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SAF, FPC File Suit Challenging Cook County Gun Ban

AP Photo/Michael Conroy

The city of Chicago’s ban on handguns, in place from 1982 until it was shot down (so to speak) by the Supreme Court in 2010, may be gone, but another gun ban remains on the books; a prohibition on the possession of modern sporting rifles put in place in Cook County back in 2006. Now the Second Amendment Foundation and the Firearms Policy Coalition are hoping to have that ban on modern sporting rifles struck down as well, and in a new federal lawsuit the groups (along with three individuals) are asking a federal judge to declare the county’s statute unconstitutional.

The rifles at issue in this case are the sorts of bearable arms in common use for lawful purposes that law-abiding people possess at home by the millions. And they are, moreover, exactly what they would bring to service in militia duty, should such be necessary. As the Southern District of California recently explained in finding California’s “assault weapons” ban unconstitutional, “the AR-15 rifle is the perfect combination of home defense weapon and homeland defense equipment.”

In Heller, the Supreme Court held that the Second Amendment “guarantee[s] the individual right to possess and carry weapons in case of confrontation.”

This is “‘a natural right which the people have reserved to themselves, confirmed by the Bill of Rights.’”

When seconds count, and the police are minutes or hours away, if they come at all—they certainly have no obligation to, see, e.g., Town of Castle Rock v. Gonzales, – the People have a constitutional right to make use of common firearms for effective selfdefense and not to be disarmed by the enactment and enforcement of the Ordinance.

Further, the Second Amendment protects “arms . . . of the kind in common use . . . for lawful purposes like self-defense.”

Assuming ordinary citizens are not disqualified from exercising Second Amendment rights, the State must permit them to keep and bear common rifles for lawful purposes.

The right to keep and bear common rifles guaranteed under the Bill of Rights cannot be subjected to laws and regulations that prohibit ordinary, law-abiding citizens from keeping and bearing common firearms—particularly when such schemes place these citizens under constant threat of criminal sanction for violating them.

It’s a compelling argument, but the biggest challenge for the 2A groups is going to be convincing a judge that the issue hasn’t been mooted by previous court cases. Two years ago the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the county’s gun ban, ruling that the Second Amendment “does not imperil every law regulating firearms.”

The plaintiffs, Troy Edhlund and Matthew Wilson, argued that Cook County’s ban on assault weapons was so vague that it could potentially make it illegal to possess semi-automatic firearms that were not assault weapons. The duo said the gun regulations impinged on their right to bear arms.

In contending that the Cook County case was distinct from the Highland Park challenge, lawyers for the two gun owners wrote that the “frequency of the criminal threats faced” in the Chicago area should be considered in deciding whether restrictions infringe on a gun owner’s Second Amendment rights.

The court, however, did not find that logic persuasive, saying the gun laws did not prevent citizens from acquiring other types of weapons for self-protection.

“Our discussion of self-defense focused instead on the availability of other means for citizens to defend themselves,” the court wrote. “This is a question answered by the particular locality’s laws, not by its crime rates.”

The Supreme Court chose not to accept the previous challenge to the Cook County “assault weapons” ban, but that was before Justice Amy Coney Barrett was sworn in to fill the seat on the Court vacated by the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Hopefully there’ll be enough interest in the new case once it finally reaches the Supreme Court that Cook County’s ban will finally face the scrutiny it deserves. The Seventh Circuit’s argument that the gun ban doesn’t preclude residents from obtaining other types of firearms for self-defense doesn’t jibe with the opinion handed down in Heller that a “total ban on handgun possession in the home amounts to a prohibition on an entire class of ‘arms’ that Americans overwhelmingly choose for the lawful purpose of self-defense,” and is therefore unconstitutional under any level of scrutiny. Like handguns, modern sporting rifles are lawfully owned and in common use by tens of millions of Americans, and therefore should fall well within the scope of the Second Amendment’s protection of the right to keep and bear arms.

Should, however, doesn’t mean that the courts will see it that way. I expect that Cook County’s ban on modern sporting rifles will be upheld at both the District Court and appellate level based on the Seventh Circuit’s previous rulings. If Cook County residents are going to get any relief from their rights being infringed, it’s going to take at least five justices on the Supreme Court to step in and set things right.

Jan 19, 2022 12:30 PM ET