Illinois gun ban faces immediate legal onslaught

Landmark new gun control legislation faces state and federal lawsuits. Proponents said they expected no less.
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) signed gun control legislation into law in January (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

A new Illinois law banning certain assault weapons faced an immediate rush of legal challenges from gun rights organizations claiming the landmark measure violates state and federal constitutional rights. 

Already, three gun rights organizations and groups of supporters have filed challenges against the measure signed into law last week by Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker. On Tuesday, the Illinois State Rifle Association filed a federal lawsuit claiming the law violates the Second Amendment, citing a U.S. Supreme Court decision this summer.

State Rep. Maura Hirschauer (D), a measure sponsor, said the litigation was anticipated.

“We fully expected legal challenges to arise after the governor signed the bill, and we feel very prepped and ready for the work to come,”  Hirschauer said Wednesday. “The attorney general was integral to the drafting of this bill and his team is confident that this bill is really strong and will withstand scrutiny.” 

Under the law, a raft of guns and accessories were banned from being sold, imported or distributed in the state, including more than 60 specific models and certain categories of firearms, like AR and AK weapons. The law also bans magazines of more than 10 rounds for long guns and more than 15 for handgun magazines. 

Illinois is the ninth state to enact an assault weapons ban. The law was prompted by a shooting at a July 4th parade in Highland Park, Ill., outside of Chicago. That attack killed seven people and wounded dozens of others.

The ISRA lawsuit, filed in federal court, argues that the state law fails the test under the Supreme Court’s June decision in New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v Bruen, which requires states to demonstrate that their regulations are  consistent with the nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation. 

The suit contends that the regulation is not within historical tradition because banning certain types of guns requires demonstrating those weapons are both dangerous and unusual. The lawsuit claims the guns impacted by the new law are commonly used and, therefore do not qualify as unusual or dangerous. 

“Arms that are in common use — as the firearms and magazines Illinois has banned unquestionably are — cannot be unusual or dangerous,” the lawsuit said. “Therefore, they cannot be banned, and the Illinois laws challenged herein must be declared unconstitutional.”

The Bruen case overturned a New York law requiring those seeking a concealed-carry permit to provide a reason for needing it. 

In a radio interview Friday, Richard Pearson, ISRA’s executive director, said that the Bruen case would play a significant role in its suit because it showed that measures that are too burdensome infringe too much on a basic right.

“This is a fundamental right. You can’t control fundamental rights that closely,”, Pearson told talk radio host Greg Bishop of gun rights.

The suit also cites the 2008 Supreme Court decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, which enshrined the right to own a gun for self-defense in one’s  home, and a separate 2016 Supreme Court case, Caetano v. Massachusetts, in which the High Court vacated a Massachusetts conviction of a woman who carried a stun gun for self-defense.

The two other suits were filed in state courts. One, filed in the fourth judicial district, alleges that the law violates the single-issue rule of the Illinois Constitution, which requires state legislation to be confined to one subject. 

The other, filed in the second judicial district, seeks an injunction and calls the law unconstitutional.

The bill is also facing a backlash from some state law enforcement. Roughly 80 sheriffs have said they would not enforce the law.  

In a statement to Fox News Tuesday, Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) said that the sheriffs should do their duty. 

“This is political grandstanding at its worst. The assault weapons ban is the law of Illinois,” Pritzker’s office said. “The General Assembly passed the bill and the Governor signed it into law to protect children in schools, worshippers at church, and families at parades from the fear of sudden mass murder.”