Illinois’ newly passed “assault weapon” and ammunition magazine bans will soon meet their first tests in federal court.
A gun owner, two state firearm dealers, and a coalition of gun-rights groups made up of the Illinois State Rifle Association (ISRA), Firearms Policy Coalition, and Second Amendment Foundation (SAF) filed suit against the new law in federal court on Tuesday. The lawsuit alleges that the new ban targets firearms and accessories are “commonly possessed and used for lawful purposes,” and thus protected by the Constitution.
“Governor Pritzker and the legislators who voted for this law did this for self-serving political purposes and are not upholding the United States Constitution,” Richard Pearson, ISRA’s Executive Director, said in a statement. “The 2nd Amendment is fundamentally about self-defense, and the 14th Amendment is about not having our rights infringed. This new law makes criminals out of law-abiding citizens.”
The suit adds to the growing number of legal challenges being filed against the state’s effort to crack down on gun ownership. Since the ban was signed into law last week, two other suits have been filed in state and local courts and other challenges are expected.
It will also provide another vehicle for the federal court system to consider the legality of modern gun bans using the Supreme Court’s new standard for Second Amendment challenges. The case’s outcome could ultimately have broader implications for the handful of other jurisdictions currently considering whether to pass similar gun bans, as well as on future efforts from the federal government to pass a weapons ban.
The complaint takes aim at the law through via the newly established text and tradition standard for evaluating modern gun laws. Under that standard, the plaintiffs argue, the only types of weapons that can be banned are those that are “dangerous and unusual.” They argued that because semi-automatic rifles, like AR-15s, and the magazines that come standard with them are widely popular, and thus in “common use,” they inherently cannot be unusual or dangerous.
“Therefore, they cannot be banned, and the Illinois laws challenged herein must be declared unconstitutional,” the complaint reads.
A similar line of argument has already proved persuasive in other recent federal court challenges to modern weapons bans. U.S. District Judge Raymond Moore, an Obama appointee, issued a temporary restraining order against a local Colorado assault weapon ban last July. He found the ban is at odds with the nation’s historical tradition of gun regulation.
“The Court is unaware of historical precedent that would permit a governmental entity to entirely ban a type of weapon that is commonly used by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes, whether in an individual’s home or in public,” he wrote at the time.
The Illinois version of the ban outlaws the sale and manufacture of more than 170 semi-automatic rifles, pistols, and shotguns by make and model. It also provides open-ended discretion for the Illinois State Police to add new weapons to the banned list on an ongoing basis. New sales of long-gun magazines capable of holding more than ten rounds and handgun magazines capable of holding more than 15 rounds, which come standard with most modern firearms, are also outlawed. Existing owners of the banned weapons and magazines would be permitted to keep them so long as the guns are registered with the Illinois State Police within 300 days of the law’s enactment.
The plaintiffs asked the court to issue an order ruling the law unconstitutional and an injunction permanently blocking its enforcement.
The suit names Attorney General Kwame Raoul (D.), the Director of the Illinois State Police Brendan Reilly, and numerous county law enforcement officials as defendants. Raoul’s office did not respond to a request for comment.