Supreme Court Declines to Block Illinois ‘Assault Weapons’ Ban

Supreme Court Declines to Block Illinois 'Assault Weapons' Ban

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The Supreme Court has declined a request to impose a temporary halt to an Illinois law that bans AR-15-style rifles and long gun magazines with over 10 rounds.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday declined to block a Democrat-backed “assault weapon” ban, leaving the restrictions in place—at least for now.

In a Dec. 14 order, the Supreme Court denied an emergency application for a writ of injunction that would have frozen the Illinois prohibition on certain types of semiautomatic rifles and magazines, with no justices dissenting.

The decision leaves in place the law—called the Protect Illinois Communities Act—making it illegal for the general public to own weapons like the AR-15 and ammunition magazines with a capacity greater than 10 rounds.

The National Association for Gun Rights, along with gun store owner Robert Bevis, filed the emergency petition at the end of November, after a lower court denied their bid for a preliminary injunction against the statewide ban.

“We won’t stop fighting for our members,” the National Association for Gun Rights said in a post on X, reacting to the news.

 Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker speaks before US President Joe Biden delivers remarks about the economy at the Old Post Office in Chicago, Illinois, on June 28, 2023. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images)
Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker speaks before US President Joe Biden delivers remarks about the economy at the Old Post Office in Chicago, Illinois, on June 28, 2023. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images)

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Hannah Hill, the group’s executive director, said in a post on social media that the high court has taken “serious notice” of this case on two occasions now, and that “we look forward to giving them the opportunity to weigh in on the merits.”

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In May, at an earlier stage of the case, the Supreme Court also rebuffed the plaintiffs’ request for an injunction. At that time, like now, no justice publicly dissented from the decision.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who signed the Protect Illinois Communities Act into law in early 2023, hailed the Supreme Court’s latest decision.

“Taking on the gun lobby and passing an assault weapon ban was never going to be easy, but it was always the right thing to do,” the Illinois governor said in a post on X. “Today is a historic win for Illinois communities and families.”

Some commenters objected to Mr. Pritzker’s framing of the Supreme Court decision as a “historic win” given that there was no decision on the merits of the case, merely a denial of emergency injunctive relief.

While there was some praise online for the court decision—and for Mr. Pritzker himself for pushing hard for the ban—others raised objections.

“Good job Boss—criminals will still have guns but the communities and families won’t,” one objecting commenter wrote on X. “That’s not the right thing to do—that’s backwards.”

Illinois ‘Assault Weapons’ Ban In Focus

In January 2023, Mr. Pritzker signed into law the Protect Illinois Communities Act, banning the sale and distribution of many types of high-powered semiautomatic firearms that he and other Democrats deemed to be “assault weapons.”

The ban covers such firearms as the AK-47 and AR-15 rifles, as well as magazines that take more than 10 rounds for long guns and 15 rounds for handguns.

The only exceptions to the ban are for “trained professionals,” such as law enforcement officers, and people who already owned the guns before the law is set to take effect in January 2024.

The governor’s signature came months after a man used an AR-15-style rifle to shoot and kill seven people and injure dozens more at a Fourth of July parade in Highland Park, Illinois.

In a statement on Jan. 10, Mr. Pritzker touted it as one of the “strongest assault weapons bans” in the United States and that it “will stop the spread” of such firearms.

Arguing that the ban covers firearms that are commonly possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful reasons, including self-defense, The National Association for Gun Rights, joined by Mr. Bevis and his store (Law Weapons & Supply), filed suit to block the law.

More Details

A district court rejected the plaintiffs’ request, and a divided three-judge panel on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit also refused to halt the ban.

U.S. Circuit Judge Diane Wood, an appointee of former President Bill Clinton, wrote for the 2–1 majority in the ruling that the plaintiffs needed to prove that the weapons banned under the Illinois law “are arms that ordinary people would keep at home for purposes of self-defense, not weapons that are exclusively or predominantly useful in military service, or weapons that are not possessed for lawful purposes.”

Under a Supreme Court decision in 2022, the government is required to justify the imposition of Second Amendment-related regulations by showing that they are “consistent with the nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation.”

The appeals court judges then considered whether the firearms that were banned by the Illinois law are covered by the Second Amendment, with Judge Wood pointing to a 2008 U.S. Supreme Court decision that determined the Second Amendment only applies weapons “typically possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes.”

“We conclude the answer is no,” Judge Wood said in the ruling, referring to whether the firearms banned by the Illinois law are covered by the Second Amendment.

“We come to this conclusion because these assault weapons and high-capacity magazines are much more like machine guns and military grade weaponry than they are like the many different types of firearms that are used for individual self-defense (or so the legislature was entitled to conclude),” she wrote.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs had argued in court that there are important distinctions between AR-15-style rifles and M16s, a similar looking gun used by the military, but Judge Wood said the answers were “unconvincing.”

Zachary Stieber contributed to this report.

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