Gun Laws

Illinois Supreme Court upholds state's ban on semiautomatic weapons

The law bans dozens of specific brands or types of rifles and handguns, .50-caliber guns, attachments and rapid-firing devices

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The Illinois Supreme Court on Friday voted to uphold the state's ban on certain types of semiautomatic weapons, reversing a lower court's decision on a lawsuit alleging the ban violates the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.

In a 4-3 decision Friday, the high court found that the Protect Our Communities Act does not violate the federal Constitution's guarantee of equal protection of the law nor the state constitution's bar on special legislation.

In its decision, the state's Supreme Court said the lower circuit court "erroneously entered summary judgment for plaintiffs on their equal protection and special legislation claims."

"Plaintiffs are not similarly situated to the trained professionals. To the extent plaintiffs claim they possess restricted items, they are not treated differently from the grandfathered individuals. To the extent plaintiffs claim they do not possess restricted items, they are dissimilar to the grandfathered individuals, who have a reliance interest in
retaining them," the court wrote, among other reasonings for their decision.

  • Read the full decision here.

"This great nation was founded on the premise that the right of law-abiding citizens to bear arms is essential to what it means to be a free people," Justice Holder White wrote. "The right of law-abiding citizens to possess firearms and to arm themselves to protect their families, their homes, and themselves must not be infringed. Belief in the previously mentioned precepts in no way diminishes the fact that all law-abiding citizens desire safe communities where schools, workplaces, houses of worship, and public gatherings are free from gun violence. The tension between the previously mentioned tenets are why this case is of such importance to the people of the state of Illinois. However, if this court is to adhere to the Illinois Constitution, we cannot address the question of the firearm restrictions at issue in this case. Important as this case is, constitutionally embedded process matters. Where the legislature fails to honor our constitutionally mandated process, this court is duty bound to adhere to our constitution and require the legislature to do the same."

The lawsuit at the center of the case, filed by Republican Rep. Dan Caulkins, of Decatur, and like-minded gun-owners, alleged the law violates the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms, but it also claimed the law is applied unequally.

The law bans dozens of specific brands or types of rifles and handguns, .50-caliber guns, attachments and rapid-firing devices. No rifle is allowed to accommodate more than 10 rounds, with a 15-round limit for handguns. The most popular gun targeted is the AR-15 rifle.

Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed the Protect Our Communities Act hours after lawmakers sent it to him in a lame-duck session in January, months after a shooter using a high-powered rifle killed seven and injured dozens on Independence Day 2022 in the Chicago suburb of Highland Park. The new law set off a firestorm of criticism from gun-rights advocates, including angry county sheriffs who were nearly unanimous in signing a statement that they would not zealously enforce the law.

“I am pleased that the Illinois Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of the Protect Illinois Communities Act.  This is a commonsense gun reform law to keep mass-killing machines off of our streets and out of our schools, malls, parks, and places of worship," Pritzker said in a statement. "Illinoisans deserve to feel safe in every corner of our state—whether they are attending a Fourth of July Parade or heading to work—and that’s precisely what the Protect Illinois Communities Act accomplishes. This decision is a win for advocates, survivors, and families alike because it preserves this nation-leading legislation to combat gun violence and save countless lives.”

Bolstered by the 2022 U.S. Supreme Court case that determined Americans have a right to carry weapons in public for self-defense, Caulkins and other gun owners say the semiautomatic ban clearly violates the right to possess guns. But they also claim it violates the Constitution's right to equal protection of the law and a state constitution provision banning “special legislation” when a “general law is applicable.” A lower court agreed in March.

The lawsuit alleged the law was unequally applied because anyone who had a semiautomatic weapon on the date the law took effect could keep it, although they're restricted in selling or transferring such weapons. They must register their guns with the Illinois State Police by Jan. 1, 2024.

The ban also exempts law enforcement officers, including those retired, and on-duty military. Critics argued many civilians have more experience and training in handling semiautomatic weapons than law enforcement officers.

Democrats, who control all levers of the state's legislative and executive branch, also have a 5-2 majority on the state Supreme Court.

Several other lawsuits against the ban filed in federal court were consolidated and are awaiting action in an appeals court.

“The Supreme Court’s ruling upholds the legislature’s commitment to value the lives of our children over guns," Illinois House Speaker Emanuel "Chris" Welch said in a statement. "This ruling makes it clear that the safety of our cities, our suburbs, and our small towns is not subject to the veto of the gun lobby. Such statements should not be profound or controversial, but in a time when the specter of gun violence looms over every aspect of our lives and preventable tragedies are seemingly a daily occurrence in communities small and large across the country, this ruling in favor of commonsense gun safety is monumental."

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