Both sides of the aisle saw success this week, but gun-control advocates won the most significant one.
Illinois passed a band-new “assault weapons” ban that immediately outlaws the sale of ammunition magazines that hold more than 15 rounds and many guns, including the popular AR-15. It is only the second brand-new statewide ban of its kind in over 20 years. It comes as the policy has become less popular, the guns more popular, and the Supreme Court more skeptical of its constitutionality.
Contributing Writer Jake Fogleman explores how many more states may pass new bans in the short term, why we’re seeing the resurgence, and what might slow its progression.
Gun-rights advocates got a win this week too, though. A federal judge blocked the “sensitive places” restrictions in New Jersey’s new gun-carry law. It represents yet another setback for Democratic lawmakers who have tried to rebuke the Supreme Court’s Bruen decision with new gun restrictions.
Speaking of the Supreme Court, it provided an opinion both sides have tried to claim victory over. It declined to intervene and lift a Second Circuit stay that allows New York to continue enforcing its gun-carry restrictions during its appeal of a lower court ruling. However, Justice Alito and Thomas essentially warned the Second Circuit to explain itself soon or the Court might still step in.
Jake also looks at another case the Court could consider soon: the bump stock ban. Last week’s Fifth Circuit decision finding the ban unconstitutional creates a circuit split and will almost certainly end up before the justices. It will probably haunt the Biden Administration’s own executive orders that restrict certain guns, including the pistol brace ban that has yet to be published.
Plus, Wells Fargo abruptly cuts ties with a prominent gun dealer in a potential escalation of big banks’ fight against the gun industry.
Illinois Legislature Passes AR-15, Ammo Magazine Ban
By Jake Fogleman
With just one day left to spare in the state’s lame duck session, Illinois legislators have sent a ban on so-called assault weapons to Governor J.B. Pritzker’s (D.) desk.
The Illinois House voted 68-41 to pass House Bill 5471 on a concurrence vote Tuesday. The bill stands to ban the sale and manufacture of certain semi-automatic firearms like AR-15s and AK-47s, handgun magazines capable of holding more than 15 rounds of ammunition, long gun magazines capable of holding more than ten rounds of ammunition, .50 caliber firearms and ammunition, and expands the duration of the state’s “red flag” restraining order from six months to one year. It now heads to Pritzker’s desk, where he is expected to sign it into law.
“After continued negotiations between the leaders, stakeholders, and advocates, we have reached a deal on one of strongest assault weapon bans in the country,” Governor Pritzker, Senate President Don Harmon (D.), and House Speaker Chris Welch (D.) said in a joint statement. “With this legislation we are delivering on the promises Democrats have made and, together, we are making Illinois’ gun laws a model for the nation.”
State-level “assault weapon” bans have returned with a bang, achieving new victories in ways not seen in more than two decades. Yet shifts in public opinion and the Supreme Court’s watchful eye mean their days may be numbered.
On Tuesday, Illinois officially became the ninth state in the country to pass a ban on certain semi-automatic firearms commonly referred to by gun-control advocates as assault weapons. The ban, already signed and in effect, outlaws over 170 rifles, pistols, and shotguns by make and model and provides open discretion to the Illinois State Police to add weapons to the prohibited list “as needed.” Owners of the newly-banned guns will be allowed to keep them so long as they possess an active Firearm Owners Identification (FOID) card and register the guns with police.
The ban is significant because it makes Illinois the second state in less than a year to pass a new assault weapon ban—Delaware passed the other last summer. But what’s more significant is that the two laws together represent the first new states to pass bans in more than 20 years.
And more bans may be coming soon.
Federal Judge Blocks New Jersey’s Latest Gun-Carry Restrictions
By Stephen Gutowski
Gun-control advocate’s attempts to counter the Supreme Court’s ruling in New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen have hit a roadblock in another state.
On Monday, a federal judge ruled much of New Jersey’s Bruen-response law is unconstitutional and issued a temporary restraining order against enforcement of its “sensitive places” restrictions. The law, modeled after the New York response bill that has been struck down repeatedly, significantly restricts who can obtain and permit to carry and the locations where they can take their guns. District judge Renée Marie Bumb, a George W. Bush appointee, found the law violated the Second Amendment rights of residents.
“The deprivation of Plaintiffs’ Second Amendment rights, as the holders of valid permits from the State to conceal carry handguns, constitutes irreparable injury, and neither the State nor the public has an interest in enforcing unconstitutional laws,” Bumb wrote. “Accordingly, good cause exists, and the Court will grant the motion for temporary restraints.”
Supreme Court Allows New York Gun-Carry Law to Remain in Place During Appeal
By Stephen Gutowski
The Supreme Court has decided not to intervene in the case against New York’s latest gun-carry restrictions. At least, not yet.
On Wednesday, the Court ruled against an emergency request from gun-rights activists looking to remove a Second Circuit stay on a ruling against New York’s Concealed Carry Improvement Act (CCIA). The decision allows New York to continue enforcing the expansive restrictions on who can carry firearms and where they can take them for the immediate future. Justice Samuel Alito, joined by Justice Clarence Thomas, said the decision not to get involved reflected deference to the lower court’s proceedings rather than an endorsement of the law.
“I understand the Court’s denial today to reflect respect for the Second Circuit’s procedures in managing its own docket, rather than expressing any view on the merits of the case,” Alito wrote in Antonyuk v. Nigrelli.
An employee stands before guns on sale at Wex Gunworks in Delray Beach, Florida / Brandon Wexler
Wells Fargo abruptly ended its business with a well-known gun dealer in a move emblematic of the increasing hostility big banks are showing towards the firearms industry.
With little explanation, the bank closed the business and personal accounts of Brandon Wexler just before Christmas. After 25 years with a personal account and 14 years with a business account, Wexler was given about a month to find a new bank. As owner of Wex Gunworks in Delray Beach, Florida, Wexler has been cited in countless major media reports for years, but Wells Fargo said his business had suddenly become too risky.
“Wells Fargo performs ongoing reviews of its account relationships in connection with the Bank’s responsibilities to manage risks in its banking operations,” the bank said in a December 22nd letter to Wexler. “We recently reviewed your account relationship and, as a result of this review, we will be closing your above-referenced accounts.”
Another letter sent the following day informing Wexler that Wells Fargo was canceling his business line of credit said, “the reason(s) for this action is: Banking guidelines excludes lending to certain types of businesses.” But the letters offered no further details, and Wexler said none of the officials at his local branch offered any either.
“I’ve been with them for 25 years,” he told The Reload. “I’m a professional fireman. I do everything the right way. It’s messed up.”
There’s a new contender for what the next big Supreme Court gun case could be.
On Friday, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals voted 13-3 to strike down the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) Trump-era ban on bump stocks. In its ruling, the majority said that the ban violated the Administrative Procedure Act when it attempted to interpret the devices as falling under the federal definition of “machinegun.”
“A plain reading of the statutory language, paired with close consideration of the mechanics of a semi-automatic firearm, reveals that a bump stock is excluded from the technical definition of ‘machinegun’ set forth in the Gun Control Act and National Firearms Act,” Judge Jennifer Walker Elrod wrote for the majority.
The ruling now creates what’s known as a “circuit split,” in which multiple federal courts of appeals have come down on opposite sides of an issue. Before Friday’s decision, the Tenth Circuit in 2020, the Sixth Circuit in 2021, and the D.C. Circuit in August 2022 all ruled to uphold the ATF’s interpretation of bump stocks as machineguns. A three-judge panel for the Fifth Circuit, comprised of judges all appointed by Democratic Presidents, also previously ruled to uphold the ban.
Circuit splits are often, though not always, a precondition for the Supreme Court when deciding which cases to grant certiorari. That’s because it’s the High Court’s prerogative to ensure a unified interpretation of the law that lower courts follow. Should the Biden administration appeal the Fifth Circuit’s decision to the High Court, the likelihood that the nine justices will agree to review the case has increased considerably.
Outside The Reload
That’s it for this week in guns.
I’ll see you all next week.