An Illinois judge issued a second temporary restraining order on Feb. 2 against a ban on so-called assault weapons and magazines that hold more than 12 rounds.
The lawsuit (pdf), filed by 1,690 plaintiffs against Democrat Gov. J.B. Pritzker in January, argued that the Protect Illinois Communities Act (HB 5471) violated multiple clauses in the Illinois Constitution, including the single subject rule, three readings clause, due process clause, and equal protection clause.
White County resident Circuit Judge T. Scott Webb dismissed the first three allegations but ruled in favor of the plaintiffs on the fourth claim, the violation of the equal protection clause.
Webb noted that since there’s no legislative history for the court to review regarding how the legislature chose who to exempt from the ban, “this Court finds that the Act fails to meet the standard.”
“To this end, this Court finds that the Plaintiffs have established a protectable right and are likely to succeed on the merits,” he wrote in his ruling (pdf).
The Democratic-controlled Illinois legislature passed the law in January, imposing restrictions on a range of semi-automatic firearms, ammunition magazines, and devices that increase the firing speed of weapons. The legislation also mandated that individuals who legally possess these items must register them with the state police and prohibited the sale and transfer of such firearms and accessories.
However, certain groups of people, including law enforcement officers, military personnel, corrections officers, and others, were excluded from the restrictions.
Judge Joshua Morrison in Effingham County issued the first temporary restraining order in January (pdf), ruling that the law violated the time frame set out in the Illinois Constitution for its passage.
Procedural Defects ‘Most Concerning’
Webb noted that the original text of the law was changed in what seemed to be an attempt to avoid debate and ensure quick passage.
“This Court finds the procedural defects in the passing of the Act most concerning. The fact that the original text of the Act was introduced as HB 5855 is disconcerting at best,” Webb wrote. “It is apparent that the legislature knew that it would not have time to follow the correct procedures, i.e., three readings, and pass the bill.
“In what seems to be a clear attempt to avoid debate and ensure lightning-like passage, they gutted the original contents of HB 5471 (insurance regulation) and replaced it with the contents of HB 5855.”
According to Webb, the court views the actions of the legislature as “a blatant violation of the three readings requirement of the Illinois Constitution.”
Despite these concerns, the judge said he lacked the authority to rule in favor of the plaintiffs on that count due to a recent opinion by the 5th District Appellate Court on the same issue.
As a result, Webb denied the request for a temporary restraining order based on the three readings clause allegations. He also denied the third count regarding due process, citing the same opinion.
The equal protection clause of the Illinois Constitution requires the government to treat similarly situated people the same unless the government can demonstrate a reason to treat them differently, Webb noted.
Since the bill is related to the fundamental right to bear arms, he said in his ruling that the legislation should only restrict this right in a very limited manner that serves a “compelling state interest.” Further, a strict standard of scrutiny should’ve been applied during the legislative process.
The defendants claimed that the plaintiffs couldn’t argue for equal protection rights under the Illinois Constitution as they could’ve argued for their Second Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution. However, Webb didn’t agree with this argument.
The defendants also argued that the plaintiffs didn’t show how they were similar to the individuals exempt from the ban. But Webb said that without legislative history to review, it was “almost impossible” to determine why some were exempt and others weren’t, as the legislature provided no explanation for the classification.
“It has been speculated that the legislature chose the classifications to exempt based upon firearms training. Again, this is mere speculation because there exists no legislative history or debate record to aid this Court in understanding the foundational basis for the exemptions,” he wrote.
Webb noted that the plaintiffs raised questions in oral arguments about the unclear training requirements for prison wardens being exempt and also noted the inconsistency in exempting active-duty military but not veterans, who may have similar firearms training.
According to the court filing, the defendants also argued that the right to bear arms isn’t guaranteed by the Illinois Constitution, but Webb disagreed, saying that “it simply cannot be the case” for the Illinois Constitution to provide less protection against “government intrusion” than the U.S. Constitution.
‘Erosion of a Fundamental Right’
The defendants argued that the law was passed to curtail mass shootings, but Webb noted that there was no legislative history “to shed light on that issue.”
He said no studies had been submitted or even referenced that demonstrate how such a ban would alleviate mass shootings.
“This Court is left only to speculate as to how exempting certain individuals from the Act, while not exempting others, who seem to possess similar firearms training would further the deter mass shootings,” Webb wrote.
The judge ultimately found that the plaintiffs would suffer irreparable harm if the temporary restraining order wasn’t granted, noting that the issue related to “the erosion of a fundamental right, the right to bear arms, by treating what appears to be similarly situated people differently.”