Sheriffs draw lines at what they will -- and will not -- enforce with new weapons law
Lake County Sheriff John Idleburg had a message for gun owners concerned about Illinois' new ban on the purchase, sale and manufacture of some high-powered weapons and large-capacity magazines: Read the law and "take a deep breath."
In the days since Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed the legislation, a number of sheriffs have called the ban unconstitutional and indicated that they won't be enforcing the requirement that current owners of such weapons register them with police. Idleburg supports the law but stresses his deputies won't go door to door asking gun owners for the documentation, nor will they search the homes of law-abiding civilians who own weapons.
"Like everything else we do in our profession, we will use discretion and common sense," he said.
Sheriffs across the state are divided about the law, with many lining up against it. DuPage County Sheriff James Mendrick and McHenry County's Robb Tadelman joined their counterparts from Carroll, DeKalb, Grundy, La Salle, Lee, McHenry, Ogle, Putnam, Stephenson, Whiteside and Winnebago counties in releasing similarly worded statements indicating they believe the law violates the Second Amendment.
Mendrick's and Tadelman's statements both read: "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 that have been charged solely with noncompliance of this act."
Idleburg, however, said he will enforce the law he was sworn to uphold.
"It's incredibly dangerous for me to cherry-pick and enforce only laws I agree with, or only laws I feel are important," he said.
The difference of opinion boils down to interpretations of the Second Amendment -- and questions about whether a ban can prevent something like the mass shooting in Highland Park this summer that killed seven people.
Kane County Sheriff Ron Hain expressed concern over the legislation, saying in a prepared statement: "Illinois had some of the most restrictive gun laws in the nation before this law was passed yet it did little to stop gun violence in our state."
Hain referenced a potential increase in illegal firearms trafficking from surrounding states with less restrictive regulations. He also stated that criminals and individuals with mental health issues who wish to do harm will "continue to disregard any law in an effort to obtain a firearm."
Kane County deputies will investigate and charge individuals who illegally possess or use firearms in the commission of a crime, Hain said, but they will not "proactively investigate legal, FOID card holding, gun owners and seize their firearms."
Will County Sheriff Mike Kelley said he supports legislation to make communities safer. But he does not believe the new law will accomplish that goal.
"I believe this bill may infringe on the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens and that this bill disarms those law-abiding citizens that I have been sworn to protect," Kelley said in a prepared statement that anticipated court challenges.
"Assault-style rifles are nothing more than killing machines, and they have no place in a civilized society," said Idleburg, a Second Amendment supporter who points out that firearms have become more sophisticated and more deadly since the Bill of Rights was ratified in 1791.
"Our Founding Fathers were not loading .223 rounds into their muskets. They were not using firearms designed to disintegrate human bodies," Idleburg said. "As I said following the Highland Park mass shooting, these weapons of war do not belong on our streets. They're used to kill our police, used to kill innocent people and used to inflict maximum carnage on their victims."
Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart made that point last month testifying before the General Assembly in support of the ban.
"There is no sane person who's going to sit there and say in our society we should have these," he said, holding aloft two extended magazines.
Harold Krent, a professor at Illinois Tech's Chicago-Kent College of Law and an expert on the separation of powers doctrine, said sheriffs' failure to enforce the law will likely force Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul to either "file suit in federal court for a declaration that the assault weapons ban is consistent with the Second Amendment or even possibly to charge the sheriffs with a dereliction of duty under the Illinois Official Misconduct statute."
According to Krent, their statements suggest they're defying not only the will of lawmakers but also the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which previously held a similar ban enacted by Highland Park did not violate the Second Amendment.
Pritzker called remarks from some sheriffs across the state "political grandstanding at its worst."
"Sheriffs have a constitutional duty to uphold the laws of the state, not pick and choose which laws they support and when," said Pritzker in a prepared statement in which he expressed confidence that the law will survive legal challenges. "It is the current law of our state. Anyone who advocates for law, order and public safety and then refuses to follow the law is in violation of their oath of office."
DuPage County Board Chair Deborah Conroy expressed disappointment at DuPage Sheriff Mendrick's position.
"On October 25, the DuPage County Board heard a moving account provided by Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering. She detailed the devastating impact one shooter and one assault weapon had on her town," said Conroy in a prepared statement. "That day, the board voted to support a state ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.
"I stand behind the legislation passed to ban assault weapons. I believe, in DuPage County, we should not be playing politics with state laws."
Master Sgt. Delila Garcia, an Illinois State Police spokesperson, said law enforcement officers have a responsibility to follow the law.
"Law enforcement currently face criminals wielding assault weapons and high capacity magazines," Garcia said in a prepared statement. "When we stop a stolen or hijacked vehicle, respond to an expressway shooting, identify a vehicle involved in an armed robbery or respond to any number of other crimes -- many times we're not just finding just one pistol -- we're finding multiple firearms with extended magazines and switches."
Banning these weapons can help keep officers safe, she said.