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By Steven Spencer
Jersey County Journal
Several local sheriffs departments issued statements after the Protect Illinois Communities Act, House Bill 5471, was signed into law by Governor JB Pritzker last week.
The bill is lengthy and includes updates to the Freedom of Information Act, the Firearm Owners Identification Card Act, firearm restraining orders, the Illinois Procurement Code, and more.
However, amendments in the bill that prohibit the sale, distribution, and manufacturing of assault weapons, .50 caliber rifles and .50 caliber cartridges have gained the most attention, resulting in over 70 sheriffs departments issuing statements on the constitutionality of House Bill 5471.
Some details of the bill include “except as otherwise provided in subsection (d), beginning Jan. 1, 2024, it is unlawful for any person within this State to knowingly possess an assault weapon, assault weapon attachment, .50 caliber rifle, or .50 caliber cartridge.”
Subsection D, mentioned in the above quote, states this, “does not apply to a person’s possession of an assault weapon, assault weapon attachment, .50 caliber rifle, or .50 caliber cartridge device if the person lawfully possessed that assault weapon, assault weapon attachment, .50 caliber rifle, or .50 caliber cartridge prohibited, if the person has provided in an endorsement affidavit, prior to Jan. 1, 2024, under oath or affirmation and in the form and manner prescribed by the Illinois State Police, no later than Oct. 1, 2023.”
“In any administrative, civil, or criminal proceeding in this State, a completed endorsement affidavit submitted to the Illinois State Police by a person under this section creates a rebuttable presumption that the person is entitled to possess and transport the assault weapon, assault weapon attachment, .50 caliber rifle, or .50 caliber cartridge,” the bill states.
Jersey County Sheriff Nick Manns issued a statement saying the Jersey County Sheriff’s Office will be using their “lawful discretion in enforcing” the new law.
“As your Sheriff and as a law enforcement officer, I am sworn to protect Jersy County by enforcing the law and protecting your Constitutional rights. Generally, those two obligations are one and the same. Unfortunately, in this instance, they are not,” Sheriff Manns said in the release. “I believe that many of the provisions of HB 5471as currently written are unconstitutional and will not survive scrutiny from reviewing courts, to include the U.S. Supreme Court. When I look at our history, I often wonder how things would be different if past law enforcement officers would have used their discretion in enforcing laws that seemed wrong and were ultimately determined to be unconstitutional. I feel that I am currently in such a place.
“For all these reasons, myself (as the chief law enforcement officer and custodian of the jail in Jersey County) and those serving in our Sheriff’s Office will use our lawful discretion in enforcing HB5471 until such time that reviewing courts can weigh in. For now, when it comes to law abiding citizens and lawful gun owners, we will not be checking for registration of your firearms with the State, nor will we be arresting otherwise law-abiding citizens solely with non-compliance of this Act or housing such citizens in our jail. For those who would otherwise violate our laws or unlawfully posses firearms, we will continue to consider all applicable charges in order to protect Jersey County.”
Jersey County State’s Attorney Ben Goetten also expressed concerns with the Protect Illinois Communities Act.
“I have serious concerns about many of the provisions of HB 5471 and their constitutionality,” Goetten stated. “My simple message to Jersey County Residents is this: While I would never make a blanket statement that I will not prosecute certain crimes, I can assure you I will wield heavily the most powerful tool a prosecutor possesses…discretion.”
The Illinois State Police (ISP) said they continue to plan for the new law’s implementation, which includes drafting rules that will go before the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules.
“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. Law enforcement officers have a responsibility to follow the law and this is the law,” ISP said in a statement.
The Governor’s office also issued a statement reminding communities that the weapons ban is officially the law of Illinois.
“The assault weapons ban is the law of Illinois,” The Deputy Press Secretary for the Governor, Melaney Arnold said last week. “The General Assembly passed the bill and the Governor signed it into law to protect children in schools, worshippers at church, 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. We’re confident that this law will hold up to any future legal challenges, but again, it is the current law of our state. Anyone who advocates for law, order, and public safety and then refuses to follow the law is in violation of their oath of office.”