Friday, November 3, 2023

Illinois Assault Weapons Ban Upheld by Federal Appeals Court Amidst Constitutional Debates

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In a significant ruling on Friday, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago aligned with Illinois regarding legal contests to the state’s assault weapons ban, which has been in effect for almost a year.

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The court acknowledged that while individual liberties are crucial, they are not without boundaries. “Similar to how certain expressions like a false alarm can be regulated, or the manner in which public assembly might require a permit, so too can regulations be placed on the Second Amendment rights,” noted Judge Diane P. Wood in her reasoning.

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During the deliberations over the ban that took place in late June, the judges appeared to grapple with the implications of a recent Supreme Court ruling, New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, from June 2022, which set a precedent that firearms regulations must align with America’s longstanding traditions of regulating firearms.

Advocates against the Illinois statute contended that, based on the Bruen decision, the government has no right to prohibit arms that are widely utilized. However, Judge Wood expressed concern about determining constitutional rights based on the popularity of certain firearms.

Highlighting historical context, Judge Frank Easterbrook brought up the example of a law from the time of the Great Depression that banned machine guns, which were then prevalent in criminal activities in Chicago.

In opposition to the ban, one of the attorneys highlighted that historically, law-abiding individuals did not possess such notorious weapons as the Thompson submachine gun, known for its association with criminal entities rather than responsible citizens. Moreover, the attorney noted in written statements prior to the court session that while automatic weapons faced bans, semiautomatics typically did not.

On the flip side, state attorneys presented the view in their briefs that historically, society has seen the emergence of certain weapons that, upon becoming widespread, presented serious risks to public safety, and thus were subject to regulatory measures.

The controversial Illinois legislation restricts the sale of designated assault weapons and limits magazine capacities to 10 rounds for rifles and 15 for handguns. Owners of such firearms are permitted to retain them but must register them with the state authorities by a specified deadline.

The measure, which affects millions of American gun owners, was initiated in January following a tragic incident during a Fourth of July parade in Highland Park, where a shooter took the lives of seven individuals.

Subsequently, on August 11, the Illinois Supreme Court narrowly maintained the constitutionality of the ban in a challenge led by an Illinois lawmaker, who claimed that the extensive prohibition was at odds with the state’s constitutional provisions.

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