Illinois Fourth District Appellate Court, Springfield
A state appeals court has declined to suspend Illinois’ Firearm Owners Identification law while a gun owners’ advocacy group argues the law is unconstitutional.
A lawsuit brought against the state, naming as defendants the Illinois Attorney General's Office and the director of the Illinois State Police, asked the courts for an injunction suspending enforcement of FOID laws, which regulate who can purchase and own firearms and ammunition within the state. A Sangamon County judge in Springfield denied the injunction request. And that decision has been upheld by Justices Craig H. DeArmond, Lisa Holder White and Thomas M. Harris of the Illinois Fourth District Appellate Court, also in Springfield.
Justice DeArmond authored the court's opinion.
Illinois Fourth District Appellate Justice Craig DeArmond | Illinoiscourts.gov
Though the injunction was denied, in large part the appellate court decision seemed to read favorably for plaintiff Guns Save Life, which argues the FOID law violates both the U.S. Constitution and the Illinois state constitution by placing limits on the right to bear arms and by charging a $10 fee to FOID cardholders. The advocacy group asserts the fee is an illegal tax that violates the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution's Fourteenth Amendment.
“While plaintiff has demonstrated a fair question as to each of the elements required, granting the preliminary injunction would change the status quo and would not benefit the public interest,” the appellate justices ruled. The justices noted it has made no judgment on the final merits of Guns Save Life’s complaint.
The state argued that the FOID law, enacted in 1968, is a longstanding exception to the Second Amendment. While acknowledging the law’s established history, the court also noted that its 51 years pales in contrast to the more than 220-year history of the U.S. Constitution. The plaintiff and court also noted that of the 50 U.S. states, only Massachusetts regulates firearms through a system similar to that in Illinois.
In its decision, the appellate court disagreed with most aspects of the state’s arguments. The state argued that Guns Save Life’s request for preliminary injunction departed significantly from its complaint and that it did not have standing as an association to sue on behalf of its members. The court disagreed with both key points, finding that the plaintiff had clearly and adequately argued its points. Because it clearly articulated the injury it claims is being dealt to all its members – the inability to possess guns without being burdened by the restrictions of the FOID law – it did not need to name specific individuals in its complaint, DeArmond wrote in the court’s opinion.
Roughly the first half of the 40-page appellate opinion uses language that reflects favorably on the arguments made by the plaintiff. The actual step of issuing a preliminary injunction preventing the law from being enforced, however, goes too far, according to the court.
The purpose of a preliminary injunction, DeArmond wrote, is to preserve the status quo. Suspending enforcement of a widely enforced 50-year-old law would do just the opposite, he said.
“For [those without FOID cards], their last status before the litigation of this case was that they could not possess firearms in Illinois,” the court wrote. “Granting the injunction would change their status. …Although maintaining the status quo could arguably further the irreparable injury to plaintiff’s members, granting the preliminary injunction could similarly cause irreparable injury to the state of Illinois.”
The court pointed out that the state does not have a backup system to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people should the FOID law be suspended.
“We find a preliminary injunction is not warranted,” DeArmond wrote. “The benefits of granting the injunction for plaintiff’s members are clear – they would no longer be bound by the FOID Act’s restrictions. …However, the injury to the state of Illinois is just as certain. The purpose of the FOID Act is to ‘promote and protect the health, safety and welfare of the public’ by preventing certain persons, such as felons and the mentally ill, ‘from acquiring or possessing firearms and firearm ammunition.’”
The court acknowledged that the FOID Act is not a perfect way of keeping guns from those who should not have them, and many criminals disregard the act. It is, however, better than nothing, the justices wrote.
Guns Save Life is represented by Christian D. Ambler, of the firm of Stone & Johnson, of Chicago, and by David H. Thompson and Peter A. Patterson, of Cooper & Kirk PLLC of Washington, D.C.
The state is represented by the Attorney General's Office.