SPRINGFIELD — Legal challenges against a ban on assault weapons in suburban Deerfield have reached the state’s highest court.
Two consolidated lawsuits against the Lake County suburb were among the 14 criminal and civil cases that the Illinois Supreme Court has agreed to hear on appeal.
Guns Save Life Inc., the Second Amendment Foundation and Illinois State Rifle Association sued Deerfield shortly after the village amended its assault weapon ordinances in June 2018 to ban the civilian use of assault weapons and large capacity magazines.
The groups argued that the ban violated amendments to the Concealed Carry Act and FOID Card Act that govern the processes for certain municipalities to impose limits on gun ownership beyond state laws.
When state lawmakers amended the FOID Card Act in 2013, they added a provision that allowed municipalities with a population of at least 25,000 to adopt stricter gun laws if the municipality passed an ordinance regulating gun ownership within 10 days of the law becoming effective on July 9, 2013.
Deerfield passed a new ordinance on July 1, 2013, that regulated the storage and transportation of assault weapons. The village’s assault weapon ban in 2018 amended this 2013 ordinance.
The gun rights groups maintained the amendments to the FOID Card Act should be interpreted as preempting the authority of local municipalities to pass gun ordinances that are more restrictive than state laws.
The Lake County judge hearing the cases consolidated the lawsuits.
In 2019, the Lake County trial judge ruled in favor of the gun rights groups by finding that the FOID Card Act amendment in 2013 intended to create a 10-day window for municipalities to “ban ownership or possession of assault weapons,” the judge found.
Since Deerfield only passed an ordinance in 2013 to regulate the storage and transportation of assault weapons, the village “lost its opportunity to do so and cannot later amend its ordinance to impose such a ban,” the judge ruled.
The ruling permanently blocked Deerfield from enforcing its assault weapon and large capacity magazine ban.
Deerfield appealed this decision to the 2nd District Appellate Court, one of five appeals courts in the state which sit one level below the Illinois Supreme Court.
In December 2020, a majority of the appellate court reversed the trial judge’s decision and found Deerfield’s assault weapon ban did not violate the FOID Card Act.
The majority decided that, in amending the FOID Card Act in 2013, “the legislature created a hybrid balance of regulatory power between the State and local governments,” where certain municipalities could “concurrently regulate assault weapons and others would not,” the appellate court’s 43-page opinion states.
“Deerfield preserved its power to regulate assault weapons concurrently with the State when it enacted its 2013 ordinance. The legislature explicitly declared that [municipalities with at least 25,000 residents] that preserved their power to regulate assault weapons concurrently with the State could amend their ordinances,” the opinion states. “Because Deerfield had the power to regulate assault weapons concurrently with the State, it was Deerfield’s prerogative to ban such weapons, and there were no time limitations for doing so.”
In order to show the General Assembly’s intent, the appellate court’s opinion includes a question that then-state Sen. Kwame Raoul asked on the floor of the state Senate in May 2013 when the FOID Card Act amendment was being discussed.
Raoul asked the bill’s sponsor, “Can a municipality or home rule unit that has enacted a regulation or ordinance either before or within ten days of the effective date that regulates assault weapons amend that regulation or ordinance in the future?”
To the question, the bill’s sponsor responded, “Yes.”
The appellate court also ruled that the village’s ban on large capacity magazines, to the extent it regulated hand gun ammunition, violated the FOID Card Act.
Because of this finding, the appellate court decided Deerfield’s large capacity magazine ban, as it applied to handgun ammunition, could not be enforced for valid FOID card and Concealed Carry License holders.
Following this decision, the gun rights groups filed a petition with the Illinois Supreme Court that asked the court to hear their case.
Last week, the state Supreme Court accepted the consolidated cases, which are appealing the appellate court ruling from December 2020.
Officials from the village of Deerfield did not respond to a request for comment.
David Sigale, a sole practitioner in Wheaton, represents the Second Amendment Foundation and the Illinois State Rifle Association.
“We are very gratified that the Illinois Supreme Court has agreed to hear our claim, and we look forward to making our case, as the circuit court held, that the Village overstepped its authority in this matter,” Sigale said in an email on March 29.