State Supreme Court: Assault Weapons Ban Challenge Can Go Ahead

UPDATED 04/05/12 1:27 p.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) — The Illinois Supreme Court has ruled that a challenge to the Cook County assault weapons ban may proceed, reversing a lower court decision.

The court on Thursday ruled that lower courts were wrong to throw out the challenge. The Supreme Court says it wants the trial court to hear evidence on whether assault weapons get the same Second Amendment protections as handguns.

As WBBM Newsradio’s Dave Berner reports, attorneys challenging the ban argue that the county’s ordinance is too vague, and based on faulty information.


LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Dave Berner reports

They say it should be reconsidered because of the 2010 McDonald v. Chicago case that rendered Chicago’s ban on handguns unenforceable and led to its replacement with a new ordinance.

The county ordinance bans the sale or possession of any assault weapon or large-capacity magazine, the Chicago Sun-Times explains. But Illinois Rifle Association executive director Richard Pearson told the newspaper the law currently bans the most popular hunting rifle in the country – the AR-15 – and makes no sense.

But gun control advocates say there is no reason to nullify the ban when there are many conventional handguns and long guns are still legally permitted, the Sun-Times reported. Jonathan Lowy, director of the Action Project at the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, told the newspaper that packing an AK-47 is not a Second Amendment constitutional right.

The county imposed the ban back in 1993. It has been upheld by trial courts and appeals courts.

A key question before the high court is whether high-capacity, fast-firing weapons should be considered ordinary guns that get full Second Amendment protection, or treated like machine guns and other special weapons that can be restricted.

In its ruling Thursday, the Supreme Court said that point remains undecided.

On the one hand, the court said, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Heller v. Washington, D.C., which overturned the handgun ban in the nation’s capital in 2008, did not say the Second Amendment provides the right to possess any and every weapon under the sun. And unlike the handgun bans that were once in effect in Chicago and Washington, D.C., the Cook County assault weapons ban is not a blanket prohibition, the court said.

“The Ordinance is not an absolute ban on the possession of all rifles, shotguns, or pistols for self-defense. Nor is it a complete ban on all semiautomatic firearms,” the court said. “Instead, it covers a particular subset of these weapons with particular characteristics that the County has determined make them capable of firing rapidly, delivering a large number of shots without reloading, and creating a high risk of collateral damage. The Court in Heller had no reason to consider regulation of these particular types of firearms with these particular attributes.”

But it is not clear whether the Cook County ban prohibits weapons that would be classified as being “typically possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes,” and that question needs to be sorted out, the court said.

“Without a national uniform definition of assault weapons from which to judge these weapons, it cannot be ascertained at this stage of the proceedings whether these arms with these particular attributes as defined in this Ordinance are well suited for self-defense or sport or would be outweighed completely by the collateral damage resulting from their use, making them ‘dangerous and unusual’ as articulated in Heller,” the high court said.

The court ruled against gun rights advocates’ claims that the ordinance files the due process and equal protections clauses of the Constitution, but allowed the challenge to proceed on Second Amendment grounds.

Some in the law enforcement community were not happy about the Supreme Court decision.

Tom Weitzel is the police chief in Riverside, and the president of the West Suburban Chiefs of Police Association. He called the court ruling a poor decision.

“When law enforcement, in general, is coming into contact with individuals with assault rifles, we’re not going to a home and coming into contact with a law-abiding, legal gun owner,” Weitzel said. “That’s not what we’re dealing with.”

Weitzel said the argument that assault weapons are used for target practice and hunting may be fine, but that’s not what police see.

“If somebody points a high-capacity rifle at you, or is possessing one across the shoulder, you know it,” Weitzel said.

Make no mistake about it, Weitzel said – assault weapons are being used more and more in armed robberies and bank robberies.

(TM and © Copyright 2012 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS Radio and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

  • Mike Leahy

    what would we do without our assault weapons? How am I going to explain to my 8 year old that he can’t take his favorite gun to school?

    • WetNurse

      How are you going to explain to your 8 year old that his daddy is an idiot?

    • Just Axin

      Well, Mike, you can explain that daddy is an a-hole because he can’t understand the issue at hand. You can start there!

  • Hal

    Although I am against gun control I can understand why they want to ban these weapons but I do not agree that banning them is the solution-I think it would be easier to impose other restrictions on them such as–you can own them but being caught with one in your car without a hunting license or proof that your going on a hunting trip etc then the gun can be confisticated-if your going to a gun range then get an online permit thats good for so many hours–if you dont havbe one then the gun is confisticated you have to go to court and pay a fine to get it returned

    • WetNurse

      Obviously you are not against gun control, for your comment proposes exactly that. another maroon.

  • Just Axin

    I won’t hold my breath on this one. The court is loaded with political a-holes who have no concept of law.

  • E. Smith

    Follow the money. It’s not a gun problem. It’s an enforcement problem. Conscientious enforcement of laws on the books since the 19th century will virtually eliminate crime in this country…..But then what do we do with all the parasites currently “employed” by the criminal justice industry? We now use machines to dig ditches and most of our factories are automated…..Remember, more laws = more crimes = more jobs…any questions?

  • Reb Biker

    So-called assault weapons like my Bushmaster AR15 and my Springfield Armory M1A are the exact types of weapons we need to defend ourselves against flash mobs. Defending our society against tyranny is what the Second Amendment is all about.

  • rmuser

    I’d love to know how many people have actually ever been charged under the ban. I suspect 0. Also, assault weapons are widely and legally available and just about any gun store in Cook County, explain that one. The ban is a joke. It’s named after Blair Holt. Blair Holt was killed by a someone who doesn’t pay any attention to gun laws, and there was no assault weapon involved.

  • Tom

    According to the recent Maryland ruling, the Second amendment includes protecting our right to train in a militia. There is a clear use for “assault” weapons in a militia situation.

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