Opponents of Illinois’s “assault weapons” ban filed an emergency petition with the U.S. Supreme Court on Nov. 29, asking the justices to block a Democrat-backed ban on certain kinds of semiautomatic rifles and magazines.
Justice Amy Coney Barrett handles emergency petitions from Illinois; in May, she rebuffed an earlier petition that challenged the state ban. At the time, the Supreme Court offered no comment and no justice publicly dissented.
In January, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker enacted a ban on more than 170 semiautomatic firearms, which he and other Democrats term “assault weapons,” as well as magazines that have a certain capacity. The law, in part, requires grandfathered firearms to be registered with the state policy by Jan. 1, 2024, and owners who don’t comply may face criminal penalties.
The Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Nov. 3 ruled against Mr. Bevis and the National Association for Gun Rights, finding that the bans were likely lawful in part and argued that the Constitution’s Second Amendment applies to weapons meant for individual self-defense, not the military. In its ruling, the court claimed that semiautomatic firearms and certain 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.”
Responding to the 7th Circuit’s decision this month, the petitioners wrote that the order “rests on a foundation of stealth interest balancing” and added that it essentially “held that the government may restrict citizens access to certain weapons that are ‘especially dangerous’ or ’militaristic’ in character.” However, the petition suggested that the court failed to elaborate on how those weapons are “especially dangerous” or “militaristic.”
It further argued that “all firearms are capable of inflicting grisly damage. One might even say that is a firearm’s purpose. What is the dividing line between an ordinarily dangerous firearm and one that is ‘especially dangerous?’”
“The court below held that in making this determination a court must examine the record to determine whether there is an ‘important difference’ between the banned weapon and other (unidentified) weapons in terms of lethality,” they wrote.
The plaintiffs also made reference to the Supreme Court’s 2008 Second Amendment-related decision, District of Columbia v. Heller, when the court performed a “search of the historical record and concluded that no Founding-era regulation ’remotely burden[ed] the right of self -defense as much as an absolute ban' on a weapon in common use,” adding, “Thus, laws that ban weapons in common use for lawful purposes are categorically unconstitutional.”
In recent years, the Supreme Court has taken a more expansive view of the Second Amendment, broadening gun rights in three landmark rulings since the Heller ruling.
In 2022, the court recognized a constitutional right to carry a handgun in public for self-defense, striking down a New York state law. That ruling also required gun restrictions to be “consistent with the nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation” to comply with the Second Amendment.
Other DetailsThe governor’s signature on the law 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.
Before the initial appeal, U.S. District Judge Virginia Kendall turned Mr. Bevis down and said the ban was “constitutionally sound,” adding that the “assault weapons are particularly dangerous weapons” and require regulation.
State Justices Elizabeth Rochford and Mary Kay O’Brien should have recused themselves from the case earlier this year because, he said, they had obtained donations from the Gun Violence Prevention PAC, which has called for “banning assault weapons and large-capacity magazines.”