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State Supreme Court rules on pair of gun cases

The Illinois Supreme Court building is pictured in Springfield.
Capitol News Illinois file photo
The Illinois Supreme Court building is pictured in Springfield.

In its latest round of opinions Thursday, the Illinois Supreme Court upheld a Village of Deerfield assault weapons ban and restored a Putnam County man’s right to a Firearm Owners Identification card over the objections of the Illinois State Police.

The decision in the Deerfield case was split 3-3, with Justice Michael Burke abstaining from the vote, meaning an appellate court’s ruling that allowed the ban was upheld as the final decision. Burke was part of the 2nd District Court of Appeals which heard the case previously.

The case centered around a narrow window written into a state’s amendment to the FOID Act in 2013, which allowed home rule municipalities to adopt stricter gun laws if they passed an ordinance within 10 days of the law’s effective date, July 9, 2013.

Deerfield did so within the law’s parameters, but the court was asked to decide whether the village’s 2018 amendment to its ordinance that banned civilian use of assault weapons and large capacity magazines was an extension of the 2013 action or a new law altogether.

In 2019, a Lake County judge ruled in favor of gun rights groups and Deerfield resident Daniel Easterday, who sued to block the ordinance and claimed it was in violation of the state’s FOID and concealed carry laws.

But the 2nd District Appellate Court later overturned that decision, ruling that the 2013 FOID amendment created “a hybrid balance of regulatory power between the state and local governments,” and “Deerfield preserved its power to regulate assault weapons concurrently with the state when it enacted its 2013 ordinance.”

While the Supreme Court agreed to hear the appeal, the 3-3 deadlock means the appellate court decision remains in effect.

Gun rights are civil rights

A 2020 ruling by the Illinois Supreme Court which declared gun rights to be civil rights was key to a Thursday decision which restored Putnam County man Thomas Brown’s right to a FOID card.

Brown was a FOID cardholder for several years, most recently applying for and being granted renewal in 2013. But in 2016, he tried to purchase a gun at a federal firearm licensee, leading the Illinois State Police to conduct a background check. That unearthed a 2001 conviction in California on a “misdemeanor offense of inflicting corporal injury on a spouse” that he did not disclose on his FOID application, according to a court filing.

California law provides that after a period of 10 years a person convicted of a misdemeanor can no longer be penalized for gun possession. Brown’s lawyers argued that because Brown was eligible to own a gun in California after 10 years, that means he had his “civil rights restored,” satisfying a specific exemption in federal law that allows for his gun ownership.

The court agreed, stating that “California law does not apply to Brown in a vacuum,” and he does not have to show an “affirmative statement of restoration” from the state of California in order to show that he had his civil rights restored.

The court dismissed ISP’s argument that that Brown should have sought a pardon from the California governor to receive an affirmative statement of restoration, stating Brown would have needed a pardon only if the firearm ownership prohibition was still in effect in California.

The fact that California does not consider gun ownership a civil right did not matter in this case, because, the court wrote, “this court unanimously concluded (in the 2020 Johnson case) that restoration of firearm rights under the FOID Card Act constitutes ‘civil rights restored’ for purposes of federal law”

It was necessary for Brown to show that he satisfied that exception in federal law, because the state’s FOID Act specifically states that granting relief to a person who is appealing their denial cannot be done in violation of federal law.

Outside of that question, the Supreme Court determined that the Putnam County court did not abuse its discretion in determining that Brown met all the other criteria to have his gun rights restored.

The Supreme Court noted it had to rule only on whether the circuit court abused its discretion in determining whether Brown met the criteria, which also state that an applicant must not be dangerous and that granting them a FOID card cannot be against the public interest.

“Again, our sole task is to determine whether the trial court’s decision was arbitrary, fanciful, or one that no reasonable person would make,” the court wrote. “Not only was the trial court’s decision not arbitrary, fanciful, or one that no reasonable person would make, it was well supported by the evidence.”

ISP had argued that granting Brown a FOID card would be against the public interest, citing his 2001 arrest, a 2005 DUI conviction in Bureau County, a 2005 arrest for battery in LaSalle County that did not lead to criminal charges, and a 1997 conviction for misdemeanor assault that occurred when he was a minor.

But the Supreme Court determined none of those cases indicated he would be a danger, particularly in light of a letter from Brown’s ex-wife, the victim of the 2001 incident, which indicated “that no weapon was involved in the incident, she was not injured, nor did she believe that Brown intended to injure her.”

The fact that Brown omitted the 2001 conviction from his 2013 FOID application could be overlooked as well, according to the court, because he was “under the impression that the charge in California was disposed of with court supervision and that, if he completed his sentence without incident, that was the last he would hear of the matter.”

Jerry Nowicki is bureau chief of Capitol News Illinois and has been with the organization since its inception in 2019.