At least 74 Illinois sheriff's departments vow to defy state assault weapons ban

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Leroy N. Soetoro

Jan 20, 2023, 1:59:18 PMJan 20

The sheriffs say they believe the law violates the Second Amendment.

Just days after Illinois became the ninth U.S. state to ban assault
rifles, the state already hit a roadblock to implementing the law: defiant
sheriff's offices.

At least 74 Illinois sheriff's departments have publicly vowed to defy
elements of a recent gun-control law signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker, which
banned assault weapons, high-capacity magazines and switches. The offices
have vowed to not check if weapons are registered with the state or house
individuals arrested only for not complying with the law.

As the number of uncooperative sheriff's offices increased, Pritzker has
made his own vow – to ensure those members of law enforcement who fail to
"do their job… won't be in their job."

The Illinois Sheriffs' Association issued a statement Wednesday expressing
continued opposition to the law. Simultaneously, dozens of sheriff's
offices began to post nearly identical messages promising they would not
check for compliance with the law or arrest offenders of the law.

Jim Kaitschuk, executive director of the Illinois Sheriffs' Association,
said he drafted the statement which sheriff's offices began to sign or

"Therefore, as the custodian of the jail and chief law enforcement
official for DuPage County, 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 that
have been charged solely with non-compliance of this Act," DuPage County
Sheriff James Mendrick wrote in a statement, which was mirrored by dozens
of other offices.

With a population of over 920,000 residents, DuPage County is the largest
county to defy the law.

ABC News was able to identify at least 59 sheriff's offices that issued a
nearly identical statement, the main identifiable difference between the
statements being the letterhead and name of the county in the text of the

In total, at least 74 offices said they plan to not use resources to
enforce elements of the law, impacting nearly 4,000,000 Illinois
residents, or over 30 percent of the state's residents.

Other than DuPage county, the most populous counties in Illinois – Cook,
Lake, and Will Counties – have not issued any statement opposing the law.
The deadly 2022 Highland Park parade shooting took place in Lake County,
which is enforcing the law. Most of the sheriff's offices opposing the law
reside in counties with less than 100,000 residents, though nine defiant
counties have populations exceeding 100,000.

Kaitschuk said he disagreed with the idea that sheriffs have an obligation
to check compliance with the law or house offenders in their jails.

"That is not a charge that is provided to us, or mandated to us in the
bill that passed and was signed by the governor," he said.

Many of the sheriffs defying the law have described their opposition to
the law as akin to civil disobedience to protect the Second Amendment.

"We will not be enforcing it in this county; I will also not house anyone
in my jail that has violated this act because we know it to be an unlawful
act by the general assembly and the governor," Jefferson County Sheriff
Jeff Bullard Sr. said in an online video.

Sangamon County Sheriff Jack Campbell, whose jurisdiction covers nearly
200,000 residents, signed a modified version of the statement. In an
interview with ABC News, Campbell based his opposition to the law due to
both adherence to the constitution and the ineffectiveness of the law.

"The law will have zero impact on the murder rate in the state of
Illinois," Campbell said.

Some offices took less defiant stances which include waiting for movement
from the courts or legislative action.

"I understand that our nation had witnesses frequent tragedies involving
gun violence and I am in no way attempting to minimize the impact these
events have had," St. Clair County Sheriff Richard Watson wrote in a
statement, in which he said he opposed the law but did not promise to defy

When asked why he decided to not enforce the law rather than wait for
action from the courts, Campbell returned his belief that the law is
unconstitutional and will eventually be struck down.

"Because between now or Tuesday when the bill was signed into law by the
governor, how many people can have their constitutional rights violated?"
he asked. “And I don’t believe any U.S. citizens should ever have their
country’s rights violated at anytime."

Pritzker addressed the defiance, commenting that members of law
enforcement who fail to enforce it might lose their job.

"The fact is that yes there are of course people who are trying to
politically grandstand, who want to make a name for themselves by claiming
that they will not comply," he said. "But the reality is that the state
police is responsible for enforcement, as are all law enforcement all
across our state and they will in fact do their job or they won't be in
their job."

Kaitschuk rebutted the idea that Pritzker has the authority to fire
members of law enforcement, especially elected sheriffs.

"I'm just not aware of any provision that provides the governor that
opportunity to do so," he said.

Eric Ruben, a law professor at Southern Methodist University and fellow at
the Brennan Center for Justice, told ABC News that the public statements
made by the sheriffs could significantly impact residents' behavior.

"Even if it's posturing and political, it does send a signal to residents
in these communities that they don't have to worry about the law," he

Ruben added when sheriffs made public statements about the enforcement and
constitutionality of a similar 2013 New York state law requiring the
registrations of assault rifles, New York received far fewer registrations
than expected, suggesting noncompliance with the law.

"Ultimately, it's not the sheriff's job to decide on the constitutionality
of laws," he said. "That's generally something that the courts do."

On Thursday, Pritzker reaffirmed his stance that the sheriff's offices
should not be making decisions about which laws to enforce and which to

"You know, you can have all the resolutions and declarations that you
want," Pritzker said. "The reality is that the laws that are on the books,
you don't get to choose which ones people are going to follow."

Ruben added that the sheriffs' public statements about checking that
residents register their guns could be a "red herring" or distraction
since the law does not call on law enforcement to check that citizens
register their firearms unprompted.

Pritzker made a similar point on Friday, noting that registering the guns
is ” not something that requires the intervention of a sheriff.”

Kaitschuk said the Illinois Sheriffs' Association does not intend to
challenge the law in court; however, on Tuesday, the Illinois State Rifle
Association declared its intention to go to court.

"Challenge accepted. The Illinois State Rifle Association will see the
State of Illinois in court," Richard Pearson, the association's executive
director, said.

During a bill signing on Friday, Pritzker remarked he was confident the
state law was constitutional.

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