Illinois Supreme Court

Illinois Supreme Court upholds state’s ban on semiautomatic weapons , Great decision

In a 4-3 ruling on Friday, the Illinois Supreme Court upheld the state’s prohibition on the sale and possession of certain types of semiautomatic firearms, which have been linked to numerous mass killings across the nation.

The high court’s decision found that the Protect Our Communities Act, which enforces this ban, does not run afoul of the equal protection clause in the federal Constitution, nor does it violate the state constitution’s prohibition on creating laws that cater to specific interests.

Furthermore, the court ruled that State Representative Dan Caulkins, a Decatur Republican, along with like-minded gun-owners who initiated the legal challenge, had effectively relinquished their argument that the law infringes upon the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms. As a result, they were precluded from raising this claim before the Supreme Court.

However, the Second Amendment issue remains active in several federal lawsuits that were filed in southern Illinois. These cases have been consolidated and are currently pending review in the appeals court.

The legislation in question bans a variety of specific rifle and handgun models, as well as .50-caliber firearms, attachments, and rapid-firing mechanisms. The law establishes a maximum capacity of 10 rounds for rifles and 15 rounds for handguns. Notably, one of the most commonly affected firearms is the AR-15 rifle, estimated to be present in at least 25 million American households based on 2021 research from Georgetown University.

Governor J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat, swiftly signed the Protect Our Communities Act into law after it was passed by lawmakers during a lame-duck session in January. The impetus for this legislation came after a tragic incident on Independence Day 2022, where a shooter wielding a high-powered rifle killed seven individuals and wounded many more in the Chicago suburb of Highland Park. The subsequent enactment of the law sparked considerable criticism from advocates of gun rights, with numerous county sheriffs issuing a near-unanimous statement declaring that they would not vigorously enforce the law.

Inspired by a 2022 U.S. Supreme Court ruling affirming the right of Americans to carry firearms for self-defense in public spaces, Dan Caulkins and fellow gun owners argue that the ban on semiautomatic weapons blatantly infringes upon their right to possess firearms. Additionally, they contend that it violates the equal protection guarantee of the Constitution, as well as a state constitutional provision that prohibits the creation of “special legislation” when a “general law is applicable.” A lower court sided with this perspective in March.

The lawsuit maintains that the law was unevenly applied, as individuals who possessed semiautomatic firearms on the law’s effective date were allowed to retain them, albeit with restrictions on selling or transferring such weapons. These gun owners are required to register their firearms with the Illinois State Police by January 1, 2024.

Furthermore, the ban contains exemptions for law enforcement officers, both active and retired, as well as on-duty military personnel. Critics of the ban have argued that many civilians possess greater experience and training in handling semiautomatic firearms than their law enforcement counterparts.

Given that Democrats control all branches of Illinois’ state government, and hold a 5-2 majority on the state Supreme Court, the political landscape has influenced these legal developments.

Several additional lawsuits challenging the ban have been consolidated in federal court and are presently awaiting review in the appeals process. The actions taken by the Illinois Supreme Court could potentially offer clarity on issues raised in the federal lawsuits.

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