ST. LOUIS, Missouri — While courts consider legal challenges to Illinois' new ban on assault weapons, dozens of sheriffs have preempted that judicial review and signaled to the public that their troopers will not aggressively enforce the law or inspect for violations of the registration requirements that are scheduled to begin in 2024.
DuPage County Sheriff Jim Mendrick, the top law enforcement officer in the state's second largest county, faced significant political pushback, including from four Democratic members of Congress and gun safety advocates from Moms Demand Action, after he declared his opinion that the ban on assault weapons was "a clear violation of the 2nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution."
"What other laws does he believe is unconstitutional?" Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi asked. "Are there any laws that he has not enforced that he believes is unconstitutional? Because we need to know right now. We need to know what we're up against."
"It's a law that's passed based on the state's constitutional process, and the sheriff has an obligation to see that the law is properly enforced," Congressman Bill Foster (D-Illinois) said. "Sheriff Mendrick must rescind his statement immediately and any directives to his employees."
"Because if he can't, he's got to resign," Congressman Sean Casten (D-Illinois) said.
Congresswoman Delia Ramirez (D-Illinois) said Mendrick's "actions are in contradiction to its oath to serve and protect."
Democrats have boasted strong electoral results in the suburbs in recent years, bolstering their confidence in launching the Monday morning broadside against Mendrick.
The sheriff pushed back on his personal Facebook page, arguing that the sheer volume of assault weapons already in circulation would mean his deputies would become "saddled with a manpower challenge that would be insurmountable" if they tried to track down every unregistered gun.
"Does he inspect for possession of child pornography? That's illegal," Casten said. "Does he inspect for possession of guns that would violate the 1934 National Firearms Act? That's illegal. Does he inspect for possession of narcotics. That's illegal."
Casten compared the new Illinois ban on assault weapons to past federal bans on assault weapons, or to the federal ban on fully automatic "Tommy Guns" implemented after Al Capone's mob murdered a rival Chicago gang nearly 100 years ago.
"No one has ever said that law was unconstitutional," Casten said.
Casten and his Congressional colleagues called on law enforcement officers to seek state or federal funding if they needed assistance or resources in carrying out the law, but argued that abdicating their civic duties altogether would tear at the fabric of democracy itself.
Farther downstate, in Counties that tend to elect Republicans, sheriffs haven't faced nearly the same volume of political pressure.
Monroe County Sheriff Neal Rohlfing joined dozens of his colleagues across the state who signaled their deputies wouldn't go door-to-door looking for unregistered banned guns.
"That's not something we're going to proactively go out and look for and enforce at this time," Rohlfing told 5 On Your Side's Travis Cummings when the law initially passed earlier this month.
While Rohlfing expressed his displeasure from some controversial state laws, he benefited directly from others. New pay scale requirements in the SAFE-T Act gifted him with a 42% pay raise last year, bumping his annual salary up from $84,963 to $146,748.
"Does everybody have the right to interpret the laws of the United States and decide what's enforceable? I don't think so," Casten said.
The new law does allow residents to keep guns they have already purchased or obtained, and allows new residents moving to Illinois to apply for a Firearm Owner's Identification Card within 60 days of relocating to the Land of Lincoln.
Illinois State Police are writing new administrative rules to explain how to enforce the assault weapons ban. The Joint Committee on Administrative Rules (JCAR), a powerful legislative panel of lawmakers, will get a chance to review and adopt those rules before state police eventually circulate them to other law enforcement agencies across the state, according to a spokesperson.
"ISP is in the process of updating training and providing clarity for our officers to enforce this new law, which we will share with local law enforcement agencies," Illinois State Police spokeswoman Melaney Arnold said. "Law enforcement officers have a responsibility to follow the law, and this is the law."
Once the judicial review process is completed, Pritzker is confident the assault weapons ban will meet constitutional muster. In a recent interview on CNN, Pritzker said the legislation "fits within the confines of what is constitutional and acceptable."
Casten challenged critics to lay out their constitutional arguments.
"By the way, your argument can't be, 'Well, there's different people on the Supreme Court now.' That's not a constitutional argument," he said.
Former State Senator Darren Bailey, the GOP nominee who lost his November bid to unseat Governor Pritzker, was among the downstate Republicans who filed a lawsuit in Effingham last week.
"Well, umm...I think...I don't know that the FOID card has...the background checks...You know, with the federal background checks, I think we all agree," he stammered. "I don't think we have... yeah, we can look at that. There's an...there's an area of compromise. You know?
"We can say, alright, 'Shall not be infringed,' but yet we understand that sometimes these guns fall into the hands of the wrong person. So we have the federal, you know, firearm background check. That's exactly what it does, and I don't see anyone arguing that. But to come here into Illinois and to add the FOID card, and to continue to add these restrictions, that's an infringement," Bailey said.
Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul's office declined to comment on the ongoing legal challenges to the new law while the case remains under review.
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