To the scores of sheriffs in Illinois who reportedly have vowed not to enforce the ban on semiautomatic weapons that took effect this week, Gov. J.B. Pritzker has a succinct answer: Yes, you will.
Nine in 10 of the state’s sheriffs, joining with gun-rights advocates in declaring the prohibition unconstitutional, have sworn off zealous enforcement of the law. It prohibits the manufacture or possession of dozens of rapid-fire weapons and attachments and requires registration of those previously owned in response to the massacre at a July 4th parade in the Chicago suburb of Highland Park which killed seven and wounded 30.
“They took an oath of office to enforce the laws of the state of Illinois, and they will do so,” Pritzker said of the sheriffs Friday in Chicago after signing a law protecting abortion and gender-affirming care.
“These are folks who are entrusted by the public to enforce the law,” the governor continued. “They don’t get to choose which laws they enforce.”
Republican Sheriff Mark Landers of Logan County, just northeast of Springfield in central Illinois, was among the first of his peers to declare his stance, posting on social media Wednesday that “the right to keep and bear arms for defense of life, liberty and property is regarded as an inalienable right.”
Calling the law “a clear violation of the 2nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution,” Landers said that “neither myself nor my office will be checking to ensure that lawful gun owners register their weapons with the state nor will we be arresting or housing law-abiding individuals who have been charged solely with non-compliance of this act.”
Landers did not immediately return a call seeking comment Friday. But Jim Kaitschuk, executive director of the Illinois Sheriffs Association, said more than 90 sheriffs have issued similar statements based on a template he provided. Reaction has been overblown he said.
“All they are saying is, ‘We’re not going to knock on people’s doors to ask whether they have registered their firearms,’”Kaitschuk said. “And if they’re arrested solely on that charge, we will not house them in our jails until ordered to do so by a competent authority,” meaning a judge.
Rep. Bob Morgan, the Deerfield Democrat who sponsored the legislation after witnessing the carnage as a participant in the Highland Park parade, said sheriffs are putting their front-line deputies at risk.
“It’s disappointing to hear this from law enforcement officials whose own deputies’ lives are at risk,” Morgan said. “Standard-issue bulletproof vests cannot stop a semiautomatic weapon round.”
Weapons obtained before the law took effect Tuesday night must be registered with the Illinois State Police by Jan. 1, 2024. The make, model and serial number must be reported and likely will be worked into software that state police use to record and track Firearm Owners Identification cards.
The Illinois State Rifle Association plans to file a federal lawsuit challenging the law as early as next week.
Pritzker, who called the sheriffs’ stance “political grandstanding,” said he’s confident it will survive court tests, as semiautomatic weapons bans have in eight other states and Washington, D.C.
If the sheriffs are not up to the task, Attorney General Kwame Raoul said, someone else, such as the Illinois State Police, will be.
“As far as law enforcement agencies, there are overlapping jurisdictions as well,” Raoul said. “So if they don’t do their jobs, there are other people available to do the job.”
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