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U.S. Supreme Court leaves Illinois assault weapons ban in place during appeals proceedings

U.S. Supreme Court leaves Illinois assault weapons ban in place
U.S. Supreme Court leaves Illinois assault weapons ban in place 00:24

WASHINGTON (CBS) -- The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday declined to block an Illinois law banning assault-style weapons.

The measure will remain in place while proceedings before a federal appellate court continue.

State lawmakers approved the ban – called the Protect Illinois Communities Act – in early January, and Gov. JB Pritzker quickly signed it into law. Before signing the bill, Pritzker invoked the memory of the July 4th parade mass shooting in Highland Park last year – which left seven people dead and 36 injured, and left a 2-year-old boy parentless and wandering around.

The shooter used a legally-purchased semiautomatic weapon.

The decision from the justices, with no noted dissents, marks the second time they have declined to halt Illinois' statewide ban, which a gun rights advocacy group and gun shop owner argued violates the Second Amendment. It has also left in place a similar ordinance in Naperville.

The unsigned order from the court rejecting the request from the pro-Second Amendment organization comes on the heels of the latest spate of shootings, on the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, campus and in Austin and San Antonio, Texas. The shootings have reignited now-familiar calls from President Biden for Congress to pass a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.

The Illinois law restricts the sale and purchase of semi-automatic "assault weapons," including AR-15 and AK-47 rifles, and large-capacity ammunition feeding devices, which are defined as a magazine that can hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition for long guns and more than 15 rounds for handguns. People who lawfully had assault weapons before the law was passed can keep them, but must submit an affidavit to state police by Jan. 1.

The case from Illinois was brought by Robert Bevis, a gun shop owner, and the National Association for Gun Rights, who argue the state's ban on so-called assault weapons and large-capacity magazines is unconstitutional.

Bevis and the National Association for Gun Rights filed their challenge shortly after the ban was enacted and asked a federal district court to block the law. In Chicago. U.S. District Judge Virginia Kendall rejected the request.

But on April 28, U.S. District Judge Stephen McGlynn in East St. Louis issued a 29-page injunction ruling the ban was unconstitutional – because it restricted a person's right to defend themselves. On May 4, the federal U.S. Appeals Court for the seventh Circuit.

In his ruling, McGlynn noted that the assault weapons ban was passed in the wake of the deadly mass shooting in Highland Park.

"As Americans, we have every reason to celebrate our rights and freedoms, especially on Independence Day. Can the senseless crimes of a relative few be so despicable to justify the infringement of the constitutional rights of law-abiding individuals in hopes that such crimes will then abate or, at least, not be as horrific?" McGlynn wrote. "The simple answer at this stage in the proceedings is 'likely no.'"

On May 4, the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals put a hold on that injunction. On Nov. 3, a three-judge appeals panel from that court – composed of Judges Frank H. Easterbrook, Diane P. Wood, and Michael B. Brennan – ruled 2-1 to uphold the ban, in part on the grounds that other constitutional rights have limits under the law, and the Second Amendment is not different.

"[A]s we know from long experience with other fundamental rights, such as the right to free speech, the right peaceably to assemble, the right to vote, and the right to free exercise of religion, even the most important personal freedoms have their limits," the panel wrote. "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."

However, the panel did acknowledge that there is an issue with where to draw the line for which "arms" may be kept by individuals versus which may not.

"Everyone can agree that a personal handgun, used for self-defense, is one of those Arms that law-abiding citizens must be free to 'keep and bear.' Everyone can also agree, we hope, that a nuclear weapon such as the now-retired M388 Davy Crockett system, with its 51-pound W54 warhead, can be reserved for the military, even though it is light enough for one person to carry," the panel wrote. "Many weapons, however, lie between these extremes."

In their request seeking emergency relief from the Supreme Court, Bevis and the National Association for Gun Rights argued that laws banning weapons that are in "common use" for lawful purposes are unconstitutional under the Second Amendment.

State officials, lawyers for Bevis argued, are "literally destroying" his livelihood because the laws are forcing his gun shop out of business.

"The Seventh Circuit's decision was manifestly erroneous," they told the court in a filing. "In the meantime, plaintiffs and hundreds of thousands of law-abiding Illinois citizens are suffering irreparable injury because their fundamental right to keep and bear arms is being infringed."

But state lawyers said that granting an injunction at this stage in the case would be "premature and prejudicial," and noted that the "vast majority" of lower courts have declined to block laws similar to the Illinois ban.

The state officials also contested Bevis' warnings about the negative impacts of the law on his business and the gun store has remained operational.

"Here, the gun store does not exclusively sell assault weapons and [large-capacity magazines]; it also sells firearms not covered by the laws and offers gunsmithing and firearms training services," Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul and Solicitor General Jane Elinor Notz wrote in a filing to the justices.

On the state level, the Illinois Supreme Court upheld the assault weapons ban in August, in a 4-3 decision.

Judges in both Effingham County and Macon County downstate ruled the ban unconstitutional, but Raoul appealed those rulings to the state's highest court, which ruled 4-3 that the ban would stay in place.

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