SCOTUS rejects cases challenging Illinois sporting-rifle ban, for now

The U.S. Supreme Court announced July 2 that it would not review challenges to Illinois' new law that makes it a felony to possess what the state brands as "assault weapons," a term that is defined to include AR-15s.

Petitioners had sought a preliminary injunction against the law's enforcement, arguing that it violates their Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.

The Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit had rejected their request for the injunction, concluding that AR-15s are not protected by the Second Amendment.

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The high court denied petitions to hear six separate cases on the ban because the lower court had not yet issued a final judgment.

Justice Clarence Thomas issued a statement on the rejection and noted the Seventh Circuit's assertion. See Harrel v. Raoul.

"According to the Seventh Circuit, the rifle selected by millions of Americans for self-defense and other lawful purposes does not even fall within the scope of the Arms referred to by the Second Amendment. This Court is rightly wary of taking cases in an interlocutory posture. But, I hope we will consider the important issues presented by these petitions after the cases reach final judgment. We have never squarely addressed what types of weapons are 'Arms' protected by the Second Amendment. To be sure, we explained in District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U. S. 570 (2008), that the Second Amendment’s protection “extends, prima facie, to all instruments that constitute bearable arms, even those that were not in existence at the time of the founding.”

Thomas continued:

"The Seventh Circuit’s decision illustrates why this Court must provide more guidance on which weapons the Second Amendment covers. … In my view, Illinois’ ban is 'highly suspect because it broadly prohibits common semiautomatic firearms used for lawful purposes.' It is difficult to see how the Seventh Circuit could have concluded that the most widely owned semiautomatic rifles are not 'Arms' protected by the Second Amendment. …

But, if the Seventh Circuit ultimately allows Illinois to ban America’s most common civilian rifle, we can—and should—review that decision once the cases reach a final judgment. The Court must not permit 'the Seventh Circuit [to] relegat[e] the Second Amendment to a second-class right.'”

The Illinois law went into effect after a 2022 mass shooting at the Highland Park Fourth of July Parade.

Dean Rieck, Buckeye Firearms Association executive director, said he's disappointed but emphasized that the high court's refusal to hear the cases now doesn't mean it never will.

"Those of us who seek more clarity from the Supreme court on the Second Amendment are understandably impatient," Rieck said. "However, we also understand that to get well-reasoned opinions such as Heller and Bruen, a case must be ripe for a decision.

"Whether Americans have the right to own AR-15s and similar firearms, which are popular and in common use, is an essential question that will eventually be answered. We may just have to wait another year or two."

The challenge to Illinois’ ban on modern sporting rifles and standard-capacity magazines, also slugged Barnett v. Raoul and mentioned in the court's documents among the six cases, will now proceed to trial later this year in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois, according to NSSF.

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