Guns in Illinois: State of Play



In the case of Moore v. Madigan, a three judge panel of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled unconstitutional the Illinois gun law which prohibits ordinary citizens from carrying firearms in public. The panel reasoned that the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution allows citizens to carry a firearm in public for self defense, and thus, enjoined the State of Illinois from enforcing the current Illinois gun law. Although the panel made its decision on December 11, 2012, it delayed enforcement until June 9, 2013 for the Illinois State Legislature to draft a new gun law that allows for reasonable restrictions.  The right to carry a firearm in public is not absolute – the State of Illinois and other municipalities can pass laws that place reasonable restrictions on who can own a firearm and at what places firearms are allowed.
So what are reasonable restrictions? The panel noted that obvious restrictions, such as not allowing the mentally ill and felons to carry guns, would be reasonable. Generally, if the restrictions further an important government interest by means that are substantially related to that interest, they will be held constitutional.  Lawyers call this standard of judicial review as “intermediate scrutiny.”  In practical terms,  if the Illinois State Legislature or municipality is able to demonstrate a legitimate reason for the given restriction, it will likely be upheld by the Courts. 
The Illinois Attorney General, Lisa Madigan, was unsatisfied with the decision of the three judge panel so her office requested that the full 7th Circuit Court of Appeals to hear the case.  Lisa Madigan basically appealed the decision of the three judge panel.  On February 22. 2013, the request was denied.  The majority of the judges of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals were comfortable with the constitutionality of the three judge panel decision. The Attorney General can now appeal the decision to the United States Supreme Court, or in the alternative, start working with the State legislature to craft a new gun law with reasonable restrictions.  The Attorney General has no other options. The Seventh Circuit has jurisdiction over Wisconsin, Indiana and Illinois. 

The decision denying rehearing before the full Court provided no reason for the denial. However, interestingly enough, the “denial” provided a dissenting 7 page opinion  signed by the judges who wanted to hear the case. The dissenting opinion, relying on recent and widely accepted federal cases, including the landmark cases of District of Columbia v. Heller and McDonald v. City of Chicago,  largely laid out what may constitute reasonable restrictions that the Illinois Legislature may enact.  


The dissenting opinion is written almost as an instructional guide as the Justices anticipate that it will be read very carefully by the Illinois State Legislature. The  Justices seem to be aware of the danger of not providing enough guidance to the Illinois State Legislature in crafting the new gun law. As it stands now, come June  9, 2013, everyone in Illinois will be able to a carry a firearm in public if the Illinois State Legislature does not act. 

Although the dissenting opinion is not binding on state or federal courts, a close reading of the opinion suggests that the following restrictions and/or requirements would be valid at a minimum:
(1) restrictions in sensitive places, such as schools and government buildings;
(2) restrictions in courthouses, other government buildings, public universities,
   public libraries, hospitals, medical offices, public parks and forests, churches  
and other places of worship, banks, shopping centers, public transportation
   facilities and vehicles, and venues for sporting events, concerts, and other
   entertainment;
(3) restrictions in privately owned bars, nightclubs, and restaurants;
(4) restrictions in other private property;
(5) restrictions pertaining to felons, the mentally ill, minors;
(6) applicants may have to prove “proper cause” to carry a firearm;
(7) restrictions as other certain criminal convictions;
                       (8) requirements for firearms training and proficiency, including
     safe and responsible handling and use;
(9) restrictions on what types of guns can be carried;
(10) restrictions are whether firearms can be carried openly or concealed;
(11) restrictions at places of employment;
(12) other reasonable restrictions; and
(13) setting of reasonable qualifications for gun ownership.   
What appeared to be a landmark ruling in Moore v. Madigan, will still make it very difficult for anyone to carry a gun if the municipality that person lives in is not pro guns rights. I am confident that the Illinois State Legislature will craft a new law that will make it difficult for anyone to carry a gun in public. As the dissenting opinion stated: “the panel’s holding that the current Illinois laws are too restrictive leaves room for many reasonable steps to protect public safety.”

The gun debate in the Illinois State Capitol is heavily influenced by the record levels of gun violence in Chicago.  Most people understand that Chicago is the economic engine of the State and the murder rate is threatening the social fabric of its society. Such crime stifles economic development and investment in the City directly affecting the rest of the State’s economy.  This is a problem that must be solved.  With 515 murders last year in Chicago, an outsider looking in may consider the violence as some form of sectarian war occurring on the streets of the City. The 515 count is people who actually died; who knows how many more were wounded or unaccounted for in 2012?  This year is no different. 
Under the new law, municipalities will have the power, as they do now, to add further restrictions to the gun law. In places like Chicago, I would assume that almost all public and private entities will ban weapons – the same may not be true in some southern counties.  I can see signs being posted this summer in Chicago’s restaurants, cafes,  shops, malls, etc., advising that guns are prohibited on the premises.

The rules will vary from city to city, county to county and state to state – as they do now.  The law will probably have heavy criminal penalties if violated.  The legal uncertainty will likely discourage law abiding citizens from carrying guns lawfully and may expose many of them to criminal prosecution if they fail to adhere to all the requirements.  The rules will be so varied, as they are now, that every gun owner will be on notice  to “travel at your own risk.” As for criminals, this will do nothing to deter their conduct. 
Judge Posner, who wrote the decision of the three panel judge, brilliantly recognized our right to carry weapons for self-defense. However, he allowed for so many possible restrictions, that it will make difficult for law abiding citizens to carry a firearm in public.
For more information, email John Ioakimidis at  jioakimidis@thelegaldefenders.com, or call 312-593-1765 or 
1-800-228-7295.