U.S. Supreme Court again refuses to block Illinois’ assault weapons ban

The high court had been asked to issue an injunction that would have blocked the year-old law, which prohibits the possession, manufacture or sale of semiautomatic rifles and high-capacity magazines.

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Assault weapons and hand guns are seen for sale at Capitol City Arms Supply in Springfield. 

Assault weapons and hand guns are seen for sale at Capitol City Arms Supply in Springfield.

Associated Press

The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday refused to block Illinois’ year-old assault weapons ban.

Justice Amy Coney Barrett denied an emergency request for an injunction without comment. A similar request was denied by the court in May. 

The high court had been asked to step in after the federal appeals court in Chicago last month upheld the law, which prohibits the possession, manufacture or sale of semiautomatic rifles and high-capacity magazines. 

A three-judge panel of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals voted 2-1 in favor of the law, ruling that weapons covered by the legislation don’t have Second Amendment protection. 

The appeals court found 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.”

In doing so, it found that Illinois’ controversial gun law survived the first part of a two-step test laid out in a crucial June 2022 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court. That means the court’s analysis could stop without exploring the nation’s historical tradition as required by the second step. But the appeals court said challenges to the state’s law fare no better there.

Still, the appellate court said that it did not set out “to rule definitively on the constitutionality of the act” and that its opinion stems from lower courts’ rulings on requests for preliminary injunctions against Illinois’ law. 

Among them was a challenge from Naperville gun store owner Robert Bevis. His bid to block the law was initially rejected by U.S. District Judge Virginia Kendall in February. Kendall found that because assault weapons “are particularly dangerous … their regulation accords with history and tradition.”

The U.S. Supreme Court has twice turned down requests for emergency injunctions, but it has not yet said whether it would rule on the merits of the appellate opinion.

Illinois’ law bans the sale of assault weapons and caps the purchase of magazines at 10 rounds for long guns and 15 for handguns. Anyone who already owns the banned guns is allowed to keep them but required to register them with the Illinois State Police by Jan. 1.

The law was enacted last January in response to the shooting at Highland Park’s 2022 Fourth of July parade that left seven people dead.

The Illinois Supreme Court narrowly upheld the law Aug. 11 in a lawsuit brought this year by a central Illinois legislator who argued the sweeping ban violates the state constitution.

Meanwhile, the federal appellate court heard arguments that led to last month’s decision. During oral arguments, the panel seemed to struggle at the time with the recent guidance laid out by the U.S. Supreme Court.

In that decision, known as New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, the Supreme Court found that gun regulations must be “consistent with the nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation.”

Opponents of the Illinois law argued the decision forbade governments from banning weapons that are “in common use.”  Millions of Americans own assault-style weapons, attorneys say. 

The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence hailed Thursday’s decision, calling it “a victory for all communities who have been held hostage by the gun industry.”

“The absence of any noted dissent illustrates just how misguided the gun industry’s attempts to undermine the state’s efforts are,” it said. “We are grateful that while this case is being litigated, the assault weapons ban will stay in effect and continue to save countless lives in Illinois and surrounding states.”

Protect Illinois Communities, a nonprofit advocacy group formed to help support passage of the ban, applauded the Supreme Court’s decision, calling the law a “common sense gun safety measure to keep assault weapons off of our streets.”

“This law helps save lives, and every day it remains in place is a step toward keeping weapons of war out of our neighborhoods,” the group’s president, Becky Carroll, said in a statement.

Former U.S. Associate Attorney General John Schmidt, a board member for the Gun Violence Prevention Political Action Committee (G-PAC) said in a statement that the repeated efforts by gun rights groups to block the law is getting “nowhere.”

“No amount of flailing around by losing lawyers alters the basic fact that sale in Illinois of these destructive weapons continues to be blocked completely,” Schmidt said in a statement.

Responding to the decision, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said “all Illinoisans are safer.” He also urged Congress to enact a federal assault weapons ban.

“We must not become inured to mass shootings in our communities. All Americans deserve the right to worship, go to school, and celebrate without living in fear,” Pritzker said in a statement. “I’m thankful once again for the members of the General Assembly who supported this law and the brave survivors who fought to make it a reality. I continue to urge Congress to act on national gun legislation so Illinois is not a lone island in a sea of states with weak gun laws.” 

At least eight other states and the District of Columbia have some sort of prohibition on semiautomatic weapons, and several cases challenging those laws are making their way through the federal courts, relying at least in part on the Supreme Court’s decision in 2022 that expanded gun rights.

Contributing: Associated Press

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