Column: Illinois sheriffs do not have the power to pick and choose which laws to enforce

If we learned anything from the impeachment of three presidents it is we are nation of laws, not men. Except if you are one of the nearly 80 Illinois sheriffs who have boldly proclaimed they will not enforce the state’s new assault-weapons ban.

Lake County Sheriff John Idleburg is not one of the many sheriffs who are hiding behind the possibility the Protect Illinois Communities Act is unconstitutional and could be overturned in the courts. Common sense dictates that any bill adopted by the legislature and signed into law can be labeled unconstitutional once lawsuits are filed and the system of rulings and appeals begins.

Gov, J.B. Pritzker signed the law last week. It prohibits selling semi-automatic rifles and pistols, .50-caliber guns, extended magazines and attachments that can increase a weapon’s rate of fire. Additionally, the law requires existing owners of semi-automatic rifles to register their ownership with the Illinois State Police by this time next year.

Sheriffs, like other elected officials, are sworn to uphold state laws. They and those they supervise do it daily making sure Illinoisans are safe. They rein in speeders, respond to shootings, break-ins, robberies, thefts, reports of vandalism and inspect redlight-camera transgressions.

All are violations outlined by laws enacted by the legislature or local governments. Illinois sheriffs seem to like those laws, as they should.

About 30% of the state’s 102 sheriffs definitely don’t like the Protect Illinois Communities Act. This despite the push from citizens as a reaction to continuing gun violence across the state, from Chicago to Peoria and beyond.

Their argument is like some followers of organized religion about which doctrines to follow. Plenty accept what they believe to be gospel; others take different paths.

“It’s incredibly dangerous for me to cherry-pick and enforce only laws I agree with, or only laws I feel are important,” Idleburg, who was reelected to a second four-year term in November, said in a lengthy Facebook post the other day explaining his reasoning. “Like everything else we do in our profession, we will use discretion and common sense.”

Idleburg wholeheartedly supports the weapons ban. He added: “This law does not mean our deputies will be going door to door, asking for documentation on weapons. It does not mean we are forming a team to search your home for weapons.”

His point of view, easy to take in a county which saw a mass shooting at the Highland Park Fourth of July parade by a gunman brandishing an assault weapon, runs counter to that of the Illinois Sheriffs’ Association.

“We are always supportive of new tools, techniques and laws that assist us in preventing and holding accountable those that wage efforts of harm and violence on others,” the group said in a news release. “However, this new law does not do that.”

Indeed, the new law may not stop senseless and random shootings, most which are carried out by pistol-packing criminals. Attorneys and constitutional scholars remain split if the law — the ninth in the nation banning the sale and possession of military-type rifles — violates the U.S. Constitution’s 2nd Amendment, which guarantees “the right of the people to keep and bear arms.” Remember that AR-15 weapons and their like were banned for 10 years under federal law, from 1994 to 2004.

The current anti-gun ban stand taken by the dozens of sheriffs doesn’t instill confidence in law-abiding citizens. The stance also doesn’t enhance the low opinion and distrust of law enforcement that many Illinoisans hold.

Being a cop or state trooper these days is tough duty. The police profession is seeing hundreds of officers hanging up their holsters and taking early retirement, or moving to more bucolic surroundings.

The governor and Attorney General Kwame Raoul have threatened sheriffs who don’t enforce the state’s new weapons ban with removing them from office. Unsure how they’ll do that, for Illinois doesn’t have a recall provision in the state Constitution.

Pritzker said last week that those who don’t enforce the ban “won’t be in their job.” So far, two legal challenges to the bill have surfaced, filed in Downstate county courthouses. More are expected.

State officials weren’t the only backers of the measure. Mayors across Lake County, like Waukegan’s Ann Taylor, Leon Rockingham Jr. of North Chicago and Fox Lake Mayor Donny Schmit, among others, offered their calls for an assault- weapons ban.

Until judges decide otherwise or give gun-rights activists injunctive relief, the weapons ban is the law of the Land of Lincoln. Sheriffs across the state need to do their jobs as required under their oaths of office. We are a nation of laws.

Charles Selle is a former News-Sun reporter, political editor and editor.

Twitter: @sellenews

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January 18, 2023 at 07:07PM

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