Legal Issues

The Next Heller Case? Wilson v. Cook County Goes to Trial

Illinois Supreme Court Justices

Gun advocates in states that still have assault weapons bans have been wondering when some brave soul will sue to overturn those laws. Under the landmark DC vs. Heller case, the Second Amendment was interpreted as protecting an individual right to keep and bear arms in common use, subject to reasonable restrictions. Now, solo practitioner Victor Quilici and a small but dedicated legal team have a good test case in Illinois. The Illinois Supreme Court just ruled earlier this month that Wilson v. Cook County will go to trial.

Illinois Supreme Court Justices
These men and women will likely decide the fate of Wilson v. Cook County.

The Case

Theoretically, the case is simple. There are three plaintiffs suing the state of Illinois. Matthew D. Wilson, Troy Edhlund, and Joseph Messineo are three guys you’ve probably never heard of. Take note of their names. They are the ones with the guts to take on the entrenched political machine that is the Illinois court system. Their case is simple in theory. They argue that the Cook County assault weapons ban violates the Second Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America. The Cook County Commissioners originally enacted the ban in 1993 after a Finding of Public Health and Welfare Concern, and amended it in 2006 after the expiration of the federal assault weapons ban. Among other things, it bans 60 firearms by name, bans magazines holding over 10 rounds, and bans assault ammunition, whatever that is. It also imposes a characteristic-based test for whether a firearm is legal or not based on whether the gun has certain cosmetic features such as folding stocks and flash hiders. The three plaintiffs are all law-abiding gun owners with valid Illinois FOID cards and clean criminal records, suing for the future ability to own firearms that now violate the Cook county ordinance. They are not bad guys caught with illegal guns trying to use the Second Amendment to stay out of jail.

The Appeal

The lower courts threw out the Wilson case before it even got to trial.  They wrote that because there were other rulings in other states upholding similar bans, there was no way that the plaintiffs’ argument could win in Cook County either. They didn’t want the case to see a full hearing on the record. The Wilson legal team argued that these rulings really meant, “We can violate your rights as long as other places violate them the same way,” and they refused to give up. They argued all the way up the legal food chain to the Illinois Supreme Court. Once there, another legal case based on Heller helped them out. In 2010, that same Illinois Supreme Court had ruled that the Second Amendment rights as decided in Heller extended to all the states. The McDonald v. Chicago ruling overturned Chicago’s longstanding handgun ban. Arguments for the Wilson case stood on the shoulders of Heller and McDonald. On April 6, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that Wilson v. Cook County should go back to the beginning and be granted a full and fair trial in front of the original circuit court.

The Risk

Going forward with Wilson carries a great deal of risk. It’s like a championship boxing match with 12 rounds, and our side just finished real strong as the bell rang to end round three. The venue could not possibly be more hostile. The trial will occur in front of the same court that already threw out the case once before, saying it stood no chance to win. Expect a loss at the circuit court level, and another loss in the appeals courts, before the main event finishes in front of the Illinois Supreme Court one more time. Someone is going to get knocked clean out of the ring when the final ruling is made, and it could be us. A well-reasoned ruling that assault weapons bans are “reasonable restrictions” under Heller would create a powerful precedent. Anti-gun lawyers and courts would use that precedent to justify a wide variety of gun control measures, possibly for years to come. A Wilson loss at the Illinois Supreme Court level could even undermine the weight of the Heller and McDonald decisions.

The Reward

The Wilson plaintiffs and their hard-working attorneys believe that the potential rewards of a win outweigh the risks of a loss. A final ruling overturning the Illinois assault weapons ban as unconstitutional under the Second Amendment would have a cascading effect on other ban states. Lawyers in California, New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, and other states would attack those states’ gun control schemes using Wilson as their platform. Potentially, a domino effect could occur in the coming years as assault weapons bans around the country fall one by one to 2nd Amendment attacks piling up on top of each other.

As Second Amendment advocates, we should all be interested in the progress of Wilson v. Cook County as it goes to trial and then through the appeals system. Citizens living in states with restrictive bans on firearms based on ammo capacity and cosmetic features should be especially interested. What happens to Illinois after Wilson is likely to happen in their state next–either way.

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Comments (27)

  1. Another insane attempt by lawyers to buy/sale/give-away our gun rights. Gun owners need to stay OUT of court. The courts are NOT your friend. 4 out of 5 lawsuits are brought in court by gun owning plaintiffs. This is insane. Gun owners will do well to realized – Courts are NOT your friend. Get out and stay out of court. I’m tired of you greedy lawyers giving my gun rights away in gun hating, government courts.

    1. Although many lawyers are not our friends, it is the politicians who truly are our enemies. Whether gun owners sue or not, politicians will keep taking bites out of our rights. All that will happen if we follow your advice is that we will allow any and every stupid law to stand. There will be nothing left far faster than if we win some on the way.

  2. I used to spend the summer on Chicago’s south side. Our young people are going crazy there. My 96yr. Mother’s house got her front storm door window blown out due to a drive by (huge turf war going on), along with a neighbors huge picture window. He’s 85. We had moved moms out of their weeks before it happened. She passed away on Dec. 11th 2012, and we never told her. Just happy she wasn’t still living there. I took it upon myself to stop the insanity on her block. That’s all I’ll say, but it got real quiet for most of my remaining stay. The really sad thing is that there are 2 Chicago police officers living on her street! One guy I have’t only seen 3 times in all my travels back to see moms. The other is a female officer on maturnity leave. She lived next door to one of the houses that was the main problem on that block! I did have my kevlar level iiia vest with me that i wore most times, even in the 90 degree heat. Truth be told, mayor Emanual should be handing out ar-15 long guns, pistols, @ the airport for law abiding citizens if the are going to the south side of Chicago. Of course this is an anemic attempt @ levity to address a serious problem. It’s really not funny. I’m glad I’m out of there and back in another state/city, that isn’t much better.

    1. I left Detroit nearly 4 years ago and have never looked back. I wish those folks well, but suspect nothing but a long hard road ahead of them.

      When I went from North Carolina to Minnesota this past summer, I detoured around Illinois although traveling through Chicago would have saved time and fuel. I spent my money elsewhere.

  3. One thing we forget in this whole argument. Every government all the time tries to get more control over the people. Armed people will be able to offer resistance if it crosses the level of tyranny. Therefore, first thing the goverment will attempt to do is to gradually disarm people. As you understand rifle is more suitable in combat with tyranny, handgun is not suitabe at all. That is why they go after rifles first. Don’t think they will listen to sane argument or statistics. They have proven they will not, because they have absolutely different agenda. If you think what I’m saying is wrong, try to find different _logical_ explanation of what you know about anti-right politicians.

  4. What is forgotten is that it is not the weapon that causes the trouble it is the man behind it!!!! I own and hunt with my AR-15 for deer,groundhog, wolves, coyote, and other legal game. I have not abused my right why should I be penalized for the other guys fault. Our second amendment right to keep and bear arms is a god given right to every American Citizen!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I served in the military to defend our Constitution and everyday feel we are losing more and more of our rights!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Why do the American people have to suffer for the few that cause trouble! Again I state not the weapon but the person behind it that kills!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Our Right to Keep and Bear Arms dose not state what type of arms (weapons) we are allowed to poses, why should any one else try to change it to their liking just so they can oppress our rights even more!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  5. I believe that the Federal Constitution prohibits any form of firearms control for law-abiding citizens. Hopefully, the courts will comprehend the literal meaning of the Bill of Rights, and rule accordingly. The most serious firearm muli-fatality occurrences have taken place in so-called “gun free zones.” This says a lot.

  6. If anyone wants to follow the “Wilson case” you will find it on the Illinois State Rifle Association website (www.iara.org). The Illinois State Rifle Association(ISRA) been one of the leading organizations inn the country fighting for gun rights through the court system. The ISRA is the organization on the ground in these cases. We could use your help if you would like to join we would welcome you.
    On the ISRA website look down the left side and click on “Other Litigation” and you will find it there along with several other cases we are involved in most notably “Shepard v Madigan.
    Richard A. Pearson
    Executive Director
    Illinois State Rifle Assocaition

  7. Robert – and everyone else on this blog: get hold of the book, More Guns, Less Crime by John Lott and make sure it is his latest edition, and look at the statistics posted there. That will answer most of the questions posed here. He did research on every county in the US and has statistics that will blow your mind. We recommended it to our police chief and he liked it! Fight for your rights and have the power of proof to back you up through this book.

  8. @ Robert Garrard. I believe what you were talking about in Richmond may have been Project Exile where the use of a handgun would result in a federal prosecution with a minimum sentence of 5 years in federal prison which has no parole/early release. They tried to import it here to Baltimore (Bodymore Murderland per “The Wire”) I’m not sure if it’s still in effect or if it affected anything. The murder rate in Baltimore doesn’t change much. Amazing for a state that only issues permits to a privileged few, that so many people are shot.

  9. I think you’re giving them WAY too much credit. If any serious study was done you can probably bet that it was slanted to and bought and paid for by anti gun groups.
    The downside of a real study would be that somehow us legal folks could be unduly attached to wrongdoing. eg, merely possessing some guns in some areas would brand us as criminals.
    Got another approach. Let’s hear from the Feds any stats that show how many crimes were verifiably committed with firearms, roughly (LMAO) what they were carrying, how many had to be neutralized by police, what was confiscated by police,and how many actions of private citizens with firearms stopped the crime. A finger in the pocket, or a cap pistol will not count! And importantly, what was their prior record, cases and time served. And any relationship that existed between the perpetrator and target. From some of the numbers I’ve heard, especially with homicides, in many, drugs and sales/purchases link these two. Sounds like the criminal, not the gun, should be put on the shelf.

  10. @ robert gerrard…..that’s an interesting notion/suggestion about the bullet signature study. the double blind study would be the way to go ! however what catagory would weapons that were stolen from legal shooters and having them reported to “law enfarcement” if these weapons were used in any criminal act ?

    i always get that from the individuals that tell me since i have a gun or guns legally, that they can still be stolen from me (as in a burlgary/break in my home (while i’m not there of course), there for i should’nt own a firearm for self defense, again because it can be stolen and used in the commision of a crime ? i’m always baffled by this argument and just walk away shaking my head because they either just don’t get it or i’m missing something myself ???? help me out here you crazy gun nuts :-/ wait i just answered my own question….part of your study would show what % of guns used in the act of committing a crime were the ones that were stolen from legal, law abiding citizens for self defense “training”, shooting sports, or recreational use ! i support your position robert. i have a feeling that some fo the federal agencies might have already done this or something similiar and won’t release the data maybe ????? of if they have relaease it, its on a NEED TO KNOW BASIS…just guessing here guys ?

  11. Just couldn’t hold back this one..when was the last time an armed criminal was equipped using a semi auto long gun with fixed bayonet, flash hider, silencer, hi cap mag, folding stock, pistol grip, and those other things that would make up a “nancy pelosi’ special? Beats Me?
    “FIX BAYONETS” you robbers! No!. The robbers are the ones that need to be FIXED.

  12. Wonder what it would be like for a decent college prof, proficient in statistics & interest in justice, to do a sample test on bullet signatures, half from legal shooters, donors in totally double blind sample, and half from guns actually used in ctime. Wonder how many out of 1,000’s would overlap? Wonder what percent of all firearms are EVER used in ANY crime? Say, 2 thousandeths of 1 %. Someone should tell (as if they already haven’t) elected officials and judges that one of the safest places in the world is……..a gun show……populated mostly by all us self-proclaimed ‘gun nuts.’
    See you at the next show. One of the safest places in the world.

  13. Ohio has a statute that adds 1-3 years to anyone possesing drgs and a gun. Even if the house is raided and a wepon is in the house.

  14. Nope, not a lawyer. Anyone familiar with gun laws in effect in Richmond, VA? I understand that about 10-15 years ago, Richmond had a bad wave of drug-related murders. The local DA and US Attorney got together and hammered out a proposal that was READILY acceptable to gun owners, citizens and importantly, elected officials. It passed. Not any slap on the wrist. Big Teeth. Mandatory 10 year prison term for drug dealing while in possession of firearms. Murder rates dropped sharply. Dealers were heard to say…”why, I wouldnt dare be caught with a firearm on me.” yes. Anyone who can bring the situation in Richmond up to date? Thanks. RG

  15. Anyone familiar with gun laws in effect in Ricchmond, VA? I understand that about 10-15 years ago, the local DA and US Attorney got together and hammered out a proposal that waS READILY

  16. @ TODD & ROBERT GARRARD…..TOD, WISH I LIVED WHERE YOU ARE ! HOWEVER I’M STUCK IN CALIFORNIA LIVING DOWN @ THE BEACH..lmao 🙂 robert my friend, good point, you sound like a lawyer ! i like that, and back to todd, you have some very valid points in terms of arguments to be presented. I JUST HOPE THE ATTORNEY IN MY HOME STATE OF ILLINOIS ARE READING THIS….yes i’m from chicago and have to go back soon on family business. not looking forward to that flight folks….as some of you know i have posted a few remarks about the leland lee in the cali state legislature his office # is, 916-651-4008…..he’s doing the same thing with the bullet button here…..no matter what our personal policatical views are, no mattter what are racial views are, lets all get behind this issue of self defense and having the right to have the type of weapon/gun we want with out some politician passing laws restricting out ability to defend ourselves or make any aspect of fire arms use an enjoyable & pleasurable experiance.

  17. Long term, the more legally licensed individuals, the more the case should be strengthened that minimal or no FIREARMS – related crime is committed by this group. May not help immediately in the states where legal gun ownership is harrassed by the government. But it would seem that a preponderance of evidence favorable to legal gun ownership would help in states and localities that may be ‘on the edge’ in approving or rejecting sensible gun laws.
    And as far as any prohibition against ownership or purchase of any number of guns by a legal, law abiding owner, it would seem that some other constitutional provisions and laws would have almost as much weight as the Second Amendment.

  18. The legality of the caliber of weapon and physical appearance need to be priorities established just as much as the total magazine capacity.
    Do states, cities and counties have any stats regarding ACTUAL FIREARMS USED TO COMMIT A CRIME, that could be used against their arguments as to what is regulated or prohibited?
    Moreover, do these entities have any records of the commission of crimes by properly licensed individuals versus convictions for illegal use of firearms by unlicensed individuals?

  19. Luckily I live where there are no assault weapon bans. I also live in a metro area that has it’s share of crime. With many friends in the law enforcement occupation, I have always inquired on if these were the types of guns being used to commit crime? Even friends in the FBI-State Police-DEA, they all have the same answer-No. Not one of them has ever seen one used in the commision of a crime. Most are perpetrated with handguns, a majority being low capacity, inexpensive and still sold in states like California-NY-NJ. People are actually safer and exposed to less crime in states like mine, where any law abiding person can get a concealed carry permit. If you pass the background check and training requirements-they cannot deny you. There is no longer any pety crime here as most smart thieves know that the populace has the means to fight back.

  20. I live in NY as well.Andrew Cuomo just killed the COBIS bill which required every handgun sold to under go a ballistics check to be filed with the State Troopers and have a fired casing before it could be sold[new pistols].That noise about 10 rnd magazines can be circumvented if you buy pre-ban magazines[made prior to 1994].It’s a legal loophole,take advantage of it!This could be Huge since public opinion has dramatically shifted towards pro gun rights,even here in New York!I won’t hold my breath though!

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