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Many Illinois sheriffs oppose assault weapons ban

McDonough County Sheriff Nick Petitgout called the new law “a clear violation of the Second Amendment to the US Constitution.”

MACOMB — A number of sheriffs in Illinois –including those in McDonough and Knox counties — have issued statements saying they won’t enforce an assault weapons ban signed this week by Governor J.B. Pritzker.

The Protect Illinois Communities Act

The measure (HB 5471) became law upon the governor’s signature. It bans AR-15 style guns. However, people who already own such weapons are allowed to keep them if they register the guns with the Illinois State Police.

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More about the act can be found in this story.

“A clear violation” of the 2nd Amendment

McDonough County Sheriff Nick Petitgout is second vice president of the Illinois Sheriff’s Association. He said sheriffs believe they should stand up for what’s right and oppose what’s wrong.

And he believes the new law is wrong. He called it “a clear violation of the Second Amendment to the US Constitution.”

In an interview with TSPR, Petitgout also acknowledged sheriffs have a duty to uphold laws, whether they agree with them or not.

But he said the legislature in recent years has passed several laws — such as the SAFE-T Act — that ended up being heavily scrutinized by the courts.

“I do understand how some people are going to look at this and go, ‘It’s your job to uphold the law. This is law now. You have to do it.’ I get that. I do,” he said.

“This is a hard thing for us to do. But when you look at the whole situation, I do believe that we have been passing some very bad laws in Illinois.”

Petitgout said some of what he calls “bad laws” are getting passed in the legislature’s lame duck session. That’s when the current legislature meets for a final few days before the newly elected legislature is sworn in. Some lawmakers in a lame duck session are making decisions even though they are leaving the legislature, either because they’re stepping down or lost their bid for re-election.

Petitgout said the state should discontinue such sessions.

“I’m more offended by lame duck session than I am anything,” he said.

“This notion that we’re going to go all year long and really not do anything in the General Assembly, and then on the very last day we’re going to pass all these bills. I’m tired of it. And I think a lot of people in Illinois are sick of this – this type of government.”

He said the lame duck session is neither open nor transparent government.

Petitgout is a Republican. The assault weapons legislation was passed by a Democratically controlled legislature and signed by a Democratic governor.

But Petitgout said it’s not a matter of politics. He said people who legally own weapons should not suddenly become criminals because they did not register their weapons with the state.

He said lawmakers should focus on punishing people who buy weapons legally and then turn them over to criminal enterprises such as gangs.

Difference of opinion in Knox County

Knox County Sheriff Jack Harlan also issued a statement on the new law. Harlan said he won’t enforce the law as the county’s top law enforcement officer because it’s unconstitutional.

But Knox County State’s Attorney Jeremy Karlin disagrees with the Sheriff’s positions.

Karlin said while it’s largely semantic, technically he is the county’s top law enforcement officer because he decides whether charges are filed.

And he said the legislation is constitutional until the courts decide otherwise. Until then, it’s up to the sheriff and the state’s attorney to enforce the law.

Karlin said there is a process to declare a law unconstitutional, such as when he and many other state’s attorneys challenged the pre-trial fairness act included in the SAFE-T Act.

Karlin said he has some issues himself with the new statute, but those should be addressed in a courtroom.

He said the sheriff’s personal convictions should not be allowed to have the effect of law in Knox County.

Tri States Public Radio produced this story.  TSPR relies on financial support from our readers and listeners in order to provide coverage of the issues that matter to west central Illinois, southeast Iowa, and northeast Missouri. As someone who values the content created by TSPR’s news department please consider making a financial contribution.

Copyright 2023 Tri States Public Radio. To see more, visit Tri States Public Radio.
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