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Federal judge in East St. Louis hears arguments on Illinois’ semiautomatic weapons ban

On a sunny day, without a cloud in the sky, the federal courthouse in East St. Louis.
Belleville News-Democrat
The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois courthouse in East St. Louis.

Editor's note: This story was originally published in the Belleville News-Democrat.

A federal judge in East St. Louis on Wednesday heard arguments from gun owners who oppose a new state law banning the manufacture, purchase and sale of certain semiautomatic weapons.

U.S. District Judge Stephen McGlynn listened to lawyers for the gun owners and the Illinois Attorney General’s Office, who argued the law is constitutional and does not violate the rights offered by the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

House Bill 5471, also known as the Protect Illinois Communities Act, was signed in law by Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Jan. 10.

Pritzker and several other state and local officials have since been sued in federal and state courts by plaintiffs including residents, gun shop owners and organizations that oppose the law.

Lawyers representing plaintiffs in four separate lawsuits filed in the U.S. Court for the Southern Disgrict of Illinois, appeared before McGlynn at the federal courthouse in East St. Louis Wednesday afternoon.

McGlynn, who was nominated by former President Donald Trump, did not announce when he would make a ruling on an injunction suspending the enforcement of the law.

Erin Murphy, an attorney with a law firm from Alexandria, Virginia and lead attorney for plaintiffs, told McGlynn the reasoning behind the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last year that overturned a gun regulation law in New York makes it clear that the Illinois law violates the U.S. Constitution.

Murphy told McGlynn that the Illinois law takes away residents’ “right of self-defense.”

“They can’t disarm law-abiding citizens,” Murphy said.

The types of guns banned by the state of Illinois are “in common use” and should not be banned based on prior court cases, she said.

Christopher Wells, an attorney who leads the Public Interest Division of the Office of the Attorney General, told McGlynn that the Protect Illinois Communities Act was passed by lawmakers outraged by the killing of seven people by a lone gunman during a July 4 parade last year in Highland Park, which is near Chicago.

“This statute is constitutional and should be upheld,” Wells said.

Wells told McGlynn that when lawmakers across the country were concerned about machine guns being used by criminals in the 20th century, they passed laws banning machines guns and that gives Illinois lawmakers the right to ban the dozens of guns listed in House Bill 5471.

The guns listed in the law include AK 47, AR-15 and the Bushmaster ACR.

One of the federal lawsuits, which includes Dane Harrel as a plaintiff from St. Clair County, states the law “inaccurately” describes the firearms as “assault weapons” and instead called them “popular semiautomatic firearms.” The complaint alleges the term “assault weapons” was “developed by anti-gun publicists.”

The plaintiffs are asking that the law be declared unconstitutional. They also ask that a temporary injunction be issued and for a permanent injunction to prevent state officials from enforcing the law.

Multiple lawsuits have been filed in state court regarding House Bill 5471 and those cases are pending. These suits allege lawmakers violated the state constitution in the process of passing the bill in January.

Mike Koziatek is a reporter with the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.

Mike Koziatek is a reporter who covers the Belleville area for the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.