The Illinois Supreme Court has rejected a challenge to the state’s ban on assault weapons, meaning that law will stay in effect statewide.
In a 4-3 decision issued Friday morning, the high court overturned a lower court’s ruling, stating the ban is constitutional and does not “deny equal protection nor constitute special legislation.”
Gov. J.B. Pritzker said he was “pleased” with the ruling Friday and called it a win for “advocates, survivors, and families alike because it preserves this nation-leading legislation to combat gun violence and save countless lives.”
“This is a commonsense gun reform law to keep mass-killing machines off of our streets and out of our schools, malls, parks, and places of worship,” he said in a statement. “Illinoisans deserve to feel safe in every corner of our state—whether they are attending a Fourth of July Parade or heading to work—and that’s precisely what the Protect Illinois Communities Act accomplishes.”
Pritzker signed the so-called Protect Illinois Communities Act back in January, but that move was immediately followed by legal challenges and promises from multiple county sheriffs around Illinois who said they wouldn’t enforce the ban.
In the case, brought by state Rep. Dan Caulkins, R-Decatur, on behalf of gun owners, the state Supreme Court was tasked with deciding whether or not they agreed with a downstate judge who ruled the assault weapons ban violated Illinois’ “equal protection” requirement.
The law, as constructed, banned the sale of hundreds of different types of assault weapons in Illinois. Those who already own such firearms covered by the law will be allowed to keep them, but they’ll be required to register them with the state before January 2024.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs argued the equal protection clause mandates that all individuals must be treated the same. They claimed the ban breaks that requirement with its grandfather clause, which allows those who previously owned guns like AR-15s to keep them.
The court disagreed.
“To the extent plaintiffs allege they already possess restricted items, plaintiffs may retain them but may not acquire more, which matches the restrictions placed on those who are grandfathered under the Act,” the court wrote in its ruling. “The statutes treat plaintiffs who already possess assault weapons and LCMs the same as the grandfathered individuals.”
While the plaintiffs also argued the law violates the second amendment’s protections, the court on Friday noted that in their complaint, the plaintiffs did not include such a claim.
“Plaintiffs made clear below that this dispute concerns equal protection and special legislation, but plaintiffs now attempt to piggyback a second amendment claim onto those allegations,” the court in its opinion. “… Allowing a party to change his theory of the case on review would weaken the adversarial process and the system of appellate jurisdiction and could also prejudice the opposing party, who did not have an opportunity to respond to that theory in the circuit court.”
Regardless of Friday's ruling, the ban still faces legal challenges in federal court.
In advocating in favor of the law, Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul had argued that with Illinois residents dying at the hands of these firearms, there’s a rational basis for limiting their use and sale.
“Do you want more people to go out and get those weapons and go to parades and commit mass shootings?” he said following arguments before the high court back in May. “I don’t, and I don’t think the legislature does either.”
In a dissenting opinion, Justice Lisa Holder White wrote that she finds the ban unconstitutional, stating that the “right of law-abiding citizens to possess firearms and to arm themselves to protect their families, their homes, and themselves must not be infringed.”
“When, as in this case, the work of the legislature directly impacts a fundamental right, which this court has said the right to keep and bear arms is … the people of Illinois deserve nothing less than the procedural requirements of the constitution be followed by their elected representatives and senators,” she wrote in her dissent.
The legislative effort to pass the ban picked up steam after a mass shooting during the Highland Park Fourth of July parade last year that left seven people dead.
Amanda Vinicky contributed to this report.
This is a developing story.