Illinois assault weapons ban: Court upholds temporary restraining order
CHICAGO - An appellate court has upheld a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) against Illinois’ assault weapons ban.
The TRO was issued by an Effingham County judge after attorney Thomas DeVore filed a lawsuit in state court against the law on behalf of 866 plaintiffs.
Judges suggested that lawmakers who rushed to pass the legislation earlier this month should have slowed down to explain why police and security guards, and several other categories of people, get to buy the firearms but others do not.
"This court's saying, as of right now, this is all conjecture because you don't have anything in the law to justify why you've exempted these categories," DeVore said.
The appellate court justices noted both sides of this gun rights battle say their goal is to save lives, writing: "We grapple with a fundamental right to bear and keep arms that allows plaintiffs to defend themselves or their families against a desire to protect the citizens of this state from the random atrocities associated with mass shootings."
A lawyer challenging the ban on military-style, AR-15 type weapons and large ammunition magazines thinks other judges will agree that allowing largely untrained security guards to possess assault weapons but not others doesn't make sense.
"All of these categories of persons who've been exempt out of this law based on their profession violates equal protection," DeVore said.
Contrary to some reports, the TRO applies only to the plaintiffs who brought the legal challenge.
The issue now heads to the Illinois Supreme Court.
"The Protect Illinois Communities Act is an important tool in what must be a comprehensive approach to addressing gun violence throughout Illinois, and we remain committed to defending the statute’s constitutionality. We are reviewing the 5th District’s decision, and we will seek its review by the Illinois Supreme Court. We will ask the court for an expedited schedule," said a spokesperson for the Attorney General's office.
Gov. JB Pritzker had initially said he was not surprised by the first judge's ruling.
"Although disappointing, it is the initial result we’ve seen in many cases brought by plaintiffs whose goal is to advance ideology over public safety," Pritzker said. "We are well aware that this is only the first step in defending this important legislation."
Pritzker said he remains confident the courts will uphold the constitutionality of the law.
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DeVore's lawsuit highlights four key issues on why the law banning assault weapons is invalid. The most pressing is the Equal Protection Clause, which exempts some people from following the law.
"The Court finds the Plaintiffs have shown a likelihood of success in relation to the equal protection clause of the Illinois Constitution," Morrison wrote in his 11-page ruling.
DeVore told the Chicago Tribune he believes that the judge "like many people in the state of Illinois have had enough of this."
"If the General Assembly wants to pass a law then do it in the wide open, don’t do it like thieves in the night and let everybody know what they’re doing and see what they’re doing and give them a chance to participate," DeVore said. "And I think that’s what the judge was trying to say and I look forward to this case as it continues."
In his ruling, Morrison cited a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision from last year that struck down New York state’s concealed carry law. That 6-3 ruling in New York Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen found that the "plain text" of the Second Amendment protected the right of the plaintiffs in that case to carry firearms for self-defense.
"Due to the speed with which this bill was passed, the effect to protected classes could not have been considered, nor could the Legislature have studied if this was the least restrictive way to meet their goal," Morrison also wrote.
Pritzker signed the law on Jan. 10 in response to the mass shooting that killed seven and injured 30 at the Highland Park July Fourth parade. The law bans dozens of specific types of rapid-fire handguns and rifles, .50-caliber guns, attachments and limits cartridges to 10 rounds for long guns and 15 rounds for pistols.
Attorney General Kwame Raoul’s lawyers argued the restraining order should be denied in part because the merits of the lawsuit would fail in court. The record will show the legislation was read publicly three times, that it covers a single subject — guns — and that the plaintiffs show no evidence that the exemptions for possessing the restricted weapons are doled out unfairly.
"The act’s exceptions for professionals with specialized firearms training and experience, such as law enforcement and members of the military, easily survive rational basis scrutiny," the state’s response said.
Mayor Nancy Rotering of Highland Park, where a mass shooting occurred on the Fourth of July, issued a statement:
"Our communities are under the constant threat of random gun violence. A common denominator in so much of our heartache and grief is assault weapons. Today’s court decision to grant a temporary restraining order against the State’s assault weapons ban is disappointing. After finally attaining some relief, political grandstanding and ego are standing in the way of our opportunity to regain some freedom to live free from fear.
It is sad that the plaintiffs in this and other cases filed feel it is more important to allow the public to access combat weapons than to protect our human right to live freely in our communities. I stand with the State of Illinois as it zealously defends the constitutionality of this law, the validity of which we are confident will ultimately be upheld."
Associated Press contributed to this report.
Editor's Note: Previous version of this story erroneously stated the appellate court expanded the TRO to cover the entire state.