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Sheriffs balk at enforcing new Illinois assault weapons ban. The governor's office calls it 'political grandstanding'

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Ray Moore
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Flickr.com/rarstudios (cc-by-nc)

Dozens of elected sheriffs around Illinois are rebuking the state's new assault weapons ban — with many saying they won't enforce the law.

The new law bans the sale and manufacturing of AR-15 style rifles like the one used in the July 4 mass shooting in Highland Park. It also puts new restrictions on large-capacity magazines.

Capitol News Illinois reports the state ban is the ninth such law to pass around the country. The law does allow those who already own the weapons to keep them, but it requires the firearms owners to register the guns with the Illinois State Police.

In response, many sheriffs issued what appears to be a form letter telling citizens they believe the new Protect Illinois Communities Act is a violation of the 2nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The Republican sheriffs in Woodford, Fulton, and Knox counties were among those who issued virtually identical statements saying they will not check to ensure "lawful gun owners" register their weapons with the state, nor will they arrest "law abiding individuals" arrested solely for noncompliance with the law.

In a "constitutional statement" to citizens, Tazewell County Sheriff Jeff Lower said he is extremely disappointed with the passage of the law, and pledged to uphold 2nd Amendment rights.

"I understand the destructive influences currently existing within our state and our country will only relent when we all vigorously defend and preserve the Constitution and the freedoms it provides," Lower wrote.

Peoria County Sheriff Chris Watkins said he also opposes the law, but he stopped short of declaring he won't enforce it.

"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," he said in a statement. "The real focus should be on the Mental Health Crisis that’s plaguing our communities that I see increasing every day in Peoria County."

The governor's office called the sheriffs' statements "political grandstanding at its worst."

"The assault weapons ban is the law of Illinois. The General Assembly passed the bill and the governor signed it into law to protect children in schools, worshippers at church, and families at parades from the fear of sudden mass murder. Sheriffs have a constitutional duty to uphold the laws of the state, not pick and choose which laws they support and when," said a spokesperson for Gov. JB Pritzker.

The spokesperson said the governor's office is confident the law will hold up to any future legal challenges, but she said it is still currently the law of the state of Illinois.

"Anyone who advocates for law, order, and public safety and then refuses to follow the law is in violation of their oath of office," the spokesperson said.

The Illinois State Rifle Association says it will file suit to have the law overturned on constitutional grounds.

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Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.