Illinois Supreme Court upholds state’s ban on semiautomatic weapons

The Supreme Court of Illinois has upheld the state’s ban on the possession or sale of semiautomatic weapons, following the mass killings of hundreds of people nationally.

On Friday, the supreme court, in a 4-3 ruling, determined that the Protect Our Communities Act does not infringe upon the equal protection guarantee of the federal Constitution or the state constitution’s prohibition on discriminatory legislation.

The court also decreed that Dan Caulkins, a Republican representative from Decatur and a like-minded pawnbroker and broker of firearms, waived their earlier claims that the law infringes on their Second Amendment right to own firearms, and vehemently denied attorney Caulkins’ claim that it could not be raised before the Supreme Court.

The Second Amendment claim is alive, however, in several federal lawsuits filed in southern Illinois, later consolidated and awaiting appeals court action.

In April, the state of Washington adopted a similar law to Columbia District’s, which now prohibits semiautomatic firearms in addition to 10 other states.

Based on a study conducted in 2021 by Georgetown University, the AR-15 firearm, which is present in a minimum of 25 million American households, is the most widely sought-after weapon. Pistols have a maximum capacity of 15 rounds, whereas rifles are prohibited from holding more than 10 rounds. The legislation prohibits the use of attachments and devices that enable rapid firing, .50-caliber firearms, and numerous specific makes and models of rifles and pistols.

Trained professionals, including police officers, active-duty military personnel, corrections officials, and qualified security guards, may possess semiautomatic guns in seven categories. However, those who possessed these firearms before January 10 must register them with the state police by January 1, 2024 in order to retain ownership. Exceptions are made for certain circumstances.

The ban was imposed on them when the laws of equal protection were not given, but they are protected by the Second Amendment and all firearm owners are required to hold Identification Cards. They argued that the plaintiffs and those granted exemptions are similarly “situated” to the ban, and the Supreme Court of the United States in the 2022 case has strengthened the right of Americans to carry weapons for self-defense in public.

The education and expertise related to the weapons they possess, nor the education and expertise related to the weapons they possess, does not imply that a firearm owner possesses the authority to make arrests or fulfill other responsibilities designated for trained professionals. Additionally, merely possessing a FOID card does not result in any unequal treatment. Justice Elizabeth Rochford, speaking on behalf of the majority, disputed this argument in the scenario of gun owners who were exempted due to being grandfathered.

Rochford stated, “the equal protection clause does not prohibit the Legislature from making distinctions in legislation between various groups of individuals as long as the Legislature does not make those distinctions based on criteria completely unrelated to the purpose of the legislation.” Rochford expressed, “the equal protection clause ensures that individuals in similar circumstances will be treated equally, unless the government can provide a valid justification for treating those individuals differently.”

Stocks, the lawyer for Caulkins, indicated that there might be additional legal measures to be pursued, which could possibly involve seeking redress from the U.S. Supreme Court.

Governor J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat, signed the Protect Our Communities Act after lawmakers sent it to him in a lame-duck session in January, following a high-powered rifle shooter killing seven people and injuring dozens in the Highland Park suburb of Chicago on Independence Day in 2022. The new law sparked a firestorm of criticism from gun-rights advocates, including nearly unanimous statements from county sheriffs who vowed not to enforce it zealously.

Pritzker stated that this is a rational gun reform legislation aimed at preventing lethal weapons from being present in public areas such as streets, schools, malls, parks, and places of worship. He believes that the Protect Illinois Communities Act fulfills its intended purpose and will ensure the safety of Illinois residents in every part of the state, regardless of whether they plan to attend the July Fourth parade or not.

Dissenting Justice Mary K. O’Brien, the court’s fifth Democrat, determined that the plaintiffs lack the justification that grants certain exempted groups, such as retired police officers, the entitlement to possess firearms, unless there is unlawful specific legislation, which would render the law itself illegal.

Two Republican Justices, David Overstreet and Lisa White, filed a separate dissent, finding that lawmakers blatantly violated the constitutional procedures by approving legislation to make the “unconstitutional” law, thereby obviating the need to address the restrictions on firearm appeals.

“The court has a duty to uphold the constitutionally mandated process where the Legislature fails to honor our embedded constitutional matters.”