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Supreme Court leaves Illinois assault weapons ban in place

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Supreme Court considers gun ban for domestic abusers 02:14

Washington — The Supreme Court on Thursday declined to block an Illinois law banning assault-style weapons, leaving the measure in place while proceedings before a federal appellate court continue.

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, a suburb of Chicago.

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 court's new framework for gun laws

The court fight over Illinois' law, called the Protect Illinois Communities Act, is one of several pursued in the wake of the Supreme Court's decision 18 months ago that imposed a new framework for evaluating the constitutionality of firearms restrictions. As a result of the standard laid out by the justices, which requires a measure to be consistent with the nation's historical tradition of firearm regulation, a number of longstanding federal gun laws have been invalidated.

The high court heard in November a challenge to a 30-year-old law barring people subject to domestic violence restraining orders from having guns, which presented the justices with an opportunity to clarify its June 2022 decision in New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen. A ruling from the Supreme Court is expected by the end of June.

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.

Illinois lawmakers passed the law in January following a 2022 mass shooting at an Independence Day parade in Highland Park. The suspected shooter was armed with an AR-15 rifle and 30-round magazines and fired 83 rounds in less than a minute, leaving seven people dead and 48 injured, according to court filings from Illinois officials.

The Illinois ban

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 January 1.

Bevis and the National Association for Gun Rights filed their challenge shortly after Illinois' ban was enacted and asked a federal district court to block the law. The district court in February rejected the request, and a divided three-judge panel on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit also declined to stop the ban's implementation. A request for the full 7th Circuit to rehear the case was denied.

The 7th Circuit panel concluded in its decision that "assault weapons and [large-capacity magazines] are much more like machineguns and military-grade weaponry than they are like the many different types of firearms that are used for individual self-defense." But the judges said that the challengers could still put forth evidence that "shows a sharper distinction between AR-15s and M16s," the latter of which they said are not protected by the Second Amendment under Supreme Court precedent and can be banned.

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.

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