UPDATE: Effingham judge pauses assault weapon ban

Published: Jan. 20, 2023 at 5:14 PM CST
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UPDATE (7 p.m.) - Illinois State Rifle Association Executive Director Richard Pearson released a statement Friday evening applauding the judge’s ruling which pauses implementation of the assault weapons ban for four gun stores and 862 individual gun owners who filed suit in Effingham County Court.

“This is a clear indication from the court that the General Assembly and Governor Pritzker rammed this law through improperly. The ISRA firmly believes the law is an infringement on all law-abiding residents’ Second Amendment rights. We look forward to the proceedings in our federal case, and we will be keeping a close eye on any other cases as well.”

ISRA earlier this week announced it was participating in a federal lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois.

UPDATE (5:54 p.m.) - Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul has filed a notice of appeal to the appellate court.

PEORIA (25 News Now) - An Effingham County judge has put a pause on the assault weapon ban.

Judge Josh Morrison, a recently elected judge who formerly filed suit against the SAFE-T Act as state’s attorney, granted a temporary restraining order to stop enforcement of the assault weapon ban for the plaintiffs listed in the suit.

The ruling came after a two-hour hearing Wednesday on the lawsuit.

Former Republican Attorney General Candidate Thomas DeVore is representing four gun stores and 862 individual gun owners who oppose the new law.

The downstate attorney argues Democratic lawmakers passed the plan in an unconstitutional manner. He is not focusing on the Second Amendment in this case.

He asked the courts if Illinois lawmakers violated the single-subject rule, three readings clause, and due process for the public when they passed the legislation earlier this month. Judge Josh Morrison agreed with each of the three arguments.

“We passed the Protect Illinois Communities Act to get dangerous weapons off the street and create a safer state,” Senate President Don Harmon said. “This ruling will be appealed. We look forward to our day in court to zealously advocate for our neighbors who are weary of the gun violence epidemic.”

Governor JB Pritzker also said he will explore the next steps with the ruling, calling it “not surprising, although disappointing”

The single-subject rule mandates that each law in the legislature must focus on a single subject, but also not a subject so broad that it would evade the rule. Morrison writes, “The defendants argue the single-issue rule is satisfied because the enacted provisions of [the ban] all relate to the regulation of firearms. However... one item in the bill is related to human trafficking and drug trafficking.”

The three readings rule requires the bill to be read in title three separate times on three separate days on both floors of the statehouse. The bill was read on different days to fulfill those requirements but as a bill concerning insurance. Near the final readings, amendments were submitted to “gut” the original language of the bill and “replace” it with the assault weapon ban or Protect Illinois Communities Act.

Political observers of state government also know it is relatively common practice for lawmakers from both sides of the aisle to file language in shell bills during the final days of a session to get plans passed quickly. Some may even call it the “Springfield way,” as leaders have used the tactic for several decades.

Many major bills, from budgets to provisions like the SAFE-T Act, use that process. In this case, Morrison said the “Defendants unequivocally and egregiously violated the Three Readings Rule... to circumvent the Constitutional requirements to avoid public discourse.”

“The time to revisit this practice is now,” he said in the ruling. Because of those rule violations, the judge determined due process was not followed as well.

During the hearing, the judge asked the Illinois Attorney General’s legal counsel several times if there is a federal law banning assault weapons. A federal assault weapon ban took effect in 1994, but it expired on Sept. 13, 2004.

The state argues lawmakers did not break any laws by “gutting and replacing” the original language of House Bill 5471 and passing the proposal 48 hours later.

However, DeVore says he hopes this lawsuit will lead to a drastic change in the creation of Illinois public policy.

“It’s been allowed to go on for so long and it’s become so pervasive that they’re using it for bills that are having a significant impact on people’s rights - under the Bill of Rights in the Illinois Constitution,” DeVore said. “Just think if we were talking about a law limiting freedom of speech for the media, that would be a topic that would be very sensitive to everybody here standing with a camera in front of me. And so, they would take that very seriously.”

DeVore said this is a very serious issue and he argues that lawmakers should always work in an open and transparent manner. He also argues that the Protect Illinois Communities Act violates equal protection for all gun owners because the language excludes law enforcement and active-duty military from the ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.

The state said this exception was included in the law as those individuals receive proper training to use assault-style weapons. DeVore quipped that trained people can do bad things just like un-trained people and he feels that argument is nonsense.

The judge also said he was concerned that the new law will harm gun store owners by severely cutting their weapon sales.

“Once a business is out of business, there is nothing you can change,” Judge Morrison said.

DeVore purposely filed the lawsuit downstate where he previously had favorable rulings against executive orders to prevent the spread of COVID-19. You can compare this to choosing your favorite store to buy groceries or clothes. Legal and political experts know that DeVore is prone to shop for judges that will rule in his favor, just like Gov. Pritzker choosing a higher court with Democratic judges that could side with him.

Former Republican gubernatorial candidate and state Senator Darren Bailey was in the courtroom Wednesday. Bailey said he believes this lawsuit would succeed in any court.

“I do believe it would because at the end of the day, that’s what this is all about - the constitutional process,” Bailey said. “And if we trample the Constitution, then we are lost as a country and as a society.”

DeVore is working on behalf of clients from 87 of Illinois’ 102 counties. The temporary restraining order only applies to DeVore’s 866 clients. Still, DeVore and Republican lawmakers feel this could set a precedent for other legal challenges to the legislative process in Springfield.

The Illinois State Rifle Association also filed a federal lawsuit against the ban Wednesday. That court battle will focus solely on the 2nd Amendment, right to bear arms.