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Illinois: Federal Court Upholds Right to Keep and Bear Arms and Awards the NRA $125,000 in Attorney’s Fees

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

On September 26, 2012 the United States District Court in the Northern District of Illinois awarded the National Rifle Association (NRA) $125,000 to reimburse it for attorney’s fees spent winning a lawsuit against the City of Chicago over a Chicago firearm ordinance on behalf of NRA member Shawn Gowder. In striking down the law, the Court held that the ordinance is unconstitutionally void for vagueness and also violates the plaintiff’s Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms. A copy of the court filings in this case and the $125,000 check from the City of Chicago can be viewed here.


The NRA’s motion for attorney’s fees in the case of Gowder v. Chicago was granted following a successful NRA motion for summary judgment. The Gowder case challenged the constitutionality of a Chicago ordinance that banned people with certain non-violent misdemeanor convictions from possessing firearms in their homes for self-defense. Mr. Gowder had a misdemeanor conviction for "unlawful use of a weapon" (simply having a handgun on his person outside his own home). When Mr. Gowder wanted to possess a firearm in his home and sought a firearm permit (as is required by the Chicago ordinance), his application was denied. Even though his misdemeanor record did not prevent Mr. Gowder from obtaining a Firearm Owner’s Identification card, Mr. Gowder could not obtain the firearms permit necessary to possess a firearm in his own home because the law prohibited permits from being issued to anyone convicted of "an unlawful use of a weapon that is a firearm," even if it was just a misdemeanor conviction.


In its June ruling on the summary judgment motion, the Court held that the "Chicago Firearm Ordinance does not provide a person of ordinary intelligence a reasonable opportunity to know what is prohibited, in that it does not define the term ‘unlawful use of a weapon.’ It appears that the City of Chicago merely borrowed from an Illinois criminal statute the term ‘unlawful use of a weapon,’ which sounds extremely serious on its face, but in reality can include simple unlawful possession."

Although the Court was not required to consider whether the ordinance violated the Second Amendment (because it already determined that the ordinance was unconstitutionally vague), the Court nonetheless considered the U.S. Supreme Court decisions of District of Columbia v. Heller (which declared that a ban on handgun possession in the home violates the Second Amendment) and McDonald v. Chicago (which declared that the Second Amendment is fully applicable to the States), and held that the Chicago ordinance violated the Second Amendment as well.


According to the Court, the firearm ordinance did "not differentiate between those who have been convicted of a felony or a misdemeanor, or between those who have been convicted of a violent or non-violent crime, and thus the denial of a [firearm permit] does not find valid foothold in statutory history." The effect of the ordinance "is to forever strip certain persons residing in Chicago of their constitutional right to protect themselves in their own homes, including, for example, a person convicted forty years ago of simply possessing a firearm (and not unlawfully using it against another)."


After evaluating the ordinance under a text, history, and tradition analysis, as well as a under the more conventional tests of strict scrutiny and intermediate scrutiny, the Court held that the ordinance was unconstitutional under any legal standard of review.


This is another great win for the NRA’s team of attorneys, fighting in courts across the country for our right to keep and bear arms.



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Established in 1975, the Institute for Legislative Action (ILA) is the "lobbying" arm of the National Rifle Association of America. ILA is responsible for preserving the right of all law-abiding individuals in the legislative, political, and legal arenas, to purchase, possess and use firearms for legitimate purposes as guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.