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Illinois’ gun ban remains in place, but rights advocates say days are numbered

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Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has said it won’t take unfinished cases challenging Illinois’ gun ban without final judgment from the appeals court, it’s back to the lower courts.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas declined to hear cases from Illinoisans suing over gun bans. The opposing sides of the debate see Tuesday’s outcome differently.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker enacted Illinois’ ban on the sale and possession of more than 170 semi-automatic firearms and magazine capacities in January 2023.

Several cases went through the district and appeals courts on initial proceedings, but no final judgments had been issued. Thomas denied granting plaintiffs’ requests for the Supreme Court to take the cases without final judgment.

“This Court is rightly wary of taking cases in an interlocutory posture,” Thomas wrote. “But, I hope we will consider the important issues presented by these petitions after the cases reach final judgment.”

Gun control groups heralded the decision to not take the cases.

“The Supreme Court action means the protection of Illinois citizens from assault weapons and large capacity magazines will remain in effect. That’s good news for all of us,” Gun Violence Prevention PAC Executive Board member John Schmidt said in a statement.

Hannah Hill, executive director with the National Foundation for Gun Rights, said Illinoisans’ Second Amendment Rights continue to be violated. But, the ruling wasn’t about substance, it was about procedure.

“And Justice Thomas gave us all hope when he said that basically, go through the merits and if the Seventh Circuit remains obdurate, if they say the same thing, then we’re prepared to take the case,” Hill told The Center Square.

Yolanda Androzzo, executive director of One Aim Illinois, a group advocating for more regulations on firearms, was encouraged that the gun ban remains in place, “at least for now.”

“As the fight over this law continues in district courts, we remain steadfast in our commitment to advocating for sensible gun control measures that safeguard our residents,” Androzzo said in a statement.

Hill said while Illinois’ gun ban remains in place, Thomas’ opinion shows the law’s days are numbered with his criticism of the appeal’s court’s ruling last year.

“He used the term ‘nonsensical,’ ‘contrived,’ ‘highly suspect,’ and he said outright ‘it is difficult to see how the [Seventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals] could have concluded that the most widely owned semi-automatic rifles are not arms protected by the Second Amendment.”

State Rep. Bob Morgan, D-Deerfield, sponsored the gun ban legislation. He said Tuesday’s ruling “keeps weapons of war” off the streets.

“I applaud the U.S. Supreme Court for allowing Illinois’ common-sense gun reform to continue,” Morgan said. “Every day that assault weapons and high capacity magazines are banned in Illinois represents fewer gun deaths and reduced gun violence.”

Gun rights advocate Todd Vandermyde said those celebrating haven’t seen the writing on the wall – the order reinforced previous precedent upholding Second Amendment rights.

“Evidently they didn’t read the author of [New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen], Justice Thomas’ comments that the standard used by the Seventh Circuit was just made up,” Vandermyde said.

Thomas said in his view “Illinois’ ban is ‘highly suspect because it broadly prohibits common semiautomatic firearms used for lawful purposes.’”

“The Seventh Circuit’s contrived ‘non-militaristic’ limitation on the Arms protected by the Second Amendment seems unmoored from both text and history,” Thomas wrote. “And, even on its own terms, the Seventh Circuit’s application of its definition is nonsensical.”

The Seventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals could take up the case on the merits sometime after a bench trial in the Southern District of Illinois federal court. That’s set for Sept. 16 in East St. Louis.

Attorney General Kwame Raoul said he will “vigorously defend” the gun ban’s constitutionality.

“The law is an important part of what must be a multifaceted approach to addressing gun violence, and I am pleased it remains in effect in Illinois,” Raoul said in a statement.

The Illinois State Rifle Association said Tuesday’s decision doesn’t impact the trajectory of the district court’s case.

“Too much is at stake, and the ISRA remains on the front lines and continues to stand up to Gov. Pritzker and anti-gun legislators in Springfield on behalf of 2.4 million law-abiding, responsible firearms owners in Illinois,” said ISRA Executive Director Richard Pearson.

Southern District of Illinois federal Judge Stephen McGlynn has said he wants to deal with the merits expeditiously. Last year, on preliminary grounds, McGlynn halted the law while they dealt with the merits, a move the appeals court overturned and later ruled against.

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