Do La Salle County police chiefs support Illinois’ gun ban? It’s a mix.

Not all law enforcement bodies stand with sheriffs who won’t enforce it

FILE - Assault style weapons are displayed for sale at Capitol City Arms Supply on Jan. 16, 2013, in Springfield, Ill. Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul on Monday, Jan. 23, 2023, asked a state appellate court to dismiss a temporary restraining order on Illinois' new ban on semiautomatic weapons. The two-week-old law was adopted in response to the 2022 mass shooting at the July 4th parade in the Chicago suburb of Highland Park. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman, File)

Sheriffs across the state have pledged not to enforce the new and hotly-disputed Illinois gun ban, but police chiefs in the Illinois Valley aren’t necessarily siding with the sheriffs.

A survey of municipal police departments revealed some support for the ban on some firearms – or at least an unwillingness to denounce the ban – and some chiefs expressed uneasiness with their peers’ refusal to enforce the law.

The law bans the sale and manufacture of a long list of firearms – including certain rifles and handguns – that it categorizes as “assault weapons.” It also requires people who already own such weapons to register them with the Illinois State Police by Jan. 1, 2024. Large-capacity magazines, which are considered those holding more than 10 bullets for a long gun or 15 for a handgun, also are prohibited under the new law.

Streator Police Chief John Franklin said his department, as an Illinois certified police agency, is bound to enforce the laws passed by our legislators in Springfield. As long as the laws are constitutional, he said, this should not be an issue with Illinois law enforcement.

And when asked for his personal view, Franklin broke sharply with most downstate sheriffs.

“I am actually for the assault rifle ban,” Franklin said. “I don’t think that is a weapon needed to defend a home.

“I also don’t think that a teenager should have one in their hands, or be able to purchase one at a pawn shop, as has been the case in Florida. I also feel that the age of qualification for an FOID card should be 21 years of age.”

Franklin stood largely alone in his open support for the restrictions. La Salle Police Chief Mike Smudzinski, for example, said he is not in favor of the ban and thinks it simply will fail to halt the criminal misuse of firearms.

“I firmly believe and always have that bad guys will always find ways to obtain weapons whether these weapons are banned or not,” Smudzinski said. “A focus of mental health is what seriously needs to be addressed and not punishing law abiding citizens.

“I fully support (La Salle County) state’s attorney Joe Navarro in his opposition to the ban. If mentally ill people were driving cars into buildings and persons, would we be looking into banning cars or addressing the mentally ill?”

Navarro said earlier this month he thinks the law is unconstitutional and he will act accordingly. La Salle County Sheriff Adam Diss said his deputies won’t be checking to ensure “lawful gun owners” register their weapons with the state of Illinois, nor will the sheriff’s offices arrest or house “law-abiding individuals” arrested solely for non-compliance of the ban on high-powered semiautomatic weapons.

Other police chiefs kept their views, like their guns, close to the vest.

“Until I have the opportunity to vet the existing and new legislation, support or opposition to the ban at this point would be premature,” said Peru Police Chief Sarah Raymond.

Similarly, Ottawa Police Chief Brent Roalson didn’t offer his feelings on the new law – “My personal opinion plays no part when legislation is enacted and passed” – but agreed with Franklin that their job is to enforce the law, not interpret it.

“I understand the positions and statements made by sheriffs and prosecutors across the state as it pertains to concerns over a violation of the Second amendment,” Roalson said. “I have faith that the courts will provide direction on the legality of the new legislation. Until that is determined my department will not hinder the Illinois State Police in handling the responsibility of the new legislation.”

Mike Margis, Oglesby’s interim police chief, declined to discuss his personal views on the law, but did point out police have discretion in virtually all cases and he and his officers would exercise such discretion with respect to firearms.

Mendota Police Chief Greg Kellen said the gun ban is emblematic of a larger problem – that elected officials are out of touch with their constituents.

“It is simply my opinion, and not the opinion of the city or this department, that nobody in office is listening,” Kellen said. “Not just on Second Amendment issues, but every common sense issue that exists to peoples’ freedoms, rights and expectations of living in a safe community.

“Values and norms of yesteryears are non-existent, accountability doesn’t exist and the direction that Illinois is heading in is simply a travesty for the people of Illinois who were not asked their opinion on many, many issues.”

Franklin qualified his view to argue assault rifles should be available for purchase by law enforcement officers, lest they be outgunned by armed suspects.

“We are running into far too many situations whereby the citizens we police are much better armed than our nation’s first responders.”