A Lake County Circuit Court judge ruled Friday that the village of Deerfield overstepped its authority last year when it enacted a ban on assault weapons five years after the Illinois legislature declared such regulations the exclusive power of the state.
Judge Luis Berrones issued a permanent injunction blocking the village from enforcing its ordinance.
In the ruling, Berrones wrote the plaintiff gun owners have “a clearly ascertainable right to not be subjected to a preempted and unenforceable ordinance” that prohibits possession of assault weapons, imposes financial penalties for keeping them and allows their property to be confiscated.
Deerfield officials said they are reviewing the ruling with their legal team and exploring options, including an appeal to the Illinois Appellate Court. In the meantime, they said, the village will abide by the ruling and not enforce its ban.
“This unprecedented interpretation of state legislative action and intent make this case ripe for appeal,” village officials said in a statement. “We continue to believe that these weapons have no place in our community and that our common-sense assault weapon regulations are legal and were properly enacted.”
Citing a spate of recent mass shootings with high death counts, Deerfield trustees voted in April 2018 to ban possession of certain firearms such as the AR-15, AK-47 and Uzi under their home rule authority to protect public health, safety, morals and welfare.
Local gun owners and gun-rights groups were quick to file lawsuits claiming the village had missed its opportunity to ban assault weapons in 2013.
The Illinois legislature had given municipalities until July 19 of that year to regulate assault weapons before a new Illinois Concealed Carry Act and an amended Firearm Owner’s Identification Card Act eliminated their ability to do so.
Deerfield officials said their 2018 ban was an amendment to an ordinance pertaining to assault weapons enacted within the permitted time frame. That ordinance defined assault weapons and required safe storage and transportation within the village
In his ruling, Berrones found Deerfield’s measure to be a new ordinance and therefore preempted by state statute.
“We are very gratified with the judge’s ruling and we are glad the court recognized the ordinances were unenforceable,” said David Sigale, an attorney for one of the plaintiffs.
In 2013, Illinois lawmakers were under order from the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to rewrite state gun laws after the federal appeals court found Illinois law prohibiting gun owners from carrying concealed weapons to be unconstitutional.
Under pressure from both sides of the gun debate, legislators made regulating assault weapons the exclusive power of the state but also allowed local regulations already on the books to stand.
In addition, Illinois lawmakers gave municipalities 10 days beyond the effective date of the new state laws to enact additional local regulations.
Municipalities that enacted regulations within the permitted time frame could later amend those ordinances, according to the state statute.
Deerfield Village Attorney Steven Elrod said Friday the judge found the construction of the state statute in 2013 to be confusing and internally conflicting.
“In one part, (the statute) says the state preempts home rule and is exclusively regulating assault weapons. In the second place, it says if a municipality has adopted or does adopt a regulation within a certain time period, it can concurrently regulate,” Elrod said. “The way in which this judge resolves the conflict is by essentially cutting out the second clause.”
The ruling, Elrod said, is more about “the judge’s perceived defects in the state statute than it is about anything the village of Deerfield may have done.”
“Very importantly and significantly, the issue on which this case turns is not a challenge or claim that was brought by any of the plaintiffs,” Elrod said. “The judge reached this conclusion and makes this argument on his own.”
One of the lawsuits was filed by Deerfield gun owner Daniel Easterday, the Illinois State Rifle Association and the Second Amendment Foundation.
A second legal challenge, filed by Deerfield gun owner John William Wombacher III and Guns Save Life, is backed by the National Rifle Association Institute for Legislative Action.
On Friday, the judge held off ruling on one count of the Guns Save Life lawsuit contending the village’s ordinance allowing confiscation of assault weapons represented an unconstitutional seizure of property.
A status hearing on that count is set for May 3.
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