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Justices won’t block Illinois ban on assault-style weapons

The Supreme Court on Thursday afternoon declined to temporarily block an Illinois law that bans the purchase, sale, possession, and manufacture of assault-style weapons. In a brief unsigned order, without any explanation, the justices denied a request to intervene after two lower courts rejected requests to put the law on hold. There were no recorded dissents from Thursday’s order.

The law at the center of the case is known as the Protect Illinois Communities Act (as well as a city ordinance passed by the Chicago suburb of Naperville). Enacted in the wake of the July 4, 2022, shooting at an Independence Day parade in Highland Park, Illinois, that killed seven people and wounded 48, the ban applies to firearms that the law defines as “assault weapons”; it also applies to large-capacity magazines and some kinds of ammunition, although people who already own the items that would otherwise be prohibited can keep them by registering them with the police.

The challengers, which include a gun rights group and a firearms dealer, went to federal district court in Illinois earlier this year, seeking to block enforcement of the act. The district court turned down their plea to put the law on hold temporarily, reasoning that the weapons banned by the law are “particularly dangerous.”

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit upheld the district court’s ruling, holding that the challengers had not shown that the law is likely unconstitutional. In particular, the 7th Circuit stressed, assault weapons and large-capacity magazines “are much more like machineguns and military-grade weaponry than they are like the many different types of firearms that are used for self-defense.” The full court of appeals declined to rehear the case.

Calling the law “manifestly unconstitutional” and the 7th Circuit’s ruling “manifestly erroneous,” the challengers urged the justices to put the law on hold to give them time to file a petition for Supreme Court review. Along with “hundreds of thousands of law-abiding Illinois citizens,” they wrote, they “are suffering irreparable injury because their fundamental right to keep and bear arms is being infringed.”

The law, they continued, is “literally destroying” the livelihood of the firearms dealer, because “85% of the firearms” the company sells “are now banned.”

Illinois insisted that there was no reason for the Supreme Court to intervene now, both because no other federal appeals court has addressed these kinds of gun restrictions since the Supreme Court’s 2022 decision in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen and because the case is only in its preliminary stages. And in any event, the state continued, the challengers “have not shown that they have an indisputably clear right to relief” under the Supreme Court’s cases because the Supreme Court has not weighed in on a similar law.

Recommended Citation: Amy Howe, Justices won’t block Illinois ban on assault-style weapons, SCOTUSblog (Dec. 14, 2023, 9:38 PM),