Federal appeals court upholds assault weapons ban in Chicago

Michael Tarm
AP Legal Affairs Writer

Chicago – A U.S. appeals court Thursday upheld an assault weapons ban that covers Chicago and the rest of Cook County, Illinois, saying guns rights advocates provided no compelling reason why it should diverge from a previous ruling upholding a similar ban in a Chicago suburb.

The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected arguments from gun rights lawyers that the ban passed by the Cook County Board of Commissioners should be assessed differently than the ban in the suburb of Highland Park because crime is worse in Cook County, where residents might conclude they required more firepower to defend themselves.

FILE - This Oct. 3, 2013, file photo shows a custom made semi-automatic hunting rifle with a detachable magazine, displayed at TDS Guns in Rocklin, Calif.

The same Chicago-based court ruled in 2015 that Highland Park’s assault weapons ordinance didn’t run afoul of the Second Amendment right to bear arms, including because its residents could still obtain handguns and other types of firearms for their self-defense.

Thursday’s unanimous, 17-page decision describes the Highland Park ruling as guiding precedent for states within the 7th Circuit that includes the states of Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana, saying, “We have stated repeatedly, and recently, that, absent a compelling reason, we will not overturn circuit precedent.”

The 2-1 decision in the Highland Park case four years ago found municipalities ought to have leeway in deciding how to regulate firearms.

“If a ban on semi-automatic guns and large-capacity magazines reduces the perceived risk from a mass shooting, and makes the public feel safer as a result, that’s a substantial benefit,” the 12-page majority opinion said.

The dissenting 7th Circuit judge in the Highland Park case, Daniel Manion, said there were no grounds for prohibiting an entire class of guns.

“The right to self-defense is largely meaningless if it does not include the right to choose the most effective means of defending oneself,” he wrote.

The U.S. Supreme Court later declined to hear the Highland Park case, effectively letting the 7th Circuit ruling stand. Justice Clarence Thomas, joined by then-Justice Antonin Scalia, said the 7th Circuit ruling “flouts two of our Second Amendment precedents.”

The nation’s highest court had repeatedly turned away challenges to gun restrictions since two landmark decisions that spelled out the right to a handgun to defend one’s own home.

But the director of the Illinois State Rifle Association, whose lawyers represented two residents who sued Cook County, said its attorneys will likely ask the Supreme Court to reverse Thursday’s 7th Circuit ruling. Richard Pearson said the nation’s high court now leans more conservative following appointments by President Donald Trump and so chances are better it’ll hear an appeal.

All three judges on the 7th Circuit panel signed on to Thursday’s ruling. It included one judge appointed by Trump, Amy St. Eve, and one named to the bench by Ronald Reagan, Kenneth Ripple. The third judge, David Hamilton, was a Bill Clinton appointee.