Sheriff speaks out against new state gun legislation
‘We're not going to go out and look to make law-abiding citizens into criminals’
OREGON — On Jan. 11, Ogle County Sheriff Brian VanVickle and approximately 80 other sheriffs in the state issued statements saying they’ll refuse to enforce a provision of House Bill 5471, a recently-signed state law that bans the sale and manufacture of assault weapons in Illinois.
Current owners of high-power assault weapons, .50 caliber rifles and ammunition, and large-capacity magazines will be allowed to keep them, but will be required to register them with the Illinois State Police prior to Jan. 1, 2024 or face a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to 364 days in prison and the degree of charges could increase based on number of unregistered weapons.
“I, among many others, believe that HB 5471 is a clear violation of the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution,” VanVickle’s statement said. “Therefore, as the custodian of the jail and chief law enforcement official for Ogle County, proclaim that neither myself or my office will be checking to ensure that lawful gun owners register their weapons with the state, nor will we be arresting or housing individuals that have been charged solely with non-compliance of this act.”
VanVickle spoke with the Rochelle News-Leader and Ogle County Life on Jan. 13 about his statement and HB 5471. He said his main issue with the legislation is how it relates to the second amendment and it being a “far-reaching restriction on firearm ownership.”
The sheriff said 95 percent of sheriffs in the state issued statements against the legislation. While ISP has been and will be the agency tasked with gun-related enforcement, VanVickle said his office will not be participating in matters associated with the act.
“We're not going to go out and look to make law-abiding citizens into criminals,” VanVickle said. “That's not what we're charged to do in our profession. If there's people out there that are going to look for law-abiding citizens and charge them with these crimes under state statute, we're not required to house them in the county jail, so that's something we're not going to do either until there's a court order that places them in our custody. That's the main point of our statement.”
VanVickle said he believes there will be a lawsuit or multiple lawsuits against the legislation, but they won’t be led by county sheriff’s or state’s attorneys, which recently occurred in the case of the state’s SAFE-T criminal justice reform act.
Ahead of being passed and signed, HB 5471 had no input from sheriffs in the state, VanVickle said. He believes the enforcement of the new act will be “a lot of work” for ISP, but said there will likely be “10s of millions of dollars” in tax money dedicated to the work it will entail for ISP.
Participating in enforcement of the new legislation will not be a priority for the Ogle County Sheriff’s Office, VanVickle said.
"Officers and deputies have always had discretion in law enforcement,” VanVickle said. “It's no different than if they write a speeding ticket, warning or if they even stop anybody for a traffic violation. It's their decision. All that we're saying is it's not a priority of the sheriff's office to go out and do any type of compliance checks for law-abiding citizens who legally possessed firearms last week who don't now. That's just something that's not a priority for us, nor do we have the manpower to do it. It's a clear violation of the constitution and it will certainly be challenged in court. We'll get direction from that. But it's not something that we'll actively go out and pursue."
Ogle County is home to three brick and mortar gun shops, VanVickle said, which are governed by the ISP and state and federal licensing bodies. They will be inspected by ISP for compliance with the new legislation.
A Facebook post by the sheriff’s office with the statement regarding HB 5471 received over 1,200 shares, 1,200 likes and 1,000 comments.
“We've had very few negative responses to what we put out,” VanVickle said. “I've heard the same from other sheriffs about how well-received it's been. We've had some people that don't agree with it and I completely understand that. And if they want to go out and register their firearms, they're more than welcome to do that. The vast majority of people who have made comments or called or sent emails have been appreciative of our stance."
VanVickle said backlash from the state over enforcement is not a concern for him, and he chose to put out the statement as “an indication of support for citizens of the county.”
“If you look at Chicago where this has come from, they have some of the strictest gun laws and requirements and have for some time and there are multiple shootings there each weekend,” VanVickle said. “It's different here. We put that statement out to support our citizens, not so much to say we're not going to enforce this. To tell them they're still able to own and possess firearms in Ogle County and that the sheriff's office is doing everything in our power for them to do just that."