Turley: Federal appeals court upholding Illinois AR-15 ban ‘could set up major test for gun rights’

A federal appeals court panel ruled Friday 2-1 that Illinois’ “assault weapons”/semiautomatic weapons ban is constitutional, meaning the case is likely now headed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“The Second Amendment to the Constitution recognizes an individual right to ‘keep and bear Arms.’ Of that there can be no doubt,” the majority opinion from a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit reads.

“But as we know from long experience with other fundamental rights, such as the right to free speech, the right peaceably to assemble, the right to vote, and the right to free exercise of religion, even the most important personal freedoms have their limits,” it continues.

The ruling prompted celebration from Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker and others:

Turning to “assault weapons” in particular, the ruling states that there’s a distinction between weapons for civilian use and weapons for law enforcement use.

“There is a long tradition, unchanged from the time when the Second Amendment was added to the Constitution, supporting a distinction between weapons and accessories designed for military or law-enforcement use and weapons designed for personal use. The legislation now before us respects and relies on that distinction,” the ruling reads.

According to Chicago news station WLS, the ruling pertains to “three consolidated cases that challenged the state’s assault weapon ban as well as local ordinances enacted in Cook County, Chicago and Naperville.”

“Both the state law and the Naperville ordinance were passed in response to a mass shooting last year at an Independence Day parade in Highland Park that left seven people dead and dozens more injured and traumatized,” the station notes.

The law specifically prohibits the possession, manufacture or sale of semiautomatic rifles and high-capacity magazines, but it doesn’t take effect into Jan. 1st, 2024.

“Known as the Protect Illinois Communities Act, it bans dozens of specific brands or types of rifles and handguns, .50-caliber guns, attachments and rapid-firing devices. No rifle will be allowed to accommodate more than 10 rounds, with a 15-round limit for handguns,” according to the Associated Press.

In the meantime, gun-rights groups have been working hard to try to defeat it in court. However, their efforts thus far have failed. In August, for example, the Illinois Supreme Court upheld the law in a 4-3 decision.

Friday’s ruling came as a bit of a surprise given the conservative makeup of the Seventh Circuit’s three-judge panel.

“Notably, the majority was composed of conservative judge Frank Easterbook and liberal judge Diane P. Wood. Conservative judge Michael P. Brennan dissented,” according to legal scholar Jonathan Turley.

In his dissent, Brennan wrote that the state and local governments that had enacted the bans “failed to meet their burden to show that their bans are part of the history and tradition of firearms regulation.”

According to WLS, he also “ripped his colleagues’ ‘remarkable’ conclusion that personal ownership of assault-style weapons and high-powered magazines is not protected by the Second Amendment.”

“The AR-15 is a civilian, not military, weapon. No army in the world uses a service rifle that is only semiautomatic. Even so, the majority opinion uses a civilian firearm’s military counterpart to determine whether it is an ‘Arm,'” he reportedly wrote.

Anti-gun-rights groups were thrilled by the majority opinion.

“This is an important victory in the fight against gun violence and a victory for all states and municipalities that are fighting to keep their residents safe,” Douglas Letter, the chief legal officer for the group Brady United, said in a statement.

“States and cities should have the right to stop these weapons of war from decimating our communities, and this ruling demonstrates that assault weapon bans are indeed constitutional,” he added.

Turley, the legal scholar, believes for his part that the case is now headed to the Supreme Court.

“The case could set up a major test for gun rights for the United States Supreme Court,”  he tweeted Saturday.

Responding to the tweet, many predicted that the conservative-led U.S. Supreme Court will ultimately rule in favor of gun-rights groups, not their enemies.

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