passed its own ordinance after the attack, followed soon after by Illinois passing the Protect Illinois Communities Act to halt the sale of the weapons statewide. 

Led by the National Association for Gun Rights, several groups asked the justices to stop the state’s new ban from going into effect, claiming it violated the Constitution. With no noted dissents, the justices declined to offer an injunction on the law while the case is litigated in the lower courts. The court did not provide an explanation for its ruling. 

Firearms covered by the law include AR-15 and AK-47 rifles, as well as features like flash suppressors, barrel shrouds or grenade launchers that can be added to guns to them more deadly. The law defines large-capacity magazines as those that carry more than 10 rounds of ammunition for a long gun or 15 rounds for handguns. Law enforcement, members of the military and other professionals are among the groups exempt from the law's restrictions, which prevent the sale, purchase, manufacture, delivery and importation of assault weapons and large-capacity ammunition feeding devices.

For residents who already own these weapons, their firearms must be registered with state police. Violations of the ban carry criminal penalties including felony charges with three-year minimum jail sentences. 

Multiple legal battles are playing out across the state in response to the ban. The groups that filed an emergency application with the Supreme Court last week did so after both a federal judge and the Seventh Circuit turned them down. 

At the time of their filing, however, a Trump-appointed federal judge had already ordered an injunction to another group making a similar challenge. Last Thursday, however, the Seventh Circuit lifted that injunction, making the appeal from the National Association for Gun Rights more urgent. 

Joined by Law Weapons & Supply, the challengers argued that the law flew in the face of the justices' ruling last term in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. Bruen

“This Court intended Bruen to be a course correction and a reminder to the lower courts that the Second Amendment is not a second-class right,” Barry Arrington wrote in the application for the gun advocates. “Unfortunately, if the 10 months of Second Amendment litigation since Bruen have taught us anything, it is that many of the lower courts did not get the message. This action is a case in point.” 

Bruen changed the standard for how lower courts evaluate gun regulations under the Second Amendment, exchanging the categorical test for a historical analysis. Under the new formula, gun laws must be analogous to laws from the 1700s. Previously untested, the theory has caused disarray for lower courts trying to evaluate new gun relations in the wake of mass shootings. 

Illinois argued its law fits squarely within the Second Amendment because assault weapons are not protected by the Constitution. 

“By prohibiting the manufacture and sale of weapons and magazines increasingly used in the deadliest mass shootings, the Act comfortably fits within this pattern of regulation in response to new forms of violent crime perpetrated with technologically advanced weapons,” Illinois Solicitor General Jane Elinor Notz wrote in the state’s brief. 

The Illinois attorney general’s office issued a statement following the court’s order, affirming its commitment to defending the law.

“We are pleased the Supreme Court has denied the emergency application for injunction pending appeal, and that communities in Illinois will continue to benefit from this important public safety measure,” a spokesperson said in an email. “The Attorney General’s office remains committed to defending the Protect Illinois Communities Act’s constitutionality.”

An advocacy group working with the state on the case said the gun rights groups were putting profits over safety in pursuing the case.

“This case is an example of the gun industry undermining the knowledge and needs of all those residing in Illinois,” Douglas Letter, chief legal officer at the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, said in a statement. “By trying to stop this ban, the gun industry is once again putting profits over safety.”

Follow @KelseyReichmann
Categories / Appeals, Civil Rights, Law

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.