Gun store owner says he's suing over local ban on sales of "assault weapons"

AP Photo/Lisa Marie Pane

When the city council in Naperville, Illinois started discussing a ban on the sale of modern sporting rifles inside the city limits, local gun store owner Robert Bevis warned council members that he would file a lawsuit if the city moved forward. Earlier this month the council went ahead and adopted the ban, and now the owner of Law Weapons and Supply says he’s moving forward with litigation as well.

Bevis says that he’s been talking to several attorneys about a legal challenge, and has multiple avenues to pursue; from using Illinois’ firearms preemption law to arguing that the ordinance is an unconstitutional assault on the Second Amendment rights of gun owners and FFLs like himself. The city, meanwhile, says its prepared to defend the new ordinance in court.

[Naperville City Attorney Mike] DiStanto also told Naperville City Council last month the ordinance is designed to withstand challenges.

“It was based on what we had seen out there that had been tested by the courts and upheld,” said DiSanto.

While some states and cities ban possession of assault-style rifles, Naperville’s ordinance only bans the sale. The ordinance, which takes effect in January, was approved by an 8-1 margin with the support of the mayor.

“There’s so many different things that can be done or should be done,” said Mayor Steve Chirico. “And I think access to these kinds of weapons for certain individuals is one of those things.

Preventing responsible citizens from being able to legally purchase the most commonly-sold style of rifle not only shouldn’t be done (at least if the city wants to respect the civil rights of those who live there), it serves no purpose whatsoever other than to inconvenience those who want to acquire a modern sporting rifle. Possessing a so-called “assault weapon” isn’t banned by Naperville’s new law, after all, so residents are still free to drive just a few miles to another suburb that hasn’t banned the sale of modern sporting rifles if they want to pick up an AR-15.

“All this ordinance does is prevent law abiding citizens from buying those firearms,” Bevis said.

The ordinance states gun stores can only sell these rifles to law enforcement come January.

“I’m very confident that we’ll win in the end,” Bevis said.

I hope that’s the case, but unfortunately courts around the country have given broad leeway to local governments when it comes to imposing restrictions on gun stores. As for Illinois’ firearms preemption law, while it does explicitly block cities like Naperville from banning the possession or ownership of so-called assault weapons, that prohibition does not include any language about regulating or barring the sale of modern sporting rifles.

Still, there’s a strong case to be made that Naperville’s new law runs afoul of the Second Amendment, especially under the Supreme Court’s “text, history, and tradition” test laid out in the Bruen decision. First, modern sporting rifles are in common use for a variety of lawful purposes, which means that they should be protected under the Second Amendment. If you have the right to keep and bear them you must also have the right to acquire them, and if you have the right to purchase one that means there must also be a corresponding right to sell these protected arms. I’d argue that this type of ban, where possession is allowed but the sale and purchase of a particular firearm is banned, is also very much an outlier in the history and tradition of firearms regulation, which further cuts against its constitutionality.

We’ll see what arguments Bevis’s attorneys use when his lawsuit is officially filed, but I’m glad to see that he’s pushing back against this new ordinance. Of course, if he wants to stay in business in Naperville he really doesn’t have much of a choice, given the fact that many of his current customers will undoubtably choose to shop in a community that respects, or at least acknowledges, their right to keep and bear arms.