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Monday, September 22, 2014

Highland Park's Assault Weapon Ban Upheld

The Northern District of Illinois issued an opinion last week upholding the City of Highland Park's ban on assault weapons and large capacity magazines against a Second Amendment challenge. Friedman v. City of Highland Park (N.D. Ill. 9/18/14).  

The City had enacted an ordinance in June of 2013 prohibiting the possession, sale, or manufacture of certain types of assault-type weapons and any magazine that holds more than ten rounds of ammunition.  Right before the ban was to become effective, a City resident and the Illinois NRA filed a lawsuit alleging that the ordinance violated the Second Amendment.  

In analyzing whether the City's ordinance violated the constitution, the court first looked at a variety of U.S. Supreme Court and 7th Circuit decisions interpreting the Second Amendment which provides that "[a] well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed."  The court first noted that although the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized a a Second Amendment right to "possess and carry weapons in case of confrontation," there are limitations on this right.  Specifically, the court noted that the Second Amendment does not create "a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose."  Heller I.

The court then discussed the two-part test established by these cases for determining whether a gun law is constitutional.  First, the court must determine whether the regulated activity falls outside of the scope of the Second Amendment.  Second, if the City cannot show that the regulated activity is outside the Second Amendment's scope, then the City has to demonstrate that the restriction is justified.  If it cannot meet this burden, the ordinance is unconstitutional.

With respect to the first element, because the ordinance regulates a particular class of weapons, the question for the court was whether the weapons are commonly used for lawful purposes.  In the court's opinion, the evidence submitted by the parties did not resolve this question.  Although the NRA had argued that many individuals use assault weapons at firing ranges (a lawful use), the City countered that these type of weapons fall within the "dangerous and unusual weapons" exception from Second Amendment protection.  Because this particular issue was far from settled, the court determined that the City did not meet its burden of showing that the ordinance was outside of the Second Amendment's scope.

On the second element, however, the court agreed with the City that there was a close fit between the ordinance and its stated objective of protecting the safety of its residents.  The court determined that assault weapons had a "decidedly offensive purpose" like military weapons, rather than the self-defense purpose that the Supreme Court has found in handguns.  Applying a "not quite strict scrutiny" standard, the court determined that the ban did not violate the plaintiffs' Second Amendment rights. The court also acknowledged that City residents can still keep other types of weapons (including handguns) as well as an unlimited number of magazines holding 10 rounds or less, for self-defense.

It is very likely that the state NRA will appeal this ruling to the Seventh Circuit, and we will keep you advised of any future ruling in this case.

Post Authored by Julie Tappendorf 


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