Federal court green-lights lawsuit challenging state’s gun restriction policies for families

By Nancy Crist | Feb 1, 2017

URBANA — A federal judge recently denied the state’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit challenging its foster parent policies restricting firearms possession.

URBANA — A federal judge recently denied the state’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit challenging its foster parent policies restricting firearms possession.

This is the latest chapter in Shults et al v. Sheldon, a lawsuit filed last July by the Bellevue, Washington-based Second Amendment Foundation (SAF) and the Illinois State Rifle Association on behalf of Kenneth and Colleen Shults in U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois. George Sheldon, director of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (IDCFS), is named as the defendant.

“We brought this action on behalf of the plaintiffs to establish that the state’s restrictions on the possession and carrying of firearms by foster parents are unconstitutional under both the Second and Fourth Amendments,” SAF’s founder and Executive Vice President Alan Gottlieb said in a news release following the court’s ruling. “…(I)t is important to establish that people do not surrender their Second Amendment rights in order to become foster parents."

District Judge Colin Stirling Bruce ruled that the plaintiffs presented “sufficient factual allegations to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face,” giving the green light for the lawsuit to proceed.

“We don’t believe … other than their offering speculation and hypothetical horror stories, (the defendant is) going to be able to provide any evidence to justify the strong restriction that they place on foster families,” David Sigale, attorney for the plaintiffs, told the Record.

Court documents state the Shultses are IDCFS foster parents who are currently fostering a child they want to adopt and have three natural children. The complaint states that foster families must sign an IDCFS firearms agreement to securely and separately store guns and ammunition, to have guns fitted with a trigger lock, and to keep the key off the premises or in the gun owner’s possession.

"It's not fair," Sigale said. "Why should the plaintiffs lose the ability to exercise their right to self-defense because they foster children? Why should they have to make that choice?"

Sigale, who began litigating Second Amendment cases in 2008, is currently representing plaintiffs in a similar case in the Western District of Oklahoma.

According to court documents, “The Shultses would possess loaded and functional firearms for self-defense and defense of family, but refrain from doing so because they fear their foster children being taken away from them by the State, and/or being prohibited from being foster parents in the future …”

If the state rejected foster families based on the books they read or the religion they practice, "no one would stand for that," Sigale said. "They wouldn't try any of this with a First Amendment right. And the Supreme Court has held that the Second Amendment cannot be treated any worse. Obviously, the right to self defense is very important."

The plaintiffs are seeking attorney’s fees and costs, and a declaratory judgment that the IDCFS policies restricting firearms possession and carrying by current and future foster parents are null and void.

U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois Case number 2:16-cv-02214

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Illinois Department of Children and Family Services U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois

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