Under fire: State’s assault weapons ban challenged by two lawsuits — with others on the way

A suit filed Jan. 13 in southern Illinois marked the beginning of the legal battle to overturn the law Gov. J.B Pritzker called “one of the strongest assault weapons bans in the nation.” Another suit was filed Tuesday by Tom DeVore, a Republican former attorney general candidate.

SHARE Under fire: State’s assault weapons ban challenged by two lawsuits — with others on the way
Assault-style rifles now banned for sale in Illinois are displayed at a sporting goods store on Sunday in Tinley Park.

Assault-style rifles now banned for sale in Illinois are displayed at a sporting goods store on Jan. 11 in Tinley Park.

Scott Olson/Getty

Lawsuits challenging Illinois’ new assault weapons ban are beginning to trickle in — including a complaint filed in southern Illinois on behalf of more than 800 individual gun owners that seeks a temporary restraining order on the newly enacted law. 

Separately, the Illinois State Rifle Association said Tuesday it plans to file a federal lawsuit challenging the legislation “immediately.”

A suit filed Jan. 13 in Crawford County in southern Illinois marked the beginning of the legal battle to overturn the law Gov. J.B. Pritzker last week called “one of the strongest assault weapons bans in the nation.”

The goal for gun rights advocates is to get the measure overturned, though it’s unclear which lawsuit is mostly likely to gain traction as part of that effort.

Another complaint was filed Tuesday by former Republican Illinois attorney general candidate Tom DeVore in the Fourth Judicial Circuit Court on behalf of 866 plaintiffs, including Accuracy Firearms LLC. That suit says the law violates the Illinois Constitution. Pritzker, Illinois House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch, Illinois Senate President Don Harmon and Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul are listed as defendants.

An emergency hearing is scheduled Wednesday on that suit’s call for a temporary restraining order to halt enforcement of the law. The hearing will be held in Effingham County, two counties east of Crawford County. 

Lawyer Tom DeVore (left) and Democratic Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul (right), whom DeVore unsuccessfully sought to oust last year. 

Lawyer Tom DeVore (left) and Democratic Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul (right), whom DeVore unsuccessfully sought to oust last year.

Facebook; Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times file

Pritzker last week 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. 

Gun rights advocates immediately declared they’d take the measure to court — and constitutional law scholars, Republicans and gun shop owners believe it will be struck down

“Quite simply, the Defendants are infringing upon the lawful right of the Plaintiffs to keep and bear arms,” the Effingham County suit says. 

The suit says the law infringes on the Illinois Constitution’s Article I, Section 2, which says, “No person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without equal protections of the laws.” It also claims the law violates the due process clause — and other constitutional grounds about the process in which the measure was passed. 

Legislators used a “shell bill,” to more quickly move the measure through the Legislature, a common Springfield tactic.

The suit also says the law was passed in violation of the three readings requirement, which stipulates that each bill must be read on three different days in both the House and Senate before it is passed

The suit seeks an injunction permanently enjoining the defendants or anyone under their direction or control from enforcing the law against the plaintiffs.

The first lawsuit challenging the law was filed by Crawford County residents Jeremy W. Langley, Timothy B. Jones and Matthew Wilson, with defendants listed as Illinois State Police Director Brendan Kelly and Crawford County State’s Attorney Cole Price Shaner. 

The suit claims the law’s provisions that require gun owners to register their assault weapons violates the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution — and that the law violates the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms, including for self-defense. 

It requests that the court stop gun owners from being required to register their weapons or otherwise disclose them to the Illinois State Police and halt authorities from taking any action against those who possess unregistered firearms. It also seeks to stop the defendants from enforcing the bans on high-capacity magazines and the sale of assault weapons. 

Gov. J.B. Pritzker signs the assault weapons ban at the state Capitol in Springfield on Jan. 10.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker signs the assault weapons ban at the state Capitol in Springfield last week.

Tina Sfondeles/Chicago Sun-Times file

The governor’s office on Tuesday said the administration is “confident” the law will survive challenges. 

“The Governor is confident the courts will uphold the constitutionality of the Protect Illinois Communities Act. This legislation was the result of hundreds of hours of collaboration and cooperation between legal experts, legislators, and advocates, and it makes Illinois a safer place for every resident,” Pritzker spokeswoman Jordan Abudayyeh said. “Despite political grandstanding from those more beholden to the gun lobby than to the safety of their constituents, this law is in effect and protecting Illinoisans from the constant fear of being gunned down in a place of worship, at a parade, or on a street corner.”

Pritzker has a bitter history with DeVore, a southern Illinois lawyer who rose to prominence waging legal battles against the governor’s COVID-19 mitigations. 

The clash has often become personal, with DeVore accusing the Democratic governor of “tyrannical behavior,” and Pritzker dubbing DeVore “a grifter who is taking money from parents who are being taken advantage of.”

DeVore ultimately won that suit, a challenge to Pritzker’s statewide school mask mandate. But most of the Bond County lawyer’s legal challenges to Pritzker’s policies have failed.

Contributing: Jon Seidel 

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