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Highland Park parade suspect legally purchased multiple weapons, official says

The Illinois city banned assault weapons nearly a decade ago, a move that went all the way to the Supreme Court and ultimately survived legal challenges.

The July Fourth parade attack suspect legally purchased multiple weapons, including at least two rifles, prior to the shooting in Highland Park, Illinois, that killed seven people, authorities said Tuesday.

A rifle used in the massacre and recovered at the scene had been purchased in the Chicago area, Chris Covelli, spokesman for the Lake County Major Crime Task Force, said at a news conference. Officials found another rifle in the suspect's vehicle after apprehending him, Covelli said, adding that there were firearms at his residence as well.

The weapons were legally purchased from separate locations, Covelli said.

In addition to those killed, the massacre injured dozens more. Officials have said the weapon used in it was a high-powered rifle but have not specified what type.

Covelli said Tuesday that it dispersed "high-velocity rounds similar to an AR-15" and there was no indication that the weapon had been modified.

Earlier Tuesday, the Highland Park mayor confirmed that the weapon used in the attack was purchased legally.

"I don’t know where the gun came from, but I do know that it was legally obtained, and I think at some point, this nation needs to have a conversation about these weekly events involving the murder of dozens of people with legally obtained guns," Nancy Rotering told NBC's "TODAY" show. "If that’s what our laws stand for, then I think we need to re-examine our laws."

Highland Park has been a leader in the fight against gun violence. Nearly a decade ago, Rotering led an effort in the Chicago suburb to ban assault weapons — a move that was challenged and made its way to the Supreme Court, which ultimately let a lower court's decision stand.

In June 2013, Highland Park officials passed an ordinance banning AR-15s and AK-47s after a packed meeting that overflowed from the City Council chamber, the Chicago Tribune reported at the time.

The massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in which a gunman killed 20 first-graders and six educators using an AR-15-style weapon, had happened six months before.

The Highland Park meeting, which followed a then-recently approved bill to allow Illinois owners to carry concealed handguns, got testy, according to the Tribune report.

One resident, pointing out that more people had been killed in car accidents than by assault weapons in the past year, took to the microphone and asked, “Are you considering banning automobiles as well?” 

Another argued that the ban was meaningless, the report said.

“If I really wanted to, I could kill somebody with a lamp or a coffee mug,” she said.

In response, an emotional resident said: “You can’t kill a roomful of people with a coffee mug. Sorry.”

“We do not need Sandy Hook in Highland Park,” added another. “People are being slaughtered because of assault weapons, because of an unregulated industry that has taken over this country in fear.”

The City Council voted 6-1 to pass the ordinance, which was quickly challenged by a local doctor and the Illinois Rifle Association.

The case went to the nation's highest court, which declined to hear it, allowing a lower court ruling in favor of the ban to stand.

Justice Clarence Thomas, joined by Justice Antonin Scalia, dissented, referencing the Second Amendment and the responsibility of the court to protect Americans' right to bear arms, particularly for self-defense in their homes.  

The dissent called Highland Park's ban "highly suspect because it broadly prohibits common semiautomatic firearms used for lawful purposes," and stated “The overwhelming majority of citizens who own and use such rifles do so for lawful purposes, including self-defense and target shooting.”

CORRECTION (July 5, 2022, 3:27 ET): A previous version of this article misstated a decision by the Supreme Court regarding a ban on assault weapons in Highland Park, Illinois. The court declined to take up an appeal of a lower court’s decision; it did not uphold the lower court’s ruling.