The court did not address the Second Amendment implications of the law because the plaintiffs’ waived this claim at trial.
In a 4–3 decision, the Supreme Court of Illinois upheld the state’s ban on “assault weapons” and “large capacity magazines.” The plaintiffs argued the Protect Illinois Communities Act (PICA) violated the Illinois constitution by denying them equal protection of the law and because of procedural deficiencies in PICA’s enactment.
“I am pleased that the Illinois Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of the Protect Illinois Communities Act,” stated Illinois Governor JB Pritzker in a press release. “This is a commonsense gun reform law to keep mass-killing machines off of our streets and out of our schools, malls, parks, and places of worship.”
Plaintiffs made two equal protection claims challenging exemptions from PICA
The plaintiffs’ equal protection claims stem from two types of exemptions in PICA: the law enforcement exemption and the “grandfather” exemption for current owners. Plaintiffs qualified for neither exemption, which they argued denied them the equal protection of the law.
The law enforcement exemption allowed current law enforcement officers, who must undergo firearms training, to possess assault weapons, including when off duty. The exemption also applied to retired law enforcement officers who had served for at least ten years and “maintain[ed], at their expense, training on the standards for qualification in firearms for active law enforcement officers.”
The plaintiffs argued PICA’s law enforcement exemption denied them equal protection because no meaningful distinction between the plaintiffs and law enforcement, all of whom possessed an Illinois firearm owners identification (FOID) card.
The court rejected this argument because obtaining a FOID card required no firearms training, and the plaintiffs had no law enforcement duties:
A FOID card holder does not have a duty to maintain public order; to make arrests for offenses; or to prevent, detect, investigate, prosecute, or incarcerate a person for a violation of law. By contrast, each of the seven categories of trained professionals must undergo specialized firearms training pertaining to their employment to maintain their exempt status under the Act. This training supports the presumption that they exercise greater responsibility in the safe handling and storage of firearms.
PICA’s grandfather exemption allowed individuals possessing an assault weapon or large capacity magazine before PICA’s enactment to continue possession lawfully. The exemption also provided that “[t]hose who inherit a lawfully owned assault weapon may retain it.”
The plaintiffs argued that because they wished to possess assault weapons and large capacity magazines after PICA’s enactment, an exemption for individuals in possession before PICA’s enactment constituted preferential treatment for grandfathered individuals.
The court rejected this equal protection argument because the plaintiffs and grandfathered individuals were not “similarly situated.” Grandfathered individuals had a “reliance interest” in keeping their assault weapons and large capacity magazine, an interest plaintiffs lacked.
Plaintiffs waived their Second Amendment and procedural deficiency claims
The court declined to address PICA’s Second Amendment implications because the “plaintiffs expressly waived in the circuit court any independent claim that the restrictions impermissibly infringe the second amendment.” Because of the waiver, the court “express[ed] no opinion on the potential viability of plaintiffs’ waived claim concerning the second amendment.”
Neither of the dissenting opinions challenged this finding or argued the court should have considered PICA’s Second Amendment implications.
The court also declined to address the plaintiffs’ procedural deficiency claim. The plaintiffs argued the legislature enacted PICA in violation of the Illinois constitution, which requires three readings of a bill on three different days.
At the trial court, the plaintiffs prevailed on their equal protection claim but not their procedural deficiency claim. The state appealed its loss on the equal protection claim, but the plaintiffs did not cross-appeal their loss on the procedural deficiency claim.
Because the plaintiffs failed to cross-appeal their loss, the court found it lacked jurisdiction to review the claim on appeal: “plaintiffs’ failure to cross-appeal is a jurisdictional bar to renewing their three-readings claim.”
One justice, in a dissent, criticized the majority’s reasoning, noting, “a reviewing court can uphold the decision of the circuit court on any grounds which are called for by the record.”DONATE
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