The Illinois Supreme Court on Friday upheld the state’s ban on certain high-powered guns, including AR-15-style rifles, a major victory for supporters of gun limits in the state.
Why It Matters: A sweeping law restricting firearms cleared a major challenge.
The legislation, which Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat, signed into law in January, is the broadest set of gun restrictions in the Midwest. The ban garnered wide support among Democratic legislators, who control the state legislature, after a mass shooting in Highland Park, Ill., in 2022, when a gunman killed seven people and wounded dozens more with a high-powered rifle at a Fourth of July parade.
Once the law was passed, Illinois became one of 10 states with some form of what advocates call an assault weapons ban, according to the Giffords Law Center, which supports gun restrictions.
Residents of Illinois are no longer allowed to purchase many types of semiautomatic weapons, including AR-15-style rifles, though exceptions were carved out for retired and current police and military personnel and prison wardens. People who already own weapons that are now banned were given a deadline to register them with the Illinois State Police.
Illinois residents who wish to own a firearm are already required to be licensed by the State Police.
Dan Caulkins, a Republican state representative, led a group of gun owners who argued that the ban violated a State Constitution requirement that laws apply equally to all people.
On Friday, the Illinois Supreme Court voted 4 to 3 to keep the law in place, finding that it did not violate the Constitution’s equal protection clause by creating exemptions for law enforcement professionals and people who already own banned weapons.
“The equal protection clause does not forbid the legislature from drawing distinctions in legislation among different categories of people as long as the legislature does not draw those distinctions based on criteria wholly unrelated to the legislation’s purpose,” the court ruled.
A display of guns at Freddie Bear Sports in Tinley Park, Ill., in January. Credit…Scott Olson/Getty Images
Background: Gun-rights advocates have questioned the law’s effectiveness and legality.
From the beginning, the gun ban prompted challenges from Republicans, especially in conservative counties in Downstate Illinois, where some sheriffs have said that they will not fully enforce the new law.
Illinois has some of the strictest gun restrictions in the country, but state-by-state firearms laws have their limits. Officials in Chicago have long pointed to neighboring Indiana, with its looser gun laws, as the source of illegally obtained guns that are used in shootings in Chicago.
Opponents of the Illinois law have also pointed to a U.S. Supreme Court decision in a New York case last year as evidence that wide-ranging gun bans in Illinois will not withstand scrutiny.
In that case, New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, the high court found that Americans had a broad right to arm themselves in public and struck down a New York law that placed strict limits on carrying guns outside the home.
What’s Next: More legal fights remain.
Mr. Pritzker praised Friday’s ruling, calling the gun ban a “common sense gun reform law to keep mass-killing machines off of our streets and out of our schools, malls, parks and places of worship.”
“This decision is a win for advocates, survivors and families alike because it preserves this nation-leading legislation to combat gun violence and save countless lives,” the governor said in a statement.
The law still faces challenges before a federal appeals court. Several federal lawsuits are still pending before the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Chicago, with the plaintiffs arguing that such sweeping firearms restrictions are a violation of the Second Amendment.
Richard Pearson, the executive director of the Illinois State Rifle Association, an organization that supports gun rights, said in a statement that the court’s decision was “no surprise.” The group hopes to challenge the law in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, he said, which will “prove to be a victory not just for law-abiding gun owners in Illinois, but across the country.”