Gun shop owner files federal lawsuit over state's weapons ban

SPRINGFIELD - Legal challenges to Illinois' semi-automatic weapons ban began Wednesday with a federal complaint that the 8-day-old law prohibits "commonly possessed" and constitutionally protected guns. A state court pleading was also filed Wednesday, questioning the law's exemptions based on a person's employment.

Dane Harrel, a southern Illinois gun store owner, is the lead plaintiff in the federal test of the ban. Backed by the Illinois State Rifle Association and two other nonprofit gun rights groups, Harrel contends that the new law unconstitutionally bans commonly used weapons, not dangerous or unusual guns, which is the only justification for government regulation, according to the landmark 2008 Supreme Court case known as Heller.

"The rifles that Illinois bans as 'assault weapons' are, in all respects, ordinary semi-automatic rifles," the lawsuit states. "To the extent they are different from other semi-automatic rifles, their distinguishing features make them safer and easier to use. But even if they are considered as a separate group of 'assault weapons,' they cannot be banned because they are not dangerous and unusual."

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois, where gun rights advocacy is strong. The federal court's northern district base is Chicago, where gun violence produces a much stronger attitude toward regulation.

The state lawsuit seeks a temporary restraining order to stop enforcement of the law, which was inspired by the mass shooting that killed seven and injured 30 at the Highland Park July Fourth parade. The lawsuit was filed by Accuracy Firearms of Effingham, about 100 miles northeast of St. Louis, and other plaintiffs. The law bans dozens of specific types of rapid-fire handguns and rifles, .50-caliber guns, attachments and limits cartridges to 10 rounds for long guns and 15 rounds for pistols.

An emergency hearing on the restraining order was scheduled for Wednesday morning in Effingham County Circuit Court.

Attorney Thomas DeVore, last fall's unsuccessful Republican candidate for Illinois attorney general, said the law is unconstitutional because of its exemptions. The ban on semi-automatic weapons does not apply to people in certain positions, such as prison guards or other law enforcement officers.

"It violates the equal protection clause because it carves out a whole section of people," DeVore said. "They are free to do what they will based on their employment."

Jordan Abudayyeh, spokesperson for Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who signed the law Jan. 10, said the Democrat is confident of its constitutionality and accused opponents of grandstanding.

"This legislation was the result of hundreds of hours of collaboration and cooperation between legal experts, legislators and advocates and it makes Illinois a safer place for every resident," Abudayyeh said in a statement. "Despite political grandstanding from those more beholden to the gun lobby than to the safety of their constituents, this law is in effect and protecting Illinoisans from the constant fear of being gunned down in a place of worship, at a parade, or on a street corner."

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