Court says state gun law invalid

Court says state gun law invalid

The state's highest court has sent an unmistakable message to police and prosecutors about enforcement of gun laws.

The Illinois Supreme Court last week struck another blow for gun-rights enthusiasts when it affirmed the right of licensed gun owners to carry firearms.

The high court struck down as unconstitutional — in violation of the U.S. Constitution's Second Amendment — a state law that prohibits people from carrying a weapon outside their homes. The ruling, which applies only to those who have a Firearm Owner's Identification card, follows an earlier decision by Chicago's U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals that found the state's ban on concealed carry to be unconstitutional.

The federal court decision led the Illinois General Assembly to pass legislation earlier this year that established rules surrounding concealed carry, a process that is in the implementation stage.

The significance of the Illinois Supreme Court ruling is that it appears to legalize concealed carry for licensed gun owners now, although it will not necessarily prevent individual police agencies from making arrests and individual prosecutors from filing charges.

A person charged under the statute would have to wait until making a court appearance to invoke an affirmative defense of the law's unconstitutionality. A Cook County judge recently dismissed an unlawful use of weapons charge that she had refused to dismiss earlier, citing the Illinois Supreme Court decision as the reason.

Richard Pearson, the executive director of the Illinois State Rifle Association, said the jurisdictional inconsistencies surrounding enforcement of the unlawful use of weapons statute are the reason he's advising people to wait until Illinois' concealed carry law is fully implemented before they arm themselves.

"If you're in parts of downstate Illinois, you're fine. If you're in Cook County, I wouldn't (carry)," he said. "A person can get in a real (legal) quagmire. ... It might cost you $10,000 (in legal fees) to prove you're right."

The Illinois Supreme Court's unanimous decision, which was written by Justice Robert Thomas, cites the arguments of previous federal decisions that affirmed the right of individuals to possess and carry a weapon for purposes of self-defense, calling it "the central component" of the right to keep and bear arms. Considered in that context, the Illinois Supreme Court said the state's ban on concealed carry for licensed gun owners is unconstitutional on its face.

There is no doubt that some police agencies and some prosecutors throughout Illinois vehemently oppose the entire concept of concealed carry. That's a defensible position to take in a debate on policy. Unfortunately for them, the policy debate is over. The courts at the highest level have ruled, and the General Assembly has acted.

It makes little sense for these entities to make arrests and continue to file unlawful use of weapons charges against licensed gun owners under the current circumstances.

As a legal matter, it's indefensible. How can a prosecutor argue against dismissal in the face of the recent state supreme court decision that the unlawful use of weapons statute is unconstitutional?

In that context, to charge licensed firearm owners with unlawful use of weapons seems to be little more than a vendetta against gun owners.

Cook County is one jurisdiction that has indicated it will continue to pursue that ill-advised course. Prosecutors in Illinois' other 101 counties should consider the legal reality and act accordingly. There is nothing to be gained by wasting resources to harass law-abiding citizens.

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