Illinois lawmakers approve "assault weapons" ban as opponents vow lawsuits... and defiance

Illinois lawmakers approve "assault weapons" ban as opponents vow lawsuits... and defiance
(AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

The Illinois House and Senate have set aside their relatively minor quibbles over the details of a ban on so-called assault weapons and approved a sweeping prohibition on commonly-owned guns and magazines, and while Gov. J.B. Pritzker hasn’t signed the legislation as of the time of this post, it’s a matter of hours, not days, before he does. Under the terms of the anti-civil rights legislation, not only will commonly-owned rifles like the AR-15 immediately be banned for sale in the state, existing owners will have to register their firearms with the state police or risk felony prosecution. That’s just the beginning of the bill’s overreach.

The measure began in the Illinois House as House Bill 5471. After amendments in the Senate, the measure would ban the future sale of about 100 different semi-automatic pistols, shotguns and rifles, all considered “assault weapons” according to the bill.

Sale of long gun magazines with more than 10 rounds and handgun magazines with more than 15 rounds would also be against the law in Illinois.

Those already in possession of banned guns and magazines may keep them, but only on private property. Legally owned guns on the list would have to be registered with the Illinois State Police by January 2024.

If the measure is signed by Gov. JB Pritzker, the law would go into effect immediately. Anyone who doesn’t comply with the firearm registration provision of the law could be charged with a Class 2 felony. Possession of magazines above the limits would result in fines of up to $1,000 for each violation.

The rush to pass the gun and magazine ban has already led to an explosion in gun sales across the state. Dan Eldridge, owner of Maxon’s Shooter Supplies in Des Plaines, Illinois, tells Bearing Arms that his handgun sales are slightly more than double what they were this time a year ago, while sales of modern sporting rifles are up nearly 1000% compared to early January 2022. Dan will be joining me on Wednesday’s Bearing Arms’ Cam & Co to talk about those gun owners who’ve been voting with their wallets, as well as the coming litigation on the part of Illinois gun store owners and FFLs.

Beyond the litigation, however, there’s also the matter of enforcement. Dozens of Illinois counties have previously declared themselves to be Second Amendment sanctuaries, and just as we saw in Oregon after the passage of Measure 114, there are going to be some sheriffs who publicly declare that they have no plans to enforce the new magazine ban or registration requirements. Heck, we’ve already seen legislators say they have no plans to comply.

State Sen. Darren Bailey had a stern message for his colleagues on Monday night as the General Assembly passed a measure that would ban a host of guns lawmakers have described as “assault weapons.”

“I, and millions of other gun owners in this state, will not comply,” the Republican from downstate Xenia said Monday on the Senate floor. “You’ve got to know that the actions that you’re taking right now are tyrannous.”

Bailey said the Second Amendment protects ownership of all firearms, even ones that weren’t invented at the time of its drafting.

Based on what happened in New York after the passage of the SAFE Act in 2013, Bailey’s right that he won’t be the only gun owner who doesn’t register his rifles with the ISP.

In 2014, attorney and policy analyst Paloma Capanna filed suit on behalf of Rochester-based radio host Bill Robinson seeking data on NY SAFE Act compliance: specifically, how many assault weapons had actually been registered in the state.

Cuomo administration officials first ignored, then denied Robinson’s Freedom of Information Act request. But, on June 22, following two years of litigation, state police released the information based on a court decision which found that while the law forbade the disclosure of the actual registration forms, nothing precluded the release of aggregate data.

That data shows massive noncompliance with the assault weapon registration requirement. Based on an estimate from the National Shooting Sports Federation, about 1 million firearms in New York State meet the law’s assault-weapon criteria, but just 44,000 have been registered. That’s a compliance rate of about 4 percent. Capanna said that the high rate of noncompliance with the law could only be interpreted as a large-scale civil disobedience, given the high level of interest and concern about the law on the part of gun owners.

“It’s not that they aren’t aware of the law,” said Capanna. “The lack of registration is a massive act of civil disobedience by gun owners statewide.”

There’s no reason to believe we won’t see the same in Illinois… if enforcement of the law even gets that far before the courts step in.

Illinois Senate President Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, said he expects and welcomes any legal challenges to Monday’s 34 to 20 Senate vote.

“The weapons on this list were designed to do one thing, and one thing only: kill people,” Harmon said. “We’ll see you in court.”

Yes we will, and Harmon’s emotion-laden and factually-deficient argument isn’t going to fare well. There are more than 25-million lawfully-possessed modern sporting rifles, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation; more common than Ford F-150 trucks. And yet, according to the FBI crime stats, rifles of any kind are used in fewer homicides than fists and feet. Handguns are used in far more shootings and homicides than rifles, but the Supreme Court has already taken a handgun ban off the table. Why then would it allow a ban on firearms that are used in far fewer crimes to remain in place, especially since there are virtually no historical analogues at the time of the Founding or the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment that would support banning the sale or possession of arms that are in common use?

There’s already an “assault weapons” ban challenge pending in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, so SCOTUS could get the chance to weigh in before long. Meanwhile, the flurry of legal filings against Illinois’ new ban should lead to a hearing in U.S. District Court on a request for a temporary injunction in just a few days; one that will hopefully lead to a swift rebuke from the bench and a halt to enforcement of the state’s latest infringements on a fundamental right.