January 11, 2013

Gun control laws face uncertain trajectory

Law School Professor and U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Richard A. Posner, in a 2–1 decision from the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, declared the Illinois state law banning concealed carry of firearms unconstitutional last month.

Posner, who has sat on the Seventh Circuit Court since 1981, penned the December 11 decision. “All that is clear is that an absolute ban on possessing a pistol is unconstitutional. The other restrictions a government might want to impose are up for grabs,” he wrote.

The ruling, which came three days before the elementary school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, gave the Illinois General Assembly 180 days to create their version of a new law. Meanwhile, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan has asked for the Seventh Circuit Court to reconsider its decision before a 10-judge panel.

Posner’s decision is considered a major victory for the National Rifle Association but has been contentious amongst lawmakers and legal experts. Illinois was the last holdout state in the nation to maintain a ban on concealed weapons.

Former Law School dean and current professor Geoffrey Stone, Posner’s colleague, said that gun control’s legal history has been one of ambiguity.

“It’s not a simple black-letter answer, unless of course that precise question is decided in a court,” he said in an interview. “What the Supreme Court did in [District of Columbia v.] Heller is guarantee individuals the right to purchase and possess a firearm, but it didn’t say the state can’t regulate what kind of firearm, it didn’t say the state can’t regulate who can own a firearm.”

However, he recognized the potential difficulty of passing gun control legislation in Illinois.

“I would suspect that statewide regulation of guns would be a real challenge in Illinois. I mean, it’s not Montana, but it’s also not D.C.,” he said. “I think it’ll be a tough sell to get state laws substantially regulating guns in Illinois.”

Governor Pat Quinn had previously threatened to veto policy allowing concealed carry, and a spokesperson for Rahm Emanuel said the mayor was “disappointed” with the ruling, according to an article published in the Chicago Tribune.