On December 12, 2013, NRA state affiliate Illinois State Rifle Association filed suit against the city of Highland Park, Ill., to invalidate the Chicago suburb’s comprehensive ban on popular semi-auto firearms and their magazines. The ISRA’s complaint for declaratory judgment and injunctive relief, filed in the Circuit Court for the Nineteenth Judicial Circuit of Lake County, Ill., makes clear that Highland Park’s ban has “unconstitutionally infringed the fundamental right of law-abiding citizens under the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution to keep and bear arms for lawful purposes.”
The offending law prohibits the transfer and possession of any “assault weapon” or “large capacity magazine.” In defining “assault weapon,” Highland Park’s ordinance uses a feature test that looks to whether a firearm is capable of accepting a “large capacity magazine” and, if so, whether it has other specified attributes, such as a pistol grip or a telescoping stock. Highland Park’s definition of “large capacity magazine” is any magazine with a “capacity to accept more than ten rounds,” encompassing huge numbers of magazines that are standard equipment on popular firearms. The law has no exemptions allowing for the grandfathering of firearms owned prior to the ban and requires that all prohibited firearms and magazines be removed from the city, modified to be “permanently inoperable,” or surrendered to police by December 14, 2013. Violators of the law are “punishable by not more than six months imprisonment or a fine of not less than $500 and not more than $1000, or both.”
The ban was hastily enacted by city council vote on June 6, 2013, in response to the state legislature’s passage of the Firearm Concealed Carry Act. In addition to recognizing Illinoisans’ right to carry a firearm in public for self-defense, that act also contained a preemption provision barring localities from enacting their own gun laws. However, the Act grandfathered in any local ordinances that were enacted prior to, or within ten days of, the Governor signing the concealed carry legislation, and Highland Park joined several other Chicago suburbs in a race to pass new restrictions. At the time of passage, Highland Park Councilman David Naftzger, who registered the lone vote against the ban, presciently stated, “there’s no question in my mind about the specter of hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars of litigation costs.”
The complaint notes at length the popularity of the rifles and magazines the city has chosen to ban, and is accompanied by sworn testimony reiterating this point. Drawing on the landmark Supreme Court decision in Heller, the complaint goes on to explain to the court that “[o]wnership of firearms that are commonly possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes, including self-defense in the home against a criminal intruder, is a fundamental right under the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution.” Further, the complaint notes that the city has no compelling interest in depriving citizens of this right.
The ISRA challenge to the Highland Park semi-auto ban is an important case for gun owners across the country. This case, along with similar cases in other jurisdictions, could help to determine how far the courts are willing to let governments go in restricting access to popular firearms and magazines.