DECATUR — A Macon County judge has declared that Illinois' semiautomatic weapons ban violates the state's constitution, a ruling that will likely set up a final showdown before the Illinois Supreme Court.
Judge Rodney Forbes' ruling came in response to a lawsuit filed by state Rep. Dan Caulkins, R-Decatur, and a group of area gun owners. Forbes had previously issued a temporary restraining order halting the state from enforcing the ban on the plaintiffs.
Forbes, in his ruling, said that the law was "facially unconstitutional," which would apparently strike down the law in its entirety pending a likely appeal.
Unlike temporary restraining orders that have been issued in a handful of state courts, which have only shielded named plaintiffs from the law's enforcement, this ruling appears to apply statewide.
Attorney Jerry Stocks, representing the plaintiffs, noted in a statement that the state is likely to appeal the decision. Forbes' ruling, he said, "represents a victory in one battle that is not, necessarily, the end of the war against the subject legislation."
Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Attorney General Kwame Raoul's offices did not immediately respond to requests for comment Friday afternoon.
The Legislature passed and Pritzker signed the legislation banning semiautomatic weapons and high-capacity magazines in January, and it took effect immediately. Illinois is the ninth state in the country to enact such a measure.
But a slew of legal challenges, including Caulkins', immediately followed. Cases in federal court argued that the ban violated the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.
Caulkins' lawsuit, however, alleged that the process by which the law was passed violated requirements from the Illinois Constitution that legislation get three public readings on three separate days in both houses, and that each bill be limited to a single subject. He also argued that the law violates the constitution's guarantee of equal protection under the law by exempting certain classes of people, such as corrections officers and retired police.
Forbes ruled in favor of Caulkins and his fellow plaintiffs on the latter subject, but in favor of Pritzker's administration on the former, citing appellate court rulings in both instances.
In a hearing last month, Stocks and Darren Kinkead, an attorney representing Pritzker and the attorney general, acknowledged that Forbes' hands were essentially tied by the higher court's ruling.
However, Kinkead asked that Forbes not extend protections from the order to the entire state — a request that the judge did not grant.
Raoul's office has appealed the initial appellate court ruling to the state Supreme Court, but it is not yet clear how they plan to respond to Forbes' ruling.
During a hearing early Friday afternoon, Forbes said he wanted to delay issuing a ruling until he had a chance to further review the case and said he would do so quickly, and to expect a ruling in "a couple of days."
But the ruling ultimately came in only two hours.
"I'm sure the (Illinois) attorney general is ready to file an appeal," Caulkins said, speaking after the hearing but before Forbes issued his decision.
Other plaintiffs in the case are Decatur Jewelry & Pawn owner Perry Lewin and those under the banner of "Law-Abiding Gun Owners of Macon County." A list provided to the court included about 2,000 names of people who are members of the association.
Though the three state court lawsuits filed by unsuccessful attorney general candidate Tom DeVore are similar in their arguments, Caulkins' lawsuit took a different approach to the process in forgoing the extensive discovery process in the former cases in favor of an expedited ruling that would get gun owners across the state out from under the law.
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