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Friday, April 6, 2012

Illinois Supreme Court Allows Assault Weapon Ban Lawsuit to Proceed

In 2006, Cook County adopted the Blair Holt Assault Weapons Ban that prohibits assault weapons as well as large capacity magazines with the capacity to accept more than 10 rounds of ammunition.  Plaintiffs sued the County, claiming that the Ordinance was unconsitutional on a number of grounds.  Plaintiffs allege that the Ordinance is vague, violates their second amendment right to bear arms, and violates the equal protection clause of the United States Constitution.  The circuit court granted the County's motion to dismiss the lawsuit. The appellate court affirmed, ruling that that the U.S. Supreme Court’s holding in District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008), did not provide a fundamental right to bear arms applicable to the states and, therefore, the right to bear arms was subject to the police power of the state.

The case was then filed a petition for leave to appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court.  While that petition was pending, the U.S. Supreme Court filed its decision in McDonald v. City of Chicago, 130 S.Ct. 3020 (2010), which held that the second amendment applies to the states through the due process clause of the fourteenth amendment.  The Illinois Supreme Court sent the case back to the appellate court for review in light of McDonald. The appellate court upheld the dismissal of the lawsuit, holding that the second amendment right does not extend to assault weapons and that the County ban on assault weapons was substantially related to an important governmental interest. 

The case was again appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court, which issued its ruling on April 5, 2012, in Wilson v. County of CookThe Supreme Court's ruling can be summarized as follows:

1.  The Court affirmed the trial court's dismissal of Plaintiffs' due process challenge that the County Ordinance was vague, finding that a person of ordinary intelligence would understand what weapons were included in the ban. 

2.  The Court also affirmed the trial court's dismissal of Plaintiffs' equal protection challenge, finding that the Ordinance does not arbitrarily distinguish between two owners with similar firearms because the banned firearms are either listed, a copy or duplicate, or fall under the characteristics-based test.

3.  However, the Court reversed the trial court's dismissal of Plaintiffs' second amendment challenge to the Ordinance and remanded the case to the trial court for further proceedings. 

In reversing the trial court's dismissal of the second amendment count, the Court specifically noted that the County has not yet had an opportunity to present evidence in support of the Ordinance and to justify the government interest in the ban.  The Court suggested that assault weapons are not the "quintessential weapon of choice" for self-defense.  The Court pointed to a 1994 report by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives that characterized assault weapons as “mass produced mayhem."  The Court further noted that assault weapons are weapons of choice for gangs, drug dealers, and mass killers to outgun police officers on the streets, and, according to the ATF, Congress and Cook County, these type of weapons have no “sporting purpose.”  It certainly appeared as if the Court was providing the County with a veritable roadmap of the type of evidence it should consider asserting in support of the Ordinance on remand. 

Post Authored by Julie Tappendorf, Ancel Glink.


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