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Appeals court strikes down Illinois ban on handguns in public

By James B. Kelleher

CHICAGO (Reuters) - A federal appeals court on Tuesday struck down an Illinois law banning most people in the state from carrying handguns in public, calling the restriction "arbitrary" and "unconstitutional."

But the court stayed its ruling for 180 days to give Illinois lawmakers the opportunity to amend the measure and create a less sweeping ban on guns outside the home.

In the 2-to-1 ruling, the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit said the Second Amendment's guarantee of an individual's right to keep and bear arms for personal self-defense "could not rationally have been limited to the home" as required by the long-standing Illinois statute.

Writing for the majority, Judge Richard Posner said such a limit was impermissible because "the interest in self defense extends outside the home."

"A woman who is being stalked or has obtained a protective order against a violent ex-husband is more vulnerable to be attacked while walking to or from her home than when inside," Posner wrote.

"She has a stronger self-defense claim to be allowed to carry a gun in public than the resident of a fancy apartment building (complete with doorman) has a claim to sleep with a loaded gun under her mattress. But Illinois wants to deny the former claim, while compelled to honor the latter."

Posner called the different treatment under Illinois law "arbitrary," declared the measure unconstitutional and banned the state from enforcing it.

He put the decision on hold for 180 days, however, "to allow the Illinois legislature to craft a new gun law that will impose reasonable restrictions, consistent with the public safety and the Second Amendment as interpreted in this opinion, on the carrying of guns in public."

A spokeswoman for Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, who had argued in support of the ban and was a defendant in the case, said she would use the 180-day window to "review what legal steps can be taken."

In her dissent, Judge Ann Claire Williams cited a recent unanimous ruling by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York, which upheld a New York state law that required people who want to carry a concealed handgun in public to prove to state authorities that they had "proper cause."

Under the Illinois law, which Posner called "the most restrictive gun law of any of the 50 states," only the police, select security personnel and some hunters and members of target shooting clubs are allowed to carry handguns.

Williams said she believed that restriction was permissible because "the Illinois legislature reasonably concluded that if people are allowed to carry guns in public, the number of guns carried in public will increase, and the risk of firearms-related injury or death will increase as well."

The cases, which were consolidated for oral argument before the appellate court, are Michael Moore and Mary E. Shepard v. Lisa Madigan, Attorney General of Illinois, 12-1269, 12-1788.

(Additional reporting by Terry Baynes; Editing by Eric Walsh)

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