Illinois assault weapons ban suit: NRA, lawyer who helped win Supreme Court case take on Illinois ban


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Mar 31, 2023

Illinois assault weapons ban suit: NRA, lawyer who helped win Supreme Court case take on Illinois ban

Paul Clement, former solicitor general at the Department of Justice, appears

Paul Clement, former solicitor general at the Department of Justice, appears before the Senate Judiciary Committee during the final stage of the confirmation hearing for President Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh in 2018.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP file

Two Second Amendment lawyers who helped win a landmark U.S. Supreme Court case that struck down a New York concealed carry gun law are now challenging the constitutionality of Illinois’ assault weapons ban — with help from the National Rifle Association.

Paul Clement, who successfully argued the New York case, is one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs in the latest federal lawsuit seeking to overturn Illinois’ two-week old ban.

Clement is a former partner in Kirkland & Ellis’ Washington, D.C., office who served as solicitor general of the United States, representing the government in cases before the nation's top court from 2004 to 2008, during the George W. Bush administration.

Clement and attorney Erin Murphy began their own firm after Chicago-based Kirkland & Ellis decided it would no longer handle Second Amendment-related litigation. Murphy, who was part of the New York case, is also working on the challenge to Illinois’ assault weapons ban, filed Tuesday in the Southern District of Illinois.

Plaintiffs in the new federal lawsuit are Sparta resident Caleb Barnett, Marion resident Brian Norman, Benton-based Hood's Guns & More, Benton-based Pro Gun and Indoor Range and the National Sports Shooting Foundation, Inc.

Although the NRA is not listed as a plaintiff, a spokesperson for the organization told the Sun-Times it joined the National Sports Shooting Foundation to bring forth the suit, similar to what it did in the case of New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, which was ultimately taken to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In that case, the court in June 2022 struck down New York's concealed-carry gun law with a 6-3 majority, ruling the law prevented law-abiding citizens from exercising their Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms for self-defense.

Although it's the first linked to the NRA, Tuesday's lawsuit is far from the first challenge to Illinois’ new weapons ban, known as the Protect Illinois Communities Act. The Illinois State Rifle Association filed its own federal lawsuit last week. And at least three suits have been filed in county courts downstate.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed the measure into law on Jan. 10, immediately banning the sale of assault weapons in Illinois and capping the purchase of magazines at 10 rounds for long guns and 15 for handguns. It also made rapid-fire devices, known as "switches," illegal because they turn firearms into fully automatic weapons. Those already owning the banned guns are allowed to keep them but were required to register them with the Illinois State Police by Jan. 1.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker signs the assault weapons ban at the state Capitol in Springfield on Jan. 10.

Tina Sfondeles/Chicago Sun-Times file

The federal suit filed Tuesday argues that the law violates the Second and Fourteenth Amendments. It also argues that the measure is unconstitutional because the types of weapons banned are commonly used by law-abiding citizens. It largely argues that the government cannot ban weapons that are in common use today for self-defense, a case made clear in the Bruen decision.

"Almost no other state in the union has ever tried to adopt such an extreme measure — and for good reason, as no less an authority than the Supreme Court has already recognized that semiautomatic rifles ‘traditionally have been widely accepted as lawful,’" the suit states.

"All of that dooms any effort to claim that prohibiting these ubiquitous arms is consistent with "the historical tradition that delimits the outer bounds of the right to keep and bear arms,’" the suit states, citing the Bruen case.

The suit argues that semi-automatic rifles are the weapons most commonly used for self-defense today and that "tens of millions of Americans own hundreds of millions of such arms," referring to high-capacity magazines.

The suit says the law bans hundreds of models of rifles, "including all the most popular models in circulation."

Assault weapons are displayed at Capitol City Arms Supply in Springfield in 2013.

Seth Perlman/AP file

"None of this is consistent with the Second Amendment, which protects the rights of law-abiding Americans to keep and bear arms that are in ‘common use’ for self defense today," the suit contends.

The suit seeks a declaratory judgment deeming the law to be unconstitutional. It also seeks an order that would stop enforcement of the law against the plaintiffs and their members.

The NRA said it also helped to pay for the suit, along with the National Sports Shooting Foundation, an industry trade association.

Attorney General Kwame Raoul and Illinois State Police Director Brendan Kelly are listed as defendants in the case. The governor's office and the attorney general's office did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the suit.

Pritzker has repeatedly said he is confident the law would pass constitutional muster, most recently in an interview with CBS News on Tuesday.

"We think we’re going to win, and we’ve got the Constitution behind us and constitutional scholars and experts who helped craft the legislation," Pritzker said. "So, I feel pretty good about the ultimate result."

A county judge in southern Illinois last week blocked enforcement of the assault weapons ban against 865 gun owners and one downstate firearms store who filed a state lawsuit challenging the law.

Contributing: Jon Seidel