The Chicago suburb of Deerfield, Illinois’ ban on so-called “assault weapons” will remain in place thanks to a deadlocked Illinois Supreme Court, which issued a 3-3 decision on the legality of the ban on Thursday. Because a lower court had upheld the ban, the state Supreme Court’s ruling means that the appellate court’s decision stands, and the possession of an AR-15 in the town is still considered a crime.
The Illinois Supreme Court issued an unsigned one-paragraph opinion Thursday dismissing the appeal filed by a Deerfield resident and two gun rights groups that challenged the village’s ordinance banning a specific list of firearms and high-capacity magazines. The village first passed the ban more than three years ago.
After Justice Michael J. Burke recused himself from participating in the decision, the court wrote in its opinion the remaining six justices were deadlocked 3-3 and therefore there was no majority to rule on the case.
“The remaining members of the court are divided so that it is not possible to secure the constitutionally required concurrence of four judges for a decision,” the court wrote. “Accordingly, the appeal is dismissed.”
The court’s order doesn’t mention why Burke recused himself, but the Chicago Tribune notes that Burke was previously part of an appellate panel that was assigned the case on its initial appeal, even though he wasn’t actually on the panel that upheld the ordinance.
While we don’t know for sure how he would have ruled if he’d been a part of the decision, Burke recently opined that Cook County’s gun and ammunition tax was illegal, and I can’t help but think that if he hadn’t recused himself then Deerfield’s gun ban could have been struck down (though there’s always the distinct possibility that whichever one of the four liberal justices who sided with the plaintiffs in the court’s unsigned opinion would have simply switched their vote).
The dispute in this case wasn’t over the legality of a ban on modern sporting rifles, which according to Illinois law is fine and dandy. Instead, the lawsuit revolved around how Deerfield put its ban in place.
When the Illinois General Assembly passed legislation in 2013 allowing state residents to carry concealed firearms, the law included a provision that allowed home rule municipalities like Deerfield to regulate assault weapons within a 10-day window or lose the opportunity to do so.
Acting within the 10 day time limit, the Deerfield Village Board of Trustees enacted an ordinance regulating the storage and transportation of the specified list of guns but did not prohibit ownership or possession of the guns.
Then in 2018, after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, Deerfield officials moved to amend their ordinance to ban certain firearms.
In the 2018 amended ordinance, Deerfield’s definition of an assault weapon includes, among others, semi-automatic rifles that have a fixed magazine with a capacity to accept more than 10 rounds of ammunition; shotguns with a revolving cylinder; and semi-automatic pistols and rifles that can accept large-capacity magazines and possess one of a list of other features. Among the dozens of specific models cited are the AR-15, AK-47 and Uzi, according to the ordinance.
Those challenging the ban claimed the prohibition was a new law altogether and not an amendment to the 2013 law.
While the city of Deerfield is proclaiming victory, the way in which the ordinance was upheld should offer little comfort to the gun control lobby. Yes, the suburb’s gun ban will remain in effect for now, but with the United States Supreme Court poised to issue a decision in a New York carry case in just a few months (okay, more like sometime between next May and July) that could also lay out the standard of review that should be used in Second Amendment challenges to gun control laws, those hoping to challenge Deerfield’s ban may get another opportunity and more legal ammunition in the not-too-distant future.