Illinois’ flagship gun rights organization on Tuesday filed a federal lawsuit alleging the newly signed state law that prohibits high-powered guns and large-capacity ammunition magazines violates the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Filed on behalf of the Illinois State Rifle Association and nearly a half-dozen other gun rights advocates, the lawsuit was anticipated after Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker last week signed the ban on so-called assault weapons and large-capacity magazines.
It’s also the first known federal lawsuit filed against the ban, which was passed six months after the deadly mass shooting at the Fourth of July parade in Highland Park left seven dead and dozens more injured. Two other lawsuits were filed in state court in recent days in downstate Crawford and Effingham counties.
The federal lawsuit echoes many of the arguments made by the ban’s Republican opponents in the Democrat-led state legislature, including that the new law criminalizes law-abiding citizens who have a right to bear arms under the Second Amendment. The suit also alleges the ban violates the 14th Amendment of the constitution, meant to ensure equal protection rights for anyone protected by U.S. laws.
Aside from the rifle association, the plaintiffs include two other gun rights groups, the Firearms Policy Coalition and Second Amendment Foundation, two gun shops, one of them from McHenry County, and a retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel who owns firearms and magazines affected by the ban.
Two of the named defendants are Attorney General Kwame Raoul and Illinois State Police Director Brendan Kelly, whose agency will oversee a process under the new law that allows current owners of assault weapons to register them with the state police by Jan. 1. Other defendants are a handful of law enforcement officials from different counties, including sheriffs who, prior to the lawsuit, either publicly opposed the ban or vowed to not enforce it.
“The real problem is that there are existing gun laws that do not work because they are not enforced,” Illinois State Rifle Association Executive Director Richard Pearson said in a statement. “We would all be much safer if the police had the resources they need, and there were stronger consequences for the non-law-abiding citizens.”
A spokeswoman for Kelly said the agency would not comment on pending litigation. A representative for Raoul could not be reached for comment.
Pritzker is not a named defendant in the lawsuit. On Wednesday, in a CNN interview from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Pritzker said he’s confident the new law is constitutional based on “the fact that there … have been challenges of other states’ assault weapons bans.”
“We’re simply copying, frankly, what’s been done in other states,” Pritzker said. “In fact, ours is perhaps one of the most stringent, but it fits within the confines of what is constitutional and acceptable.”
Still, Pritzker left open the possibility that the law could be struck down if a legal challenge makes it to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“Who knows?” Pritzker said. “This Supreme Court (is) certainly a very right-wing one, and we’ll have to let the courts play this out.”
Among the case law cited by the plaintiffs in the lawsuit is a U.S. Supreme Court decision from last June that struck down New York state’s concealed carry law. In New York Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, the high court’s conservative 6-3 majority found, among other things, that the “plain text” of the Second Amendment protected the right to carry guns for self-defense.
The lawsuit also cites case law that holds that firearms and magazines can be banned if they are “dangerous and unusual,” and says that the guns and magazines listed in the Illinois law are in common use and do not fit that definition. ”Therefore, they cannot be banned, and the Illinois laws challenged herein must be declared unconstitutional,” the suit argues.
The Illinois law bans dozens of pistols, shotguns and semi-automatic rifles, including all AR-type rifles. The lawsuit argues that the AR-15 rifle is in standard use among law-abiding gun owners and is “an optimal firearm to rely on in a self-defense encounter.”
“AR-15 rifles are among the most popular firearms in the nation, and they are owned by millions of Americans,” the lawsuit states. “What is more, the designation ‘assault weapons’ is a misnomer, ‘developed by anti-gun publicists’ in their crusade against lawful firearm ownership.”
“By prohibiting Plaintiffs from possessing and carrying popular semi-automatic firearms and common ammunition magazines, Illinois has prevented them from ‘keeping and bearing arms’ within the meaning of the (Second) Amendment’s text,” the lawsuit argues.
The lawsuit uses a similar argument to allege that the law violates the Second Amendment by depriving the public of “high capacity” ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 bullets for long guns and over 15 bullets for handguns.
“Magazines capable of holding more than 10 or 15 rounds of ammunition are normal features of firearms in the United States and are more accurately described as ‘standard capacity,’ magazines,” the lawsuit states. “Magazine capacity is important for average citizens seeking to defend themselves because most shots fired in armed altercations miss their target.”
While the Bruen decision expanded Second Amendment protections by imposing a new test requiring gun laws to be “historically” consistent with laws on the books in the 18th century, the lawsuit says “there is no historical tradition of prohibiting the … importation, or sale of magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds.”
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are represented by Wheaton-based attorney David Sigale. He represented Chicago resident Otis McDonald in a successful U.S. Supreme Court case in 2010 that prompted the high court to overturn the city’s nearly three-decade-old handgun ban.
In an interview with the Tribune last week, Sigale warned the new Illinois ban could be in jeopardy if the Bruen decision is applied.
“The Second Amendment says the people have the right to keep and bear arms for self-defense purposes. That right is not limited to arms that just existed back in 1791 and it’s not the government’s place basically to say what firearms someone needs or should have or should want for those self-defense or other lawful purposes,” Sigale said.
“Those claims have to be analyzed under a historical tradition test, and when that test is applied I don’t think that these restrictions are going to hold up as passing muster,” he said.
After Jan. 1, people who possess an unregistered firearm covered by the ban face a misdemeanor for a first offense and a felony for subsequent offenses.
As for the ban on large-capacity magazines, only current owners as of April 10 will be allowed to possess them on private property, at a firing range or a sport shooting competition or at a federal licensed gun dealer for repairs. Violators will be subject to a $1,000 fine.
The bans on assault weapons and large-capacity magazines don’t apply to law enforcement.
Chicago Tribune’s Dan Petrella contributed.