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Supreme Court ruling on assault weapons ban expected Thursday

Wednesday, April 04, 2012
Chicago Sun-Times
by Andrew Maloney

SPRINGFIELD — The state’s top court is poised to rule on Cook County’s assault weapons ban Thursday in a case that will determine the fate of one of Illinois’ signature gun-control laws.

Attorneys challenging the ban argued that the county’s ordinance — enacted in 1993 and extended in 2006 — is too vague, based on faulty information and should be reconsidered in light of the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court case that overturned Chicago’s ban on handguns.

The county ordinance specifically 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,” Richard Pearson, executive director of the Illinois State Rifle Association, told the Chicago Sun-Times Wednesday.

The ban extends to the AR-15, a weapon Pearson called the most popular hunting rifle in the United States, as well as guns used for duck hunting and shooting clay pigeons. “And there’s no reason to do it. There’s no justification for it at all,” he said.

Additionally, the plaintiffs in the case argued that the scope of the ban is too large, and could cause issues if new technology makes previously legal firearms capable of accepting large capacity magazines.

A group of state lawmakers, including suburban representatives Kent Gaffney (R-Lake Barrington) and Linda Chapa LaVia (D-Aurora), also filed a brief with the court, claiming that a ban on entire categories of firearms is unconstitutional.

However, gun control advocates said there is no reason to nullify the ban when there are “many, many” conventional handguns and long guns still legal and available.

“You don’t have a constitutional right to pack an AK-47,” said Jonathan Lowy, director of the Legal Action Project at the Washington, D.C.-based Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. “It would be a vast, unwarranted, unjustified expansion of the Second Amendment right that’s recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court” if the ban is struck down.

In their appeal, the plaintiffs said factual errors made by the Cook County Board had not been appropriately considered by lower courts. One statistic in the 1993 version of the ordinance claimed assault weapons were 20 times more likely to be used in crimes than other weapons, although the U.S. Department of Justice later found that assault weapons were used in between 2 and 8 percent of gun crimes.

But Paul Castiglione, an assistant state’s attorney arguing for Cook County, told the court that should not apply to this case.

“I think the solution to that is a political remedy,” he said during oral arguments in January. “It doesn’t really matter what findings they made.”

The plaintiffs in the case are Mathew Wilson, Troy Edhlund and Joseph Messineo, who originally challenged the ban in 2007.



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