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Court reinstates suit challenging Cook County assault weapons ban

Thursday, April 05, 2012
Chicago Sun-Times

The Illinois Supreme Court gave new life Thursday to a challenge to Cook County’s ban on assault weapons.

A judge was wrong to throw out the challenge, and so was the appeals court that upheld that ruling, the state’s high court said in sending the case back to the judge to hear testimony on whether assault weapons should have the same Second Amendment protection as handguns.

Cook County first banned the sale or possession of assault weapons in 1993 and expanded the ordinance in 2006 to also ban large ammunition magazines.

The ordinance, aimed at “high-capacity, rapid-fire” rifles and pistols, details what constitutes an assault weapon — such as a protruding grip or a shroud covering the barrel — and gives examples of banned guns.

The ban was challenged in a lawsuit filed in 2007 by three Cook County residents — Matthew Wilson, Troy Edhlund and Joseph Messineo — who said they had valid reasons to own the prohibited weapons, from hunting to target shooting to personal protection and argued that the law was too vague and too broad and did little to improve public safety.

A judge rejected their challenge. And the Illinois Appellate Court upheld that ruling.

Then, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Chicago city ordinance that essentially banned handguns, holding that the Second Amendment establishes a fundamental right to possess a handgun for self-defense. The Illinois appeals court took another look at the case in light of the new Supreme Court ruling but still found the Cook County ban was constitutional.

The county ordinance outlaws the sale or possession of “any assault weapon or large capacity magazine.” It describes several traits of prohibited weapons — such as a protruding grip or a shroud attached to the barrel — and specifies several types of guns that are in violation of the ordinance.

“It bans the most popular hunting rifles … that there are in the country,” said Richard Pearson, executive director of the Illinois State Rifle Association, who said he’s “pretty happy” with the Supreme Court ruling Thursday.

Victor Quilici, one of the attorneys challenging the weapons ban, agreed, calling the ruling “a very big win for us,” though he’d been hoping the state’s high court would go ahead and outright strike down the ban.

Still, he said, “Going back to the lower court is going to be a good position for us at this point.”

He predicted a ruling is “going to take some time. This case will be around for another couple of years. Nothing’s going to move fast.”

Colleen Daley, executive director of the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence, said she understands why guns rights advocates are calling the decision a victory. But she said it wasn’t entirely unexpected and that the courts could still end up upholding the ban.

“The Supreme Court decision isn’t exactly the one we wanted to hear, but we weren’t exactly devastated by it,” Daley said.

Jonathan Lowy, director of the Legal Action Project for the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, said that, despite Quilici’s calling the ruling a victory for gun rights advocates, “This clearly is not a victory for the gun lobby. If it was a victory, the court would have held that there was a constitutional right to pack AK-47s.”

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