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Downstate judge temporarily holsters assault weapons ban — for 865 gun owners and one gun shop

Chicago Sun Times

Monday, January 23, 2023  |  Article  |  Tina Sfondeles

Gov. J.B. Pritzker called the decision in downstate Effingham County “disappointing,” but said he remains confident the courts will uphold the law he signed Jan. 10 banning the sale of assault weapons in Illinois and capping the size of magazines that could be sold.

A county judge in southern Illinois on Friday blocked enforcement of the assault weapons ban against the 865 gun owners and one downstate firearms store who filed a lawsuit earlier this week challenging the newly enacted state law.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker called the decision in downstate Effingham County “not surprising” and “disappointing,” while also vowing that he remains confident the courts will uphold the constitutionality of the law he signed on Jan. 10.

That law immediately banned the sale of assault weapons in Illinois and capped the purchase of magazines at 10 rounds for long guns and 15 for handguns. It also made rapid-fire devices, known as switches, illegal because they turn firearms into fully automatic weapons. 

The complaint filed Tuesday by former Republican Illinois attorney general candidate Tom DeVore in the 4th Judicial Circuit Court on behalf of 865 gun owners and Accuracy Firearms LLC in Effingham claimed the law violates the Illinois Constitution. 

Judge Joshua Morrison on Friday ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, temporarily preventing any administrative agency or law enforcement agency from enforcing the law — but only against those who brought the suit. A preliminary injunction hearing is scheduled for Feb. 1.

The ruling was largely based on the speedy manner in which the law was passed.

“The Defendants in this case did not follow the procedural requirements necessary for this legislation to stand up to the strict scrutiny that is required when restricting rights to avoid definitional irreparable harm,” Morrison wrote.

A spokeswoman for Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul’s office office on Friday evening said the attorney general disagrees with the court’s decision, and his office has already filed a notice of appeal to ask the appellate court to reverse and vacate the temporary restraining order.

Pritzker took a jab at DeVore’s suit, saying, “it is the initial result we’ve seen in many cases brought by plaintiffs whose goal is to advance ideology over public safety.”

“We are well aware that this is only the first step in defending this important legislation,” Pritzker said in a statement. “I remain confident that the courts will uphold the constitutionality of Illinois’ law, which aligns with the eight other states with similar laws and was written in collaboration with lawmakers, advocates and legal experts.”

Illinois House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch, D-Hillside, expressed confidence that Morrison’s decision will be reviewed, accusing those behind the lawsuit of putting “extreme ideology ahead of the common good.”

And Illinois Senate President Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, echoed what he said on the Senate floor before passage of the measure, “We’ll see you in court.”

“We passed the Protect Illinois Communities Act to get dangerous weapons off the street and create a safer state,” Harmon said in a statement. “This ruling will be appealed. We look forward to our day in court to zealously advocate for our neighbors who are weary of the gun violence epidemic.”

The suit focused on process and the Illinois Constitution — and not the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment right to bear arms. It argued the law infringes on the Illinois Constitution’s Article I, Section 2, which says, “No person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without equal protections of the laws.” It also claims the law violates the due process clause — and other constitutional grounds about the process in which the measure was passed. 

Legislators used a “shell bill,” to more quickly move the measure through the Legislature, a common Springfield tactic — but one singled out by Morrison in his ruling.

The suit also argued the law was passed in violation of the three readings requirement, which stipulates that each bill must be read on three different days in both the House and Senate before it is passed.

Another suit was also filed on Jan. 13 in Crawford County in southern Illinois. It argues the law’s provisions that require gun owners to register their assault weapons violates the Fifth and 14th amendments of the U.S. Constitution — and that the law violates the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms, including for self-defense. But the parties on both sides of the issue are especially interested in a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday in the Southern District of Illinois that alleges the ban denies citizens “their fundamental, individual right to keep and bear common arms.” Plaintiffs in the federal complaint include the Illinois State Rifle Association, St. Clair County resident Dane Harrel; C4 Gun Store LLC; Marengo Guns Inc.; Firearms Policy Coalition Inc.; and the Second Amendment Foundation.

It argues that the guns and magazines Illinois banned are actually in common use and “cannot be unusual or dangerous” — a distinction that would remove them from Second Amendment protection.

“They cannot be banned, and the Illinois laws challenged herein must be declared unconstitutional,” the federal lawsuit argues.

Gun rights advocates are hoping for a ruling that addresses the central question of whether or not the law is constitutional, in the hopes the case might make it up to the ladder to the appellate court or ultimately, the U.S. Supreme Court. 

The recent Supreme Court decision that changed the landscape on the Second Amendment is known as New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc. v. Bruen. The high court’s 6-3 ruling in that case last June 23 said judges must rely on the Second Amendment’s text and the history of gun regulation to decide the constitutionality of gun laws — and not on the strength of the public safety purpose of those laws.