Illinois Supreme Court Ruling Could Help Defeat California’s “Assault Weapon” Law

On April 6, 2012, the Illinois Supreme Court reinstated a lawsuit challenging Cook County’s so-called “assault weapon” ordinance. In the case of Wilson v. Cook County, gun rights advocates challenged an ordinance modeled after California’s ill-conceived “assault weapon” laws that ban the manufacture sale and possession of certain commonly owned and widely used semi-automatic firearms.

The ruling gives California gun owners some hope that hunters and recreational shooters will finally be free from the ineffective and unjust “assault weapon” laws that have created such confusion among gun owners, police, and prosecutors.

Various plaintiffs, including the NRA’s state affiliate the Illinois State Rifle Association, brought this lawsuit challenging the broad “assault-weapon” ordinance on the grounds that it violates the Second Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause, and is unconstitutionally vague.  The NRA supported the Wilson case and helped to coordinate an amicus briefing campaign in support of plaintiffs.  Not only did NRA file an amicus brief, but so did the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the Commonwealth Second Amendment, the Illinois Conservation Police Lodge, certain Illinois legislators, and the Illinois Firearms Manufacturers Association.

The trial court had dismissed the lawsuit entirely, and the trial court’s adverse decision was upheld by the appellate court because the ordinance was supposedly similar to semi-automatic firearm bans that had been upheld in other jurisdictions.  But of the three “similar” cases cited, two relied on self-serving and unsubstantiated “facts” provided in legislative findings based on the biased or false testimony of anti-gun legislators and gun-ban lobbyists.  The third case was inapplicable as precedent because it involved a challenge to federal regulation of fully automatic machine guns, rather than semi-automatic firearms.

Recognizing the flaws in the lower courts’ decisions, the Illinois Supreme Court reversed as to the plaintiffs’ Second Amendment claim. The court did not strike down the challenged ordinance, however. Rather, it held that a critical evidentiary question remained unanswered: whether the firearms banned by the ordinance as “assault weapons” are “in common use” and “typically possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes.”  These are the standards that the U.S. Supreme Court suggested in the Heller case for determining whether a particular firearm falls under the Second Amendment’s protections.  Because the Illinois Supreme Court couldn’t say, based on the evidence in the record, whether the semi-automatic sporting firearms banned by the Cook County law “categorically fall outside the scope of the rights protected by the [Second Amendment],” it sent the case back to the trial court for more fact-finding on that question.

Obtaining a favorable decision from the trial court now depends on plaintiffs providing evidence establishing that the firearms condemned as “assault weapons” under the ordinance are indeed “in common use” for lawful purposes.  On that issue, the numbers are overwhelmingly in plaintiffs’ (and gun rights supporters’) favor.  Based on production statistics published by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, about 3.1 million AR-15 rifles have been made just since 1986, and AR-15s alone made up 4.3 percent of all firearms and 13.3 percent of all rifles sold in the U.S. from 2007 to 2010. The AR-15, of course, is just one of the many firearms banned in Cook County. These figures go to show that Cook County hasn’t just banned “common” guns; it has banned the most popular rifles of our time, used by countless law-abiding Americans for every kind of lawful purpose.

This is potentially a huge victory for the Second Amendment.  A favorable decision in Wilson could create a legal precedent for challenging similar bans on common semi-automatic firearms.  NRA and the California Rifle and Pistol Association Foundation have filed several challenges to the California “assault weapons” ban over the years, and have succeeded in narrowing the scope of the law in the process.  A new NRA / CRPA Foundation Second Amendment challenge to California’s law has been in the works for some time and is forthcoming. It will be filed as soon as the time is right.  For now, we will be focusing on helping the plaintiffs in Wilson present the evidence they need to prevail.

You can help with these current and future efforts by donating to the NRA or CRPAF.


Seventeen years ago the NRA and CRPA joined forces to fight local gun bans being written and pushed in California by the gun ban lobby. Their coordinated efforts became the NRA / CRPA “Local Ordinance Project” (LOP) – a statewide campaign to fight ill conceived local efforts at gun control and educate politicians about available programs that are effective in reducing accidents and violence without infringing on the rights of law-abiding gun owners.  The NRA / CRPA LOP has had tremendous success in beating back most of these anti-self-defense proposals.

In addition to fighting local gun bans, for decades the NRA has been litigating dozens of cases in California courts to promote the right to self-defense and the Second Amendment.  In the post Heller and McDonald legal environment, NRA and CRPA Foundation have formed the NRA / CRPA Foundation Legal Action Project (LAP), a joint venture to pro-actively strike down ill-conceived gun control laws and ordinances and advance the rights of firearms owners, specifically in California.  Sometimes, success is more likely when LAP’s litigation efforts are kept low profile, so the details of every lawsuit are not always released.  To see a partial list of the LAP’s recent accomplishments, or to contribute to the NRA or to the NRA /CRPAF LAP and support this and similar Second Amendment cases, visit and  All donations made to the CRPA Foundation will directly support litigation efforts to advance the rights of California gun owners.

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