NRA, lawyer who helped win U.S. Supreme Court case take on Illinois’ assault weapons ban

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

Paul Clement, who successfully defended the case in New York, is one of the plaintiffs’ lawyers in the latest federal case seeking to overturn Illinois’ two-week ban.

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

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Clement and attorney Erin Murphy formed their own firm after Chicago-based Kirkland & Ellis decided it would no longer handle Second Amendment litigation. Murphy, who was part of the New York case, is also working on a 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 Shooting Sports Foundation, Inc.

Although the NRA is not named as a plaintiff, a spokesperson for the organization told the Sun-Times that it has joined with the National Shooting Sports Foundation to file the suit, similar to what it did in the case of the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v Bruen, which eventually went to the US Supreme Court.

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In that case, in June 2022, the court struck down New York’s concealed carry law by a 6-3 majority, ruling that 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 involving the NRA, Tuesday’s lawsuit is far from the first challenge to Illinois’ new gun ban, known as the Illinois Community Protection Act. The Illinois state association filed its federal lawsuit last week. And at least three lawsuits have been filed in district courts downstate.

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Gov. JB Pritzker signed the measure into law on Jan. 10, immediately banning the sale of assault weapons in Illinois and limiting the purchase of magazines to 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 who already own the prohibited weapons are allowed to keep them, but must register them with the Illinois State Police by Jan. 1.

Governor JB Pritzker signs the assault weapons ban at the State Capitol in Springfield on January 10.

Governor JB Pritzker signs the assault weapons ban at the State Capitol in Springfield on January 10.

Tina Sfondeles/Chicago Sun-Times file

The federal lawsuit, filed Tuesday, claims the law violates the Second and Fourteenth Amendments. He also argued that the measure was unconstitutional because the types of weapons banned are commonly used by law-abiding citizens. It has largely been argued that the government cannot ban guns that are widely used today for self-defense, a case made clear in the Bruen decision.

“Almost no other state in the union has attempted such an extreme measure — and for good reason, as no less a body than the Supreme Court has already recognized that semi-automatic rifles ‘have traditionally been widely accepted as legal,'” suit countries.

“All of this dooms any effort to argue that banning these ubiquitous weapons is consistent with ‘historical tradition that limits the outer limits of the right to keep and bear arms,'” the suit states, citing the Bruen case.

The suit claims 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 weapons,” referring to high-capacity magazines.

The lawsuit claims the law bans hundreds of rifle models, “including all of the most popular models in circulation.”

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

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

“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 claims.

The lawsuit seeks a declaratory judgment declaring the law unconstitutional. He is also seeking an order to stay the law against the plaintiffs and their members.

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

Attorney General Kwame Raul and Illinois State Police Director Brendan Kelly are named 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 case.

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

“We think we’re going to win, and we have the constitution behind us and the constitutional scholars and experts who helped craft the legislation,” Pritzker said. “So I feel pretty good about the bottom line.”

A district 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.

Contribution: John Seidel


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