Bid to block Illinois’ new assault weapons ban now before federal appeals court

The case of Naperville gunshop owner Robert Bevis appears to be the first to challenge the ban in the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. A federal judge found it constitutional.

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Robert Bevis, owner of Law Weapons and Supply in Naperville. He asked a federal appeals court on Tuesday for an order blocking enforcement of Illinois’ new assault weapons ban.

Robert Bevis, owner of Law Weapons and Supply in Naperville. He asked a federal appeals court on Tuesday for an order blocking enforcement of Illinois’ new assault weapons ban.

Rich Hein / Sun-Times

The federal appeals court in Chicago has its first opportunity to weigh in on Illinois’ assault weapons ban, as challenges to the law advance.

Naperville gunshop owner Robert Bevis asked the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday for an injunction blocking the law.

Bevis wants the order in place while he appeals a ruling by U.S. District Judge Virginia Kendall that the law is “constitutionally sound.”

Bevis asked that the injunction, if granted, apply to everyone affected by the law.

The case appears to be the first to challenge the Illinois ban to the federal appellate court. The appeals court could side with Kendall or block the measure, which was signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Jan. 10 and immediately banned the sale of military-style weapons and high-capacity magazines.

Kendall ruled last month that, “because assault weapons are particularly dangerous weapons … their regulation accords with history and tradition.”

Bevis’ lawyers argue that Kendall’s ruling is wrong, that, under previous Supreme Court rulings, weapons must be found to be “dangerous and unusual” to be banned.

“An arm that is commonly possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes is, by definition, not unusual,” they wrote in their court filing Tuesday. “Thus, such an arm cannot be both dangerous and unusual and therefore it cannot be subjected to a categorical ban.”

They told the 7th Circuit the matter “is not a close case.”

It’s unclear how quickly the appeals court might rule.

Bevis’ lawyers said his business has suffered since the assault weapons ban took effect. They wrote that 85% of the firearms sold by his business, Law Weapons & Supply, are banned by the state law and a similar Naperville ordinance.

“Cash reserves have been depleted, and as a result, [Law Weapons & Supply] has had to lay off employees and ask Bevis’ family to work without pay,” Bevis’ lawyers wrote. “Bevis has extended his personal credit, missed personal payments like home and car payments, maxed his credit limits, and taken out loans to pay the monthly bills.”

They wrote that Law Weapons & Supply will not be able to abide by its property and equipment leases “if these bans remain in effect any longer.”

“In short, [Law Weapons & Supply] will be put out of business if these laws are enforced,” they wrote.

Responding to the request, the Illinois Attorney General’s office on Wednesday said it will continue to defend the law’s “constitutionality.”

“Our position remains that the Protect Illinois Communities Act is constitutional, and we are pleased the federal district court agreed. As communities throughout Illinois work to address gun violence, the Protect Illinois Communities Act is an important tool in a multifaceted approach to enhancing public safety,” attorney general’s office spokeswoman Annie Thompson said in a statement. “We will continue to defend its constitutionality in the 7th Circuit.”

Bevis’ lawsuit is one of several challenges filed in state and federal courts since Pritzker signed the law. Four federal challenges have been consolidated in southern Illinois’ federal court, where state lawyers recently argued the weapons restricted by the new law aren’t commonly used for self-defense.

“By design and in practice, they exist for offensive infliction of mass casualties,” they argued in a recent brief.

Meanwhile, the Illinois Supreme Court agreed this week to give accelerated consideration to issues that have been raised in state court. The move was prompted by an order last week by a Macon County judge.

That judge followed the lead of earlier Illinois appellate court rulings and found that the assault weapons ban violates the state constitution’s equal protection and special legislation clauses.

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