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Illinois' ban on 'bump stocks' remains in place despite U.S. Supreme Court decision

A person stands at a podium with the seal of the State of Illinois, addressing an audience. Several people in business attire and one in a blue shirt stand behind them. A large orange truck is parked in the background against a brick wall, likely there to discuss the recent Illinois weapons ban.
Andrew Adams
Capitol News Illinois
Gov. JB Pritzker speaks to reporters at a news conference on June 14. Pritzker said a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling doesn’t affect Illinois’ ban on bump stocks and other firearm accessories.

An Illinois law banning the sale and use of “bump stocks” and other devices that increase the firing power of semiautomatic weapons remains in place, at least for now, despite a U.S. Supreme Court decision Friday striking down a federal ban on such items.

“Illinois law is not affected by the decision,” a spokesperson for Attorney General Kwame Raoul said in an email statement Friday.

Meanwhile, however, advocates on both sides of the gun control debate in the United States are anxiously waiting to learn whether the high court will hear a broader constitutional challenge to the state’s 2023 assault weapons ban, which includes the state-level ban on bump stocks. An announcement on that appeal could come at any time in the next several days.

Read more: What to know about Illinois’ assault weapons ban

Bump stocks are devices that attach to a semiautomatic weapon that enable it to fire multiple shots in rapid succession with a single pull of the trigger, effectively enabling the weapon to function like a fully automatic weapon.

Those devices became the focus of gun control debate following a 2017 mass shooting at a music festival in Las Vegas, Nevada. A gunman used weapons equipped with bump stocks to fire more than 1,000 rounds into a crowd in a matter of minutes, killing 60 people and injuring more than 400.

Although public ownership of “machine guns” had long been banned under the National Firearms Act, a 1934 law originally written in response to gangland violence of that era, that law had never been interpreted to include the use of bump stocks. Public outrage over the Las Vegas massacre prompted the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to adopt a new regulation imposing a federal ban on bump stocks.

In a 6-3 ruling Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down that regulation, saying ATF exceeded its authority in issuing a rule that classifies bump stocks as machine guns. The majority did not, however, say a ban on bump stocks per se would violate the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.

“The Supreme Court decision, as you know, is not a Second Amendment decision,” Gov. JB Pritzker said at an unrelated news conference Friday, just hours after the decision was released. “It was a decision about whether the ATF has the authority to issue the rules that they put out back then. … I do think it’s going to spur action at the state level as well as the federal level to try to once again ban bump stocks. Here in Illinois, we’ve already done that.”

The Illinois bump stock ban was enacted as part of the state’s overall ban on assault-style weapons, which came in response to another mass shooting, this one at a Fourth of July parade in Highland Park in 2022.

The law bans a long list of firearms defined as “assault weapons,” as well as large-capacity magazines and various kinds of attachments. Those include attachments that “increase the rate of fire of a semiautomatic firearm above the standard rate of fire” for a weapon not equipped with such a device.

That law was passed during a special lame duck session of the General Assembly in January 2023, just six months after the Highland Park shooting. Pritzker signed it into law within hours of its final passage, making Illinois the ninth state in the nation at the time to enact such a ban. Washington became the 10th state a few months later.

Legal challenges to the Illinois law moved swiftly through both state and federal courts. In August, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled 4-3 the law did not violate a narrow provision of the Illinois Constitution that prohibits the passage of “special legislation,” or laws that apply only to certain classes of individuals.

At the federal level, however, decisions so far have been mixed. Two separate district court judges in the Northern District of Illinois rejected constitutional challenges to the law and refused to block enforcement of either the state ban or local bans enacted in Naperville and Chicago.

But in April, a judge in the Southern District of Illinois granted a preliminary injunction blocking enforcement of the law on the grounds that it likely violates the Second Amendment.

Those three cases were later consolidated at the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, where a three-judge panel ruled Nov. 3 that the law could remain in force while challenges to it are being considered.

That is the decision now pending before the U.S. Supreme Court, which so far has declined to issue its own preliminary injunction to block enforcement of the law while the cases are being heard.

Legal challenges are also pending against assault weapon bans in other states, but a spokesperson for the National Association for Gun Rights, one of the leading organizations challenging those laws, said Monday the Illinois case is the only one currently poised to be taken up by the Supreme Court.

If the court agrees to take the case, oral arguments would be scheduled for the term that begins in October. A decision against hearing the appeal would leave the Seventh Circuit’s decision from November in place.

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government. It is distributed to hundreds of newspapers, radio and TV stations statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, along with major contributions from the Illinois Broadcasters Foundation and Southern Illinois Editorial Association.

Peter Hancock joined the Capitol News Illinois team as a reporter in January 2019.