Without a majority decision from the Illinois Supreme Court, the possession of specific types of “assault weapons” will remain illegal in north suburban Deerfield.
The Illinois Supreme Court issued an unsigned one-paragraph opinion Thursday dismissing the appeal filed by a Deerfield resident and two gun rights groups that challenged the village’s ordinance banning a specific list of firearms and high-capacity magazines. The village first passed the ban more than three years ago.
After Justice Michael J. Burke recused himself from participating in the decision, the court wrote in its opinion the remaining six justices were deadlocked 3-3 and therefore there was no majority to rule on the case.
“The remaining members of the court are divided so that it is not possible to secure the constitutionally required concurrence of four judges for a decision,” the court wrote. “Accordingly, the appeal is dismissed.”
As a result of the deadlocked Supreme Court, the decision of the Illinois Appellate Court, which ruled the weapon ban was legal, remains in effect as the final word.
“The effect of this dismissal is the same as an affirmance by an equally divided court of the decision under review,” the court wrote.
Though no reason was given for Burke’s recusal, he was a member of the Illinois Appellate Court’s Second District panel when an initial appeal from Lake County court was made.
One of the central arguments in the case was whether Deerfield’s 2018 restrictions should be considered an amended law or a new law.
When the Illinois General Assembly passed legislation in 2013 allowing state residents to carry concealed firearms, the law included a provision that allowed home rule municipalities like Deerfield to regulate assault weapons within a 10-day window or lose the opportunity to do so.
Acting within the 10 day time limit, the Deerfield Village Board of Trustees enacted an ordinance regulating the storage and transportation of the specified list of guns but did not prohibit ownership or possession of the guns.
Then in 2018, after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, Deerfield officials moved to amend their ordinance to ban certain firearms.
In the 2018 amended ordinance, Deerfield’s definition of an assault weapon includes, among others, semi-automatic rifles that have a fixed magazine with a capacity to accept more than 10 rounds of ammunition; shotguns with a revolving cylinder; and semi-automatic pistols and rifles that can accept large-capacity magazines and possess one of a list of other features. Among the dozens of specific models cited are the AR-15, AK-47 and Uzi, according to the ordinance.
Those challenging the ban claimed the prohibition was a new law altogether and not an amendment to the 2013 law.
A lawsuit was quickly filed by Deerfield resident Daniel Easterday, the Illinois State Rifle Association and the Second Amendment Foundation Inc.
The Circuit Court of Lake County ruled Deerfield did not amend its original ordinance but instead created a new one. Then, that decision was reversed by an Illinois Appellate Court decision that said the village was within its rights. The plaintiffs then appealed to the state Supreme Court.
Despite the way the court came to its decision, Deerfield Mayor Dan Shapiro was happy with the outcome.
“We are pleased the Supreme Court validated our right to regulate this important public safety measure,” Shapiro said in a news release. “I continue to believe that these weapons have no place in our community.”
Brian Barnes, an attorney for Easterday and the gun rights groups, declined to comment on the decision.
Steven Elrod, Deerfield’s village attorney, said the case was not only about gun control but Deerfield’s rights as a home rule municipality.
“I am very pleased with the outcome. It affirms Deerfield acted properly in every step of the process,” Elrod said. “I felt the trial court got it wrong. This is a clear victory for Deerfield and home rule municipalities.”
Former Deerfield Mayor Harriet Rosenthal, who was in office when both the initial regulatory ordinance was passed and the then amended five years later, was also pleased with the outcome. She initiated and championed both pieces of legislation.
“I am delighted,” Rosenthal said. “I feel as if the court understood the issue and ruled properly. We knew from the start what we did by amending the ordinance was what Illinois law allowed us to do”
Elrod said he believes nine briefs filed with the Supreme Court by seven municipalities, Cook County and the Illinois Attorney General’s office influenced the judges. Among the towns supporting Deerfield were Chicago, Highland Park, Highwood, North Chicago and Skokie.
“I believe those briefs were very influential,” Elrod said