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Gun rights group asks Supreme Court to overturn Illinois assault weapon ban

Robert Bevis, owner of Law Weapons and Supply in Naperville, holds an AR-15-style rifle.
Rich Hein
Chicago Sun Times
Robert Bevis, owner of Law Weapons and Supply in Naperville, holds an AR-15-style rifle. 

Gun rights groups on Monday asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Illinois' ban on assault weapons.

Thepetition to the high courtwas widely expected after the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in November affirmed a lower court ruling that allowed the ban on AR-15-style rifles passed by the state Legislature in 2022 to stand. The Illinois State Rifle Association announced that it would take the case to the Supreme Court the day the 7th Circuit ruling was handed down.

“Our objective from the very beginning of the process that started the moment Gov. Pritzker signed the bill into law was to take our case to the United States Supreme Court, and today we followed through on that promise and now our case is in the hands of the highest court in the land,” said Richard Pearson, executive director of the Illinois State Rifle Association, in a statement.

Petitions filed by both the State Rifle Association and also the National Association for Gun Rights challenge the Illinois law on Second Amendment grounds, claiming the ban violates the Constitution in light of Supreme Court rulings in recent years that have restricted states and municipalities from regulating firearm ownership. The introductory lines of the lawsuit notes the Bruen case from 2022, which struck down a New York law restricting concealed carry licenses for firearms.

"Bruen called on the nation’s legislatures to engage in a sober reassessment of their power to impose burdens on the right to keep and bear arms," the petition states. "The Illinois legislature ignored that call, and instead of tapping on the regulatory brakes it stomped on the gas and passed a sweeping arms ban that included a ban on the most popular rifle in America."

In a 2-1 ruling upholding the assault weapons ban, the 7th Circuit judges in November ruled the kinds of weapons banned under the Illinois law were not protected under the Second Amendment, finding that the right to bear arms could be restricted with weapons that “are much more like machine guns and military-grade weaponry than they are like the many different types of firearms that are used for individual self-defense.”

“Even the most important personal freedoms have their limits,” Judge Diane P. Wood wrote for the majority. “Government may punish a deliberately false fire alarm; it may condition free assembly on the issuance of a permit; it may require voters to present a valid identification card; and it may punish child abuse even if it is done in the name of religion. The right enshrined in the Second Amendment is no different.”

Hannah Hill, executive director of the legal arm of the National Association for Gun Rights, said that a string of rulings in federal district and appellate courts have upheld bans similar to Illinois, but said the 7th Circuit opinion was "uniquely egregious.""They basically said that the most popular firearm in America is not a gun for the purposes of the Second Amendment," Hill said.

The gun groups' petition, which also names Naperville gun store owner Robert Bevis as a plaintiff, challenges how the appeals court decided that assault rifles are more dangerous than other weapons.

"What is the defining feature of an 'especially dangerous' or 'militaristic weapon'? The court answers that it is a 'weapon such as the AR-15, which is capable of inflicting the grisly damage described in some of the briefs,'" the petition states. "The problem with this is that all firearms are capable of inflicting grisly damage. One might even say that is a firearm’s purpose."

The state Legislature passed the assault weapons ban in response to a mass shooting at a Fourth of July parade in north suburban Highland Park in 2022, in which alleged shooter Robert Crimo III opened fire on spectators from a rooftop with a Smith & Wesson M&P15 semi-automatic rifle that he had purchased legally. Crimo III has pleaded not guilty to the more than 100 felony counts he faces in connection with the attack, and is awaiting trial.