Will Illinois’ assault weapons ban be enforced? It depends where you live

Published: Jan. 11, 2023 at 11:21 PM CST
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PEORIA (25 News Now) - Some area sheriffs are taking a hardline stance by refusing to enforce the assault weapons ban in Illinois. Other sheriffs said in statements released Wednesday that they’re adamantly opposed to the new law, and for one area sheriff, his position puts him at odds with his county’s chief prosecutor.

Matthew Smith from Woodford, Jon Webb from Fulton, Joshua Boedigheimer from Putnam and Jack Harlan Jr. from Knox County used the exact same wording to announce they won’t enforce the law, signed by Gov. JB Pritzker Tuesday night.

“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 arrested solely with non-compliance of this Act,” said Smith, Webb and Harlan.

Chris Watkins from Peoria County, Matt Lane from McLean County and Jeffrey Lower from Tazewell County chose different wording in their statements to communicate their opposition to the law and support for 2nd Amendment rights to bear arms, but they did not directly say their departments would enforce the assault weapons ban.

This is the statement from Sheriff Watkins from Peoria County:

“As the Sheriff of Peoria County, I oppose the legislative bill that was recently passed banning law-abiding citizens from buying certain types of firearms. This is another example of Chicago policy being pushed downstate on responsible gun owners. This bill does not solve the root cause of the problem. The real focus should be on the Mental Health Crisis that’s plaguing our communities that I see increasing every day in Peoria County.”

McLean County Sheriff Matt Lane said the following:

“The right to keep and bear arms for defense of life, liberty and property is regarded as an inalienable right of the people. If the intent of the legislative branch of this state is to change the U.S. Constitution, there is a process that was created long ago to accomplish such a change. Changing Illinois law in what I believe is total conflict with the U.S. Constitution is not how it is done. As your sheriff I will continue to defend all of your rights under the Constitution.”

Like Lane, Tazewell County Sheriff Jeffrey Lower said he’s “extremely disappointed” with the bill’s passage.

“As your elected sheriff, I pledge to do everything within my power to steadfastly protect the 2nd Amendment an all-other individual rights guaranteed by the Constitution. I understand the destructive influences currently existing within out state and our country will only relent when we all vigorously defend and preserve the Constitution and the freedoms it provides.”

In Knox County, the new law creates a wedge between Republican Sheriff Harlan and State’s Attorney Jeremy Karlin, a Democrat who put out his own statement criticizing the sheriff’s position.

“The legislature decides what the law is. The courts decide whether they are constitutional. It’s up to the Sheriff and I to enforce the laws,” said Karlin.

Karlin said the sheriff’s position creates a “problematic patchwork” of enforcement, in which there would be no assault weapons ban arrests or investigations in rural jurisdictions but might still occur in communities with their own police departments like Galesburg.

“Personally, I agree that the statue has constitutional issues. These need to be decided in a courtroom and not in the back office of the Sheriff’s Department,” said Karlin.