Written By: Andrew Fowler
The killing of innocent people and children with guns necessitates gun regulation. Not only at a July 4 parade in Illinois, a school in Texas, a grocery store in New York, but every day across the United States, people use weapons of death for their intended purposes. While the murders continue, federal and state courts are currently grappling with how gun control can be legislated constitutionally. The U.S. Supreme Court’s denial of injunction to petitioners challenging an Illinois assault weapons and high-capacity magazine ban is the most recent decision as courts continue to grapple with guns.
In 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court issued the landmark decision of New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, which held that individuals have a right to possess a handgun outside their home for self-defense purposes. This further expanded the right to bear arms from District of Colombia v. Heller, decided over a decade ago, which first recognized and outlined an individual right to possess a handgun inside the home. Until Heller, the 2nd amendment was not commonly believed to confer an individual right to possess a firearm.
After developing this individual right in Heller, Bruen expanded that right from only inside the home to outside of it as well. Bruen, however, does not recognize an unregulated individual right to guns. The Court rejected any means-end balancing approach for making this determination and specified that for a gun regulation to be justified, “the government must demonstrate that the regulation is consistent with the Nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation.”
Since then, states have passed new gun regulation laws. Notably, New York passed revised gun restriction laws to conform under the new Bruen decision. These laws ban firearms in public places and expand gun permitting requirements. Under a new stream of litigation, the U.S. Supreme Court denied an injunction in January of this year leaving in place the order of a district court judge and the gun regulations as litigation continues.
Most recently, the U.S. Supreme Court denied an injunction in a case challenging an Illinois gun regulation. In January 2023, Illinois passed increased gun regulation as a response, at least in part, to both Bruen and the July 4th shooting in Highland Park, Illinois that took the lives of seven people. The law, entitled the Protect Illinois Communities Act, banned the sale and distribution of assault weapons, high-capacity magazines, and switches in Illinois. The Court denied an injunction on this state ban, and another similar local level ban currently in effect in Naperville, Illinois, a Chicago suburb. At the federal level, the case is currently set for oral arguments before the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals on June 29, 2023. Notably, the Illinois state law is also being challenged in state court, with the Illinois Supreme Court currently deciding if the law violates the Equal Protection and Special Legislation Clauses of the Illinois Constitution. A decision from the state’s highest court will also be forthcoming in next few months.
Other states are attempting to legislate gun regulation as well and they face similar challenges. However, this latest denial of injunction for the Illinois law, shows that the U.S. Supreme Court is waiting for lower courts to apply the new Bruen precedent. While the courts attempt to locate the acceptable line when it comes to gun regulation, the courts are allowing these laws to remain in place by denying injunctions. This may not mean the laws will be upheld, especially with the conservative majority in the U.S. Supreme Court, but it does mean that these vital regulations remain in place for now.
We are now standing by, waiting for the courts to decide under a new historical analysis, if states can democratically ban high powered assault weapons, high-capacity magazines, or firearms from public places. While the courts grapple with guns, the ongoing and looming threat of gun violence continues for everyday citizens.
Andrew Chung, U.S. Supreme Court leaves in place Illinois assault weapons ban, REUTERS (May 17, 2023, 7:00 PM).
Dave Byrnes, Illinois assault weapons ban goes before state high court, COURTHOUSE NEWS SERVICE (May 16, 2023).
District of Colombia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008).
Docket for 22A948, U.S. Supreme Court.
Gov. Pritzker Signs Legislation Banning Assault Weapons and Sale of High-Capacity Magazines, ILLINOIS.GOV (Jan, 10, 2023).
Jon Seidel, U.S. Supreme Court declines to temporarily halt Illinois assault weapons ban, CHICAGO SUN TIMES (May 17, 2023, 12:51 PM).
Lawrence Hurley, Supreme Court rejects challenge to Illinois assault weapons ban, NBC NEWS (May 17, 2023, 10:06 AM).
Lawrence Hurley, Supreme Court allows New York gun law to remain in place for now, NBC NEWS (Jan. 11, 2023, 8:37 AM).
Melissa Chan, New York Legislature passes stiffer gun restrictions to soften blow of Supreme Court ruling, NBC NEWS (July 1, 2022, 1:17 PM).
Michael Waldman, How the NRA Rewrote the Second Amendment, BRENNAN CENTER FOR JUSTICE (May 20, 2014).
N.Y. State Rifle & Pistol Ass’n v. Bruen, 142 S. Ct. 2111 (2022).