File Photo – Village of Deerfield

The Illinois Supreme Court, in a split ruling, upheld the Village of Deerfield’s ordinance banning assault weapons, which allows fines of $250-$1,000 a day for violators.

In 2013, the Deerfield Village Board passed an ordinance that regulated assault weapons and created certain measures that had to be taken when transporting or storing them.

In 2018, the Deerfield Village Board amended the 2013 ordinance to prohibit the possession, sale and manufacturing of certain types of assault weapons and large-capacity magazines.

The ordinance allowed the village to fine violators $250-$1,000 a day.

A lawsuit was filed by plaintiffs Daniel Easterday, the Illinois State Rifle Association, Second Amendment Foundation Inc., Guns Save Lifes, Inc. and John Wombacher.

The suit challenged Deerfield’s authority and said they violated state law that forbids municipalities from enacting new assault weapon regulations after July 20, 2013.

Deerfield argued that the ban was simply an amendment to the town’s existing regulations on storing and transporting the guns and not a new amendment.

In March 2019, a Lake County judge ruled that Deerfield created a new law rather than amending it, and the ordinance could not be enforced.

Last December, the Illinois Appellate Court reversed the ruling and agreed that the Illinois State Legislature allowed for home rule units, like Deerfield, to regulate assault weapons, including complete bans if they followed the correct statutory process.

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The appellate court also found that Deerfield acted lawfully by enacting a regulation within the 10-day period following the adoption of the state law and then later amending it.

The case was ultimately appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court and oral arguments were heard in September.

David G. Sigale and Brian Wesley Barnes were the attorneys for the opposing side and Christopher Brennan Wilson was the attorney representing the Village of Deerfield.

When asked about ownership versus possession, Barnes argued that although the 2018 ordinance did not explicitly ban ownership of assault weapons, the strict prohibition of assault weapons amounted to a ban in ownership of them.

He also argued that Deerfield should have enacted the amendment within the 10-day window in 2013 rather than in 2018.

Wilson argued that the amendment was not a new law and that the amendment in 2018 was simply tightening the current regulations.

He also argued that there were no limits on the ownership of assault weapons; rather, residents must store and use the weapons outside of village limits.

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“There’s no limitation on ownership. Anyone within Deerfield can own an assault weapon. They just need to store it somewhere else,” Wilson said.

“You’re not allowed to use an assault weapon within the village limits. So this is just saying if you’re going to go hunting with an assault weapon, if you’re going to go target shooting with an assault weapon, that needs to be stored outside the village limits,” he added.

Throughout their oral arguments, judges asked whether the amendment was too radical to be an amendment and if the amendment was a new law or repeal.

Sigale argued Deerfield’s 2018 amendment was a repeal of the 2013 ordinance, citing past court cases and Deerfield’s own municipal code.

“Yet one day you have a regulation where you could park your truck and then the next day you have a regulation banning trucks altogether. Are you going to really say the second one is an amendment of the parking code?” Sigale said.

Chief Justice Anne Burke said in September the case, Guns Save Life, Inc. v. The Village of Deerfield, would be taken under advisement.

On Thursday, the Illinois Supreme Court said Justice Michael J. Burke recused himself in the case and the remaining members of the court were divided in a 3-3 split.

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“It is not possible to secure the constitutionally required concurrence of four judges for a decision,” the court said in their ruling.

The appeal was dismissed, which the court said was the same as an affirmance by an equally divided court.

“We have been confident all along that the Deerfield ordinance would be upheld by the Courts. The Second District Appellate Court decision entered last December provided a strong affirmation of our ordinance. We are pleased that the Second District opinion will stand, and that our ordinance has been validated,” said Village Attorney Steven Elrod.

The village said they will continue to enforce the ordinance in a “manner consistent with other local ordinances.”

It will initially be enforced primarily through education and voluntary compliance. A police officer may issue a citation for the violation.

“Any other enforcement of this ordinance, including search or seizure to affect this ordinance, must comply with the requirements of State and Federal law. The Village does not intend to have members of the Police Department go ‘door to door’ to ensure compliance,” the village said in a statement.