Illinois’ refusal to allow citizens the right to bear arms in public has been declared unconstitutional by the US Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in a 2-1 decision. Before you rush out and buy a holster, take a breath. This fight is far from over. So, what’s next?
First, let’s look at what was actually decided, and how that decision was reached. In a sentence, the ruling decision stated that Illinois’ law is so restrictive that it violates the Second Amendment as it has already been interpreted by the Supreme Court in a 2008 case which upheld “the right of law-abiding, responsible citizens to use arms in defense of hearth and home”. In an equally overly simplistic fashion, I’ll share this one sentence from Circuit Judge Williams’ dissenting opinion, “every criminal was once a law-abiding citizen”.
Reading the full text of the ruling, as well as that of the dissenting opinion is a fascinating walk through history. It’s interesting to see that the balance between public safety and personal protection has been a hotly contested issue for centuries. I’m heartened to see justices attempt to understand the true intent and meaning of the Second Amendment by examining the laws, precedents and cultural norms of the day in which this fundamental right was codified in our constitution. It is just a little surprising to see the 1689 English Bill of Rights referenced and quoted for applicability in this day and age.
I almost detected a note of humor, or at least exasperation in the sentence, “The parties and the amici curiae have treated us to hundreds of pages of argument, in nine briefs.” In short, both sides have used various interpretations of historical context, documents and decisions, as well as conflicting readings of numerous studies to bolster their case. I find it fascinating that each side will quote the same text and declare its meaning as the opposite of the other side’s argument. What is even more bizarre is how each side admits that there is no clear cut, incontrovertible proof for a host of ancillary issues many have assumed to be proven, or at least provable, fact.
Studies conducted about gun violence, gun ownership, crime rates and other various factors of this debate are as open to interpretation as is the Second Amendment itself. I found a quick perusal of some of the studies cited to be most interesting in their common conclusion, namely that there is no definitive answer to support fears of decreased gun violence with the passage of less restrictive laws anymore than there is verifiable proof of an increase in incidents of public endangerment due to allowing average citizens the right to bear arms outside of their homes.
So, what does this all mean at the end of the day? The Appellate Court ruling is a reversal of the lower courts, but the mandate is stayed for 180 days. During this time, the court is affording lawmakers the opportunity to rewrite the statute to accommodate the ruling. In other words, even though the law was deemed unconstitutional, it is still in effect for another six months. At the end of that time, if the legislature fails to rework the statute in such a way as to bring it in line with this ruling, the law will be struck down and taken off the books.
Even if the current law is rewritten to accommodate this ruling, it is almost certainly to be once again challenged. Which means more court cases, more time, more decisions and reversals. Eventually, someday, the Illinois Attorney General will almost certainly be facing the Supreme Court. So, unless you find a great sale or plan on moving to another state, hold off on that purchase of a holster and put your dreams of going about the cities and towns of Illinois with a .45 strapped to your hip on hold.
I strongly encourage everyone, wherever you fall within this debate to read the full ruling, if for no other reason than to see this contentious issue discussed in a rational manner. I don’t agree with many of the interpretations and even question the validity of many of the studies quoted and referenced; unless I know all the parameters of a study, I always take in its conclusions with a great big heaping dash of salt. Still, even though I disagree with much of the reasoning of the dissenting position, I appreciate reading a cogent argument, clearly elucidating the position, something all too often lacking in the public debates. For the very first time, I can see the validity of the argument. It hasn’t changed my mind, but at least I better understand the opposing stance.
Go here for the full ruling as well as the dissenting opinion: