Supreme Court Won’t Hear Challenge to Illinois Ban on ‘Assault Weapons,’ Other Gun Appeals

Supreme Court Won’t Hear Challenge to Illinois Ban on ‘Assault Weapons,’ Other Gun Appeals
The U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, on July 1, 2024. (Drew Angerer/AFP via Getty Images)

The Supreme Court declined on July 2 to take up several Second Amendment-based challenges to an Illinois law that prohibits so-called assault weapons such as the popular AR-15 rifle.

The ruling means that the Illinois law will remain on the books.

Lawsuits pending against the Illinois statute will continue in the lower courts. The issue seems likely to return to the Supreme Court in the future.

The ruling came in the wake of the Supreme Court’s landmark 2022 ruling in New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen. That decision recognized a constitutional right to bear arms in public for self-defense and held that restrictions on guns must be deeply rooted in American history if they are to survive constitutional scrutiny.

And just last week the Supreme Court overturned a Trump-era federal ban on bump stocks. The bump stock, which replaces a rifle’s standard stock, was designed for people with limited hand mobility, such as those who suffer from arthritis. A bump stock doesn’t make any modifications to the firing components of a rifle but makes the continuous rapid fire of the weapon possible.

The decision came in a long list of orders in ongoing cases that the court issued the day after it finished delivering opinions in all the argued cases for the 2023–2024 term. The justices now head off to their summer recess. The Court will resume hearing cases on the first Monday in October.

Justice Samuel Alito said he would have granted the petition for certiorari, or review, in the Illinois case known as Harrel v. Raoul. No other justices dissented. At least four of the nine justices must vote to grant a petition for it to advance.

Respondent Kwame Raoul, a Democrat, is the attorney general of Illinois.

At the time same, the Supreme Court also dismissed five other appeals related to gun laws in Illinois.

The Illinois state law at issue made it a felony-level offense to have “assault weapons,” including AR-15s.

Quoting from a previous court ruling, Justice Clarence Thomas noted that the AR-15 “is the most popular semi-automatic rifle” in the United States and is “in common use today.”

The petitioners in the case applied for a preliminary injunction to halt enforcement of the law, taking the position that it violated their right to “keep and bear Arms” under the Second Amendment.

But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit refused to block the law, finding that “the AR-15 … is not protected by the Second Amendment.”

In other words, the Seventh Circuit determined that “the rifle selected by millions of Americans for self-defense and other lawful purposes does not even fall within the scope of the Arms referred to by the Second Amendment,” the justice wrote.

He added that the Supreme Court held in District of Columbia v. Heller (2008) that the Second Amendment covers “all instruments that constitute bearable arms, even those that were not in existence at the time of the founding.”

And the court said the amendment fails to protect “those weapons not typically possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes,” such as “dangerous and unusual weapons.”

“But, this minimal guidance is far from a comprehensive framework for evaluating restrictions on types of weapons, and it leaves open essential questions such as what makes a weapon ‘bearable,’ ‘dangerous,’ or ‘unusual,’” he wrote.

Although the court “is rightly wary of taking cases” that are still before lower courts, Justice Thomas wrote he hoped the nation’s highest court “will consider the important issues presented by these petitions after the cases reach final judgment.”

The Supreme Court has “never squarely addressed what types of weapons are ‘Arms’ protected by the Second Amendment,” the justice wrote.

Lead petitioner Dane Harrel told the Supreme Court that the case was about whether Illinois “constitutionally may ban scores of semiautomatic firearms, including the most popular type of rifle in the Nation’s history, and standard ammunition magazines frequently used with them.”

“Under a straightforward application of this Court’s precedents, the answer to that question is no,” his petition stated.

“Arms that are in common use for lawful purposes cannot be banned.”

The Supreme Court determined first in Heller, and later in Bruen, that “once it is determined that an arm is of a type in common use for lawful purposes, any other facts about that arm are irrelevant,” the petition stated.

On behalf of Illinois, Mr. Raoul opposed Mr. Harrel’s petition.

In a brief, Mr. Raoul argued that the petitioners were not entitled to a court order blocking the state law.

Illinois and 13 other states have put in place “laws restricting most civilians from possessing certain types of semiautomatic firearms, ammunition magazines, or both.”

The Illinois law was enacted in 2023 following an incident in which a person with an AR-15-style rifle fired 83 rounds in under a minute, killing seven people and leaving 48 wounded during a Fourth of July parade in Highland Park, Illinois, he wrote.

“The Illinois law is similar to laws enacted by the City of Chicago in 1992 and 2010 and Cook County (Illinois’s largest county) in 1993.”

The petitioners also challenged a ban by Naperville, Illinois, on commercial sales of assault rifles, he noted.

Mr. Raoul defended a finding by the Seventh Circuit that there was no reason to temporarily block the state law because the petitioners had failed to demonstrate they were likely to succeed on the merits of the case.

The circuit court “emphasized that it was not ‘definitively’ rejecting petitioners’ claims, but instead based its ruling on the record developed ‘in the early phases of [the] litigation,’” the attorney general wrote.

He wrote that among the federal courts of appeal, the Seventh Circuit was the first to take up a Second Amendment-based legal attack on a law restricting semiautomatic firearms or ammunition following the Bruen ruling in 2022, and there is no conflict between the circuits on the legal issue here.

The legal question at hand is now working its way through at least seven circuits and the record is “still being developed,” so this case would be “a poor vehicle to resolve the question presented,” Mr. Raoul added.

From The Epoch Times