CHICAGO – A federal appeals panel has upheld Cook County’s assault weapons ban.
In a unanimous opinion issued Aug. 29, judges Kenneth Ripple, David Hamilton and Amy St. Eve, of the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, said the two Cook County residents who appealed a dismissal of their Second Amendment challenge argued from the same losing position as the plaintiff in a 2015 case.
The law at question is the Blair Holt Assault Weapons Ban, a November 2006 amendment to the Cook County Deadly Weapons Dealer Control Ordinance that “defines ‘assault weapon’ and ‘large-capacity magazine,’ and makes it illegal to ‘manufacture, sell, offer or display for sale, give, lend, transfer ownership of, acquire, carry or possess’ either item in Cook County.”
Matthew Wilson, Troy Edhlund and a Cook County resident filed a pre-enforcement action in state court in 2007, alleging due process and equal protection violations, as well as a Second Amendment claim. A Cook County judge dismissed that complaint, and an Illinois Appellate Court upheld the dismissal of the due process and equal protection claims, but remanded the Second Amendment portion, which the plaintiffs voluntarily withdrew.
Wilson and Edhlund refilled the challenge in state court in July 2017. The county removed the complaint to federal court that September, where U.S. District Judge Manish Shah dismissed it because the county ordinance is “materially identical” to a 2013 ordinance in the city of Highland Park, which the Seventh Circuit had already upheld.
The plaintiffs argued their case is different from the HIghland Park case. Alternatively, they said the Highland Park case was wrongly decided and their claim deserves to be tested along the lines of the 2008 U.S. Supreme Court opinion in District of Columbia v. Heller and the Seventh Circuit’s 2011 opinion in Ezell v. City of Chicago.
The panel said Heller resulted in the Supreme Court determining the D.C. ban barred an entire class of guns “overwhelmingly chosen by American society” for legal self-defense, including in the home, and couldn’t be reconciled with Second Amendment guarantees. When the Seventh Circuit used Heller to decide Ezell, with respect to Chicago’s firing range laws, it found the city ordinance to be more than regulatory but “a serious encroachment on the right to maintain proficiency in firearm use, an important corollary to the meaningful exercise of the core right to possess firearms for self-defense.”
But in deciding the Highland Park case, the panel said, the Seventh Circuit took from Heller the Supreme Court’s clarification “that the Second Amendment ‘does not imperil every law regulating firearms.’ Moreover, we were able to deduce that, under Heller, ‘at least some categorical limits on the kinds of weapons that can be possessed are proper, and that they need not mirror restrictions that were on the books in 1791.’”
A Seventh Circuit panel determined Highland Park’s ordinance still left plenty of room for that city’s residents to own guns for defending their homes – pistols, revolvers, most long guns – and that the same principle applies to the Cook County ordinance. Although the plaintiffs insisted they could show facts about the differences between Highland Park and the rest of Cook County, the panel said the Highland Park decision was about the ordinance itself, not anything unique about Highland Park.
“Our discussion of self-defense focused instead on the availability of other means for citizens to defend themselves,” the panel wrote. “This is a question answered by the particular locality’s laws, not by its crime rates. The plaintiffs have not come forward with any legal authority establishing that Cook County regulates the possession of firearms to a greater extent than was present in Highland Park.”
The panel also said the plaintiffs didn’t offer any arguments requiring a reconsideration of the Highland Park decision, and that every appeals panel since that decision has reached the same conclusion. While acknowledging Second Amendment challenges remain an “emerging area of the law,” the panel affirmed Shah’s dismissal and said the county is entitled to recover its expenses in defending the appeal.