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Gun lobby, stores file federal challenge to assault weapons ban, arguing it violates ‘right to keep and bear common arms’

Customers browse at Marengo Guns in 2021. The far northwest suburban gun store is one of the plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit challenging the Illinois assault weapons ban.

The Illinois State Rifle Association has filed a federal lawsuit challenging the state’s newly enacted assault weapons ban, saying the week-old law violates the Second Amendment “right of the people to keep and bear arms.”

Plaintiffs also include: St. Clair County resident Dane Harrel; C4 Gun Store LLC; Marengo Guns Inc.; Firearms Policy Coalition, Inc.; and the Second Amendment Foundation.

The lawsuit appears to be the first in federal court to challenge Illinois’ new weapons ban, known as the Protect Illinois Communities Act. But it is part of a burgeoning legal effort aimed at undoing the new law. Other lawsuits have been filed in state court. More are expected in federal court. It’s not clear which will gain the most traction.

A hearing took place Wednesday morning in response to a lawsuit filed in Effingham County Circuit Court that also sought a temporary restraining order, records show. A judge is expected to rule on that request by Friday afternoon.

In a statement, Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul said that, “over the last few years, my office has become accustomed to facing a barrage of challenges to newly-enacted state statutes and executive orders. As we have done previously, we are prepared to defend the Protect Illinois Communities Act in courtrooms around Illinois.”

The federal lawsuit, filed Tuesday in the Southern District of Illinois, alleges that Illinois’ assault weapons ban denies citizens “their fundamental, individual right to keep and bear common arms.”

It argues that the guns and magazines Illinois banned are actually in common use and therefore cannot be considered “unusual or dangerous” — a legal distinction that could remove them from Second Amendment protection if found to be the case.

“They cannot be banned, and the Illinois laws challenged herein must be declared unconstitutional,” the lawsuit says.

The complaint says, “AR-15 rifles are among the most popular firearms in the nation, and they are owned by millions of Americans.” It also says that “encounters with criminal intruders in the home, where the AR-style rifle may be most useful, are not uncommon.”

“At least a third of all gun owners use a firearm for hunting or sport shooting, and recreational target shooting is a top reason for owning semiautomatic rifles like those banned by Illinois,” it states.
Various firearms on display at Marengo Guns in Marengo in 2021.
Various firearms on display at Marengo Guns in Marengo in 2021. (Brian Rich/Sun-Times file)

Additionally, the lawsuit claims that semiautomatic firearms have been “mischaracterized as assault weapons.”

It’s been a little over a week since Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed the measure that immediately banned the sale of assault weapons in Illinois and capped the purchase of magazines at 10 rounds for long guns and 15 for handguns.

It also made rapid-fire devices, known as “switches,” illegal because they turn firearms into fully automatic weapons. Those already owning the banned guns were allowed to keep them but were required to register them with the Illinois State Police by Jan. 1.

The suit comes as several other lawsuits have popped up in southern Illinois, including the complaint filed Tuesday in Effingham County by former Illinois attorney general candidate Tom DeVore on behalf of more than 800 plaintiffs.

Another suit filed on Jan. 13 in Crawford County claims the law’s provisions requiring gun owners to register their assault weapons violates the Fifth and 14th amendments of the U.S. Constitution, and that the law violates the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms, including for self-defense.

The Illinois State Rifle Association has, since day one, declared the bill unconstitutional and vowed a legal fight. But lawmakers who crafted the bill, including its lead sponsor, state Rep. Bob. Morgan, D-Deerfield, said the legislation was based on language that already has been upheld and withstood legal scrutiny both in Illinois and in other states.

He doubled down on that declaration as Pritzker signed the legislation last week in Springfield.

“The constitutional interpretation of the Second Amendment, of course, loomed large in the drafting of this legislation,” Morgan said. “Both chambers took that very seriously. We have to make sure that we’re passing laws that will withstand scrutiny. And, of course, there are a lot of legal threats that came, and we look forward to being able to take our arguments to court.”

The governor’s office said Tuesday Pritzker is “confident the courts will uphold the constitutionality of the Protect Illinois Communities Act.”

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