Effingham County judge to rule on assault weapons ban

Jan. 19—EFFINGHAM — An Effingham County judge on Wednesday said he expects to rule by Friday on a restraining order requested by Accuracy Firearms and other plaintiffs regarding the new Illinois law that bans the manufacture and most sales of semiautomatic weapons and high-capacity magazines.

The law prohibits the sale of what it categorizes as "assault weapons" to private individuals, but in some cases allows their sale to law enforcement. It also requires people who currently own such weapons to register them with the Illinois State Police by Jan. 1, 2024.

Accuracy Firearms, based in Effingham, is represented by Tom DeVore in the lawsuit filed against Gov. J.B. Pritzker, Attorney General Kwame Raoul, Speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives Emanuel Welch and Illinois State Sen. Don Harmon. Plaintiffs and attorneys for the Illinois Attorney General's office appeared in a packed courtroom before Judge Joshua Morrison.

Although several constitutional violations were alleged by DeVore, he made it clear that his argument isn't about the 2nd Amendment.

DeVore criticized Harmon and Welch for being absent from the emergency hearing Wednesday.

"They aren't even here," DeVore said as he began his argument.

DeVore argued that the legislative procedures leading up to Pritzker signing the bill were deeply flawed, and he claimed that the exemptions for law enforcement agencies and military personnel included in the law violate the equal protection clause.

He claimed that legislators were misled by a last-minute change to the subject of the bill, which supposedly began as having to do with Illinois' insurance code. He said it was converted into a bill about regulating firearms.

DeVore argued that this violated the single subject clause of the Illinois Constitution, which limits bills to a single and legitimate subject.

He also argued that the legislation failed to follow the three-reading rule, which requires a reading of a bill on three separate days leading up to a vote.

DeVore claimed that the last-minute change in the subject of the bill should have required these readings on the new subject.

"That is absolutely triggering of the three-reading rule," DeVore said.

Another key argument made by DeVore is that the new law violates the equal protection clause included in the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

"This is one of the biggest issues I see with this law," DeVore said.

DeVore said the exemptions for individuals like active and retired police officers and military personnel violates the right of his clients to have equal protection under the 14th Amendment because they aren't able to purchase the same firearms.

"How does a retired cop have more rights than military veterans?" Devore asked. "They all want to be treated the same. That's all."

Attorneys from the Illinois Attorney General's Office defended the bill's passage into law, arguing that all procedural requirements were met and that the plaintiffs haven't shown how the new law has caused them irreparable harm.

Judge Morrison asked about the last-minute change to the bill's subject.

"Isn't the bill, as it was proposed, completely different from how it was proposed?" Morrison asked.

Lawyers for the state said the rule allows the subject to be construed liberally in order to uphold legislation. They argued that the subject of the bill is "firearm regulation" that "easily satisfies" the rule.

Subjects like the criminal justice system are legitimate while broad subjects like governmental matters are illegitimate, the state lawyers said.

They also said there is a natural connection between the subject of the bill and its provisions, which are aimed to give law enforcement more investigatory power when it comes to the illegal trafficking of humans, guns and other gun-related crimes.

In response to DeVore's claim that his clients right to due process has been violated by the law because they haven't been given enough time to understand the new law and voice their opposition, the state argued that the legal action taken by plaintiffs shows that the public has had an opportunity to challenge the bill before the required registration of grandfathered assault weapons in January of 2024.

The state's lawyers also pushed back against DeVore's claims that his clients were harmed by the new law, arguing that the burden is on the plaintiffs to show that there has been a reduction in gun sales at stores such as Accuracy Firearms and that it has caused irreparable harm.

They argued that potential loss in income due to the law isn't enough to be considered irreparable harm because the business itself can still operate and sell weapons to exempt individuals or agencies.

State Reps. Blaine Wilhour, R-Beecher City, and Adam Niemerg, R-Dieterich, expressed their support of the lawsuit outside the courtroom.

Niemerg praised the stance taken by many sheriffs and state's attorneys not to enforce portions of the law.

"God bless those folks for having the courage to stand up," Wilhour said of those challenging the law.

In a recent press release, Niemerg and Wilhour commented on the lawsuit as they continue to await a decision from Morrison. Wilhour was critical of what he believes to be the hurried legislative process with which the bill was passed.

"There are serious questions about the Constitutionality of this new law as it relates to the 2nd Amendment but there are also other Constitutional problems with the new law," Wilhour said. "The majority party rushed to get this bill done before the lame duck session ended and their haste may ultimately be its undoing."

In the same press release, Niemerg made a similar argument regarding potential Constitutional violations and criticized what he considers government overreach.

"Not only does this new law infringe on our Second Amendment rights, but it also appears to violate other aspects of our Constitution such as the Equal Protections our Constitution guarantees us. The process of how this legislation became law is in itself a clear illustration of why those of us who value liberty and freedom are fearful of the power government will have should this bill remain law," Niemerg said.

Morrison said his decision will likely be made Friday.

Nick Taylor can be reached at nick.taylor@effinghamdailynews.com or by phone at 618-510-9226 or 217-347-7151 ext. 300132.