DeKalb County sheriff pivots, says he’ll enforce gun ban in wake of Supreme Court ruling

Guns for sale on Friday, Aug. 11, 2023, at Marengo Guns in Marengo. The Illinois Supreme Court ruled a ban on high-powered rifles and high-capacity magazines did not violate clauses of the Illinois Constitution aimed at ensuring laws are equally applied to all. The ban has also been upheld by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.

DeKalb County Sheriff Andy Sullivan said Friday that he plans to enforce a statewide ban on semiautomatic weapons, reversing a declaration he made in January alongside sheriffs statewide that alleged the law was unconstitutional and wouldn’t be followed.

The Illinois Supreme Court upheld a statewide gun ban Friday, in a win for proponents of stricter laws over the types of semiautomatic weapons that have been used in mass shootings across the country.

“My opinion on this issue doesn’t matter, but the Illinois Supreme Court has found the law to be constitutional, so we’ll follow that ruling and Illinois law,” said Sullivan, a Republican.

When Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker signed the legislation into law in January, many proponents for stricter gun laws to curb mass violence called it a win, which came five months after a shooter using a high-powered rifle killed seven and injured dozens on Independence Day 2022 in Highland Park.

“Illinoisans deserve to feel safe in every corner of our state – whether they are attending a Fourth of July parade or heading to work – and that’s precisely what the Protect Illinois Communities Act accomplishes,” Pritzker said Friday. “This decision is a win for advocates, survivors and families alike because it preserves this nation-leading legislation to combat gun violence and save countless lives.”

DeKalb County Sheriff Andy Sullivan said crime was down in DeKalb County, when he presented the DeKalb County Sheriff's Office 2022 annual report to the DeKalb County Board Law and Justice Committee on May 22, 2023.

DeKalb also has been marred by gun violence.

A 2008 Valentine’s Day mass shooting inside a lecture hall at Northern Illinois University left five students dead and injured 17 more. A 27-year-old former NIU student used a shotgun and several semiautomatic pistols, firing about 50 rounds into the hall.

Criticism from gun shop owners and some law enforcement, however, also swiftly followed the ban. County sheriffs across northern Illinois issued almost identical statements in January saying they wouldn’t enforce gun registration, alleging that the legislation was unconstitutional.

At the time, Sullivan was one of them, stating that he wouldn’t arrest law-abiding gun owners or check that lawful gun owners register their weapons with the state. His statement was met with some partisan criticism, however, including from Democratic DeKalb County Board Chairwoman Suzanne Willis, who said she was “dismayed” by the sheriff’s decision.

With Sullivan’s change of mind Friday came other local reaction from area lawmakers.

State Rep. Jeff Keicher, R-Sycamore, speaks during a news conference Tuesday, April, 4, 2023, at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb. Keicher and other Illinois lawmakers, DeKalb city officials, representatives from NIU and Gov. JB Pritzker were on hand to promote the importance of funding higher education in Illinois.

State Rep. Bradley Fritts, R-Dixon, called the 4-3 Supreme Court ruling unsurprising. Fritts said he believes the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment should prevail over a gun ban.

“It is disappointing to see some officials put political ideology ahead of that promise. Instead of ruling on the question of law at hand, the majority opinion is hiding behind a procedural ruling that does not address the constitutional violations present in this legislation,” Fritts said in a statement Friday. “The Second Amendment is clear: The right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. This legislation severely restricts the rights and freedoms we are granted as citizens of the United States in our Constitution.”

Fellow Republican Jeff Keicher, R-Sycamore, called the ruling divisive.

“The Illinois Supreme Court issued a divided ruling today and seemed to have avoided the Second Amendment issues presented by the plaintiffs. Instead, they addressed the other procedural issues raised by the lawsuit in both their confirmation and dissent,” Keicher said in a statement. “Ultimately, this will be decided by the federal courts, but the issues with Illinois’ broken and flawed legislative process are clearly on display today.”

Guns for sale on Friday, Aug. 11, 2023, at Marengo Guns in Marengo. The Illinois Supreme Court ruled a ban on high-powered rifles and high-capacity magazines did not violate clauses of the Illinois Constitution aimed at ensuring laws are equally applied to all.

The law bans dozens of specific brands or types of rifles and handguns, .50-caliber guns, attachments and rapid-firing devices. No rifle is allowed to accommodate more than 10 rounds, with a 15-round limit for handguns. The most popular gun targeted is the AR-15 rifle, which can be found in at least 25 million American households, according to 2021 research by Georgetown University.

Current owners of such weapons won’t be required to surrender them. However, gun owners will have to register them with the Illinois State Police by Jan. 1 – including serial numbers, a provision initially removed by the Senate but restored after House proponents’ objections.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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