The Dirksen Federal Courthouse in Chicago. (Hannah Meisel / Capitol News Illinois)The Dirksen Federal Courthouse in Chicago. (Hannah Meisel / Capitol News Illinois)

A three-judge panel of the federal appeals court in Chicago is currently deciding whether to uphold local and state bans on high-capacity magazines and assault weapons, which are deemed unconstitutional.

The Seventh Circuit Appeals Court judges are being asked to decide whether the recently enacted ban on assault weapons in Illinois violates the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms, in a case that is being closely watched throughout the country and is almost certain to end up before the judges.

Two different district court judges in Chicago have reached opposite conclusions and declined to grant the blocking enforcement of the law. However, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals quickly halted that order. In April, a district court judge in St. Louis sided with gun rights groups and issued an injunction blocking the enforcement of the law.

Currently being reviewed by the Seventh Circuit, a consolidated appeal of the Chicago, Naperville, and Cook County cases has been enacted, encompassing challenges to comparable bans on assault weapons as well.

During a Thursday interview, Kris Brown, the president of gun control advocacy group Brady, said that there is a lot at stake in the outcome of the case.

She stated, “An acceptable interpretation of the Second Amendment that prioritizes public safety is definitely in question. And particularly, clearly, a movement that Brady has been involved in for a long time, to assist states and localities in implementing public safety regulations, including bans on assault weapons. And that is specifically what is being contested here, not only for Illinois but also for other states.”

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The event that prompted the banning of the Illinois state and Naperville city enact was the mass shooting at the Independence Day parade in Highland Park, which left seven people dead and dozens more injured or traumatized. These arguments were held just days before the one-year anniversary of the shooting.

After the mass shooting that took place in Highland Park last year, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a New York state law that restricts the right to carry concealed firearms, stating that regulations regarding firearm possession must be consistent with the historical traditions of the nation.

The decision of the Supreme Court in Bruen v. State Pistol & Rifle Association of New York quickly dispelled any notion that the question of banning “assault weapons” was settled. Judge Frank Easterbrook, who often referenced this case in his arguments on Thursday, laid out the standards while overseeing these three cases.

Easterbrook stated, “I believe we cannot avoid it. We are faced with a difficult question,” Easterbrook mentioned. “Bruen, who had no means to defend himself with AR-15-like weapons, was confronted with the same question.”

In the case of the New York ruling, attorneys filed briefs arguing that the restrictions on assault weapons banned by the laws should apply to literally millions of law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes.

They also argued that there is no historical precedent dating back to the founding of the Constitution for an absolute ban on such entire category of weapons.

The Deputy Solicitor General, Kwame Raoul, is defending both state and local laws that argue the types of weapons banned for sale under Illinois’ law are not commonly used, citing statistics showing that only 5% of firearms in circulation are AR-style rifles and that less than 2% of all Americans own AR-style rifles – a total of 6.4 million.

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Judges during oral arguments questioned the reliance of both parties on a weapon’s “common use”.

“Having a constitutional principle determined by a popularity contest is extremely problematic,” expressed Judge Diane Wood.

“Easterbrook referred to the use of anachronism, emphasizing the significance of a weapon’s historical accessibility or popularity. He further stated that the act of banning or not banning a weapon contributes to a situation where its widespread usage becomes a “self-fulfilling prophecy.”

The government takes steps to regulate new categories of weapons in order to address the growing violence, which is a tradition that predates the founding of the Constitution. However, it was argued in its briefs that there could not be a direct historical precedent for an assault weapon ban because those weapons did not exist at the time the Constitution was drafted.

Judges and attorneys were involved in a debate, distinguishing between similar firearms – like the AR-15, a semi-automatic weapon, and the closely associated, fully automatic M16 – being a key aspect. The judges also raised concerns about the constitutional validity of prohibitions on other categories of firearms, including rocket launchers, automatic firearms, repeating rifles, and grenades.

Wood said, “We have a job sorting where handguns are on one side and nuclear weapons are on the other side.”

Washington state became the tenth state to implement such a prohibition a few months later. During its lame duck session in January, Illinois, with the Democratically controlled General Assembly, passed the statewide prohibition, making it the ninth state to do so.

Republican attorneys general from 22 states have filed briefs in court in support of gun rights advocacy groups and national gun control organizations. The challenges to Illinois gun laws are being closely monitored, but none of those laws have been overturned so far.

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