Judge blocks enforcement of Illinois’ new gun ban for plaintiffs in downstate case

Jeff Norris, of Caledonia, looks at handguns for sale on Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2023, at Marengo Guns. The McHenry County gun shop is among a group of plaintiffs challenging the constitutionality of Illinois’ ban on semiautomatic weapons and large-capacity magazines that took effect last week.

A downstate judge has granted a temporary restraining order blocking enforcement of Illinois’ new ban on high-powered semi-automatic weapons for a group of plaintiffs who filed suit earlier this week in Effingham County.

Effingham County Circuit Judge Joshua Morrison ruled late Friday, granting a restraining order that prohibits authorities from enforcing the law against any of the nearly 870 named plaintiffs. The lead plaintiff in the case was Accuracy Firearms, located in Effingham, which was represented by Thomas DeVore, the unsuccessful Republican nominee for Illinois attorney general last year.

“The Defendants suggested that the goal of the legislation was to reduce firearms deaths and mass shooting casualties; however, they offered no evidence that the individuals in their newly created class based on training and experience were any more or less likely to commit these crimes, nor did they provide evidence that the individuals excluded from this class were more likely to commit crimes,” Morrison wrote in his opinion.

Illinois lawmakers passed a law earlier this month making it the ninth state in the country to ban the sale of high-powered semi-automatic weapons. The law also prohibited the purchase, sale and manufacture of such guns, including .50 caliber rifles and ammunition and large-capacity magazines – no more than 10 bullets per clip for a long gun and no more than 15 for a handgun.

Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker swiftly signed the measure into law, which took effect immediately upon his signature.

Gun owners who currently possess such guns would be allowed to keep them, but would have to register them with the state by 2024.

The ban was prompted in large part by the July 4 mass shooting at an Independence Day parade in Highland Park that left seven people dead and dozens more injured or traumatized.

Shortly after its passage, county sheriffs across the state – more than 90 out of 102 – announced they did not intend to enforce the law against gun owners, solely because of the ban and its registration requirements. The new law also began fielding lawsuits from opponents seeking to block it both in federal and state court.

The Effingham County lawsuit named as defendants Pritzker, Illinois House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch, Senate President Don Harmon and Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul.

DeVore had argued that the law is unconstitutional because it exempts people in certain positions, such as prison guards or other law enforcement officers.

“It violates the equal protection clause because it carves out a whole section of people,” DeVore said. “They are free to do what they will based on their employment.”

In his ruling, Morrison seemed to agree.

“The Court cannot find it logical that a warden of a prison [included in the exempted persons category] is necessarily better trained or more experienced in the handling of weapons than retired military personnel [not included in the exempted persons category]. It also does not follow that a member of the National Guard would be less well trained or experienced in handling a firearm when they are not on active duty compared to when they are. Further, other rational and logical exemptions have been included, such as a person in a wheelchair who cannot use a shotgun due to recoil concerns, thus discriminating against a protected class.”

Raoul’s lawyers argued against the restraining order in part because the merits of the coming lawsuit likely would fail in court.

“The act’s exceptions for professionals with specialized firearms training and experience, such as law enforcement and members of the military, easily survive rational basis scrutiny,” the state’s response says.

Pritzker issued a statement after Morrison’s ruling, saying it was not surprising.

“Although disappointing, it is the initial result we’ve seen in many cases brought by plaintiffs whose goal is to advance ideology over public safety. We are well aware that this is only the first step in defending this important legislation,” Pritzker said in the statement. “I remain confident that the courts will uphold the constitutionality of Illinois’ law, which aligns with the eight other states with similar laws and was written in collaboration with lawmakers, advocates, and legal experts.

Illinoisans have a right to feel safe in their front yards, at school, while eating at bars and restaurants or celebrating with their family and friends. The Protect Illinois Communities Act takes weapons of war and mass destruction off the street while allowing law-abiding gun owners to retain their collections. I look forward to the next steps in this case and receiving the decision this case merits.”

Morrison’s temporary restraining order applied to all plaintiffs in the case. The judge set a hearing for a preliminary injunction in the case for 9:30 a.m. Feb. 1.

The Associated Press contributed.

Correction: A previous version of this story included the incorrect number of Illinois counties. There are 102 counties.

Shaw Local News Network

Shaw Local News Network

Shaw Local News Network provides local news throughout northern Illinois