Clarence Thomas Pushes Dangerous Definition of Assault Weapons

The Supreme Court declined Tuesday to take up a challenge to Illinois’s ban on assault weapons, though not every justice on the high court agreed with the decision to do so.

In a separate opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas appeared keen to uproot future bans, urging the court to take up another such case on the basis that some semiautomatic guns, such as the AR-15, are among the most popular weapons in the nation, thereby claiming that more guidance is needed to delineate which weapons are “dangerous” and “unusual.” He further called the Seventh Circuit’s decision to uphold the state ban, which stemmed from a landmark 2008 Supreme Court decision that ruled that military grade weapons such as M-16 rifles are not protected under the Second Amendment, as “nonsensical.”

“The Seventh Circuit’s contrived ‘non-militaristic’ limitation on the Arms protected by the Second Amendment seems unmoored from both text and history,” Thomas wrote. “It is difficult to see how the Seventh Circuit could have concluded that the most widely owned semiautomatic rifles are not ‘Arms’ protected by the Second Amendment.”

The Illinois ban was instituted after a 2022 Independence Day parade shooting in Chicago’s Highland Park took the lives of seven people and injured 48 others. The law prohibits the sale of semiautomatic “assault weapons,” which are commonly used in mass shootings, including the AK-47 and AR-15 rifles, as well as the sale of some handguns. The ban also forbids the sale of magazines that use more than 10 rounds for long weapons, or 15 rounds for handguns, as well as rapid-fire devices known as “switches” that convert semiautomatic weapons into automatic machine guns.

“This assault weapons ban is a step in the right direction,” Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker said at a press conference following the law’s passage. “But there’s no magic fix, no single law that will end gun violence once and for all. So we must keep fighting, voting, and protesting to ensure that future generations will only have to read about massacres like Highland Park, Sandy Hook, and Uvalde in their history books. It’s our burden and our mandate, one that we carry with solemn honor for our children who will grow up in a better and safer world.”

This is not the first time this term that Thomas has sought to dramatically expand access to deadly weapons. Last month, he joined the majority decision to overturn a federal ban on bump stocks and dissented from a ruling barring domestic abusers from owning guns.

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Kim browne

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