Southern Illinois judge temporarily blocks assault weapons ban

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SPRINGFIELD – A federal judge in East St. Louis issued an order Friday blocking enforcement of Illinois’ ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines until a lawsuit challenging the law is resolved.

Judge Stephen P. McGlynn of the Southern District of Illinois said the law known as the Protect Illinois Communities Act is likely to be found unconstitutional when the case goes to trial and the plaintiffs in the consolidated cases will suffer harms without a preliminary injunction to block its enforcement.

In a 29-page opinion, McGlynn acknowledged that the law was passed in the wake of a mass shooting at an Independence Day parade in Highland Park last year. But he said the “senseless crimes of a relative few” cannot be used to justify abridging the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens.

Citing a U.S. Supreme Court case that was decided less than two weeks before the Highland Park shooting, New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen, he said the Constitution guarantees an individual right to keep and bear arms for self-defense.

“More specifically, can PICA be harmonized with the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution and with Bruen?” McGlynn asked rhetorically in the opinion. “That is the issue before this Court. The simple answer at this stage in the proceedings is ‘likely no.’”

McGlynn’s decision came less than a week after another federal judge, Lindsay Jenkins, of the Northern District of Illinois, reached an opposite conclusion and denied a motion to halt enforcement of the law. Plaintiffs in that case have indicated they intend to appeal to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

The law prohibits the manufacture, sale, and possession of more than 190 different types of firearms as well as many types of grips, stocks and attachments. It also bans large-capacity magazines like the ones used by the accused Highland Park shooter that enabled him to fire off more than 70 shots in just a few minutes.

Based on other recent U.S. Supreme Court cases, McGlynn said the state needed to show that the items being banned are not in “common use” and that they are the types of firearms that have been regulated historically.

The state argued that the law is consistent with historical tradition because neither assault weapons nor large-capacity magazines were in common use when the Second and 14th Amendments were ratified. But McGlynn said that argument was “bordering on the frivolous” because the Supreme Court has said the Second Amendment extends even to firearms that did not exist when the Constitution was drafted.

He also noted that Friday’s ruling was not a final resolution of the case, but he said the state has other means available to address the issue of gun violence.

“There is a wide array of civil and criminal laws that permit the commitment and prosecution of those who use or may use firearms to commit crimes,” he wrote. “Law enforcement and prosecutors should take their obligations to enforce these laws seriously. Families and the public at large should report concerning behavior. Judges should exercise their prudent judgment in committing individuals that pose a threat to the public and imposing sentences that punish, not just lightly inconvenience, those guilty of firearm-related crimes.”

Attorney General Kwame Raoul’s office issued a brief statement late Friday: “We plan to file an appeal and remain committed to defending the constitutionality of the Protect Illinois Communities Act.”

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