The resolution declaring Effingham County a sanctuary for guns has started a statewide trend of opposition to legislation directed toward firearms. But it remains to be seen if it has any real effect in Springfield.
So far, 30 Illinois counties have passed "firearms sanctuary" resolutions that oppose bills before the state legislature and declare that the counties will not enforce laws that infringe on the Second Amendment. The resolutions have not been tested by any new laws, but it appears the resolutions would not affect how law enforcement operates.
Illinois State Police officials say they will still enforce gun laws, regardless of a local resolution.
On Thursday, Effingham County Board Member David Campbell proposed the board take it a step farther and turn it into a referendum. The idea didn't progress out of the committee meeting.
On March 13, the Iroquois County Board passed a resolution opposed to five different bills in the state legislature.
It was authored by Iroquois Board Member Chad McGinnis, who said in a recent interview he was spurred by concerns that the bills could make his family members instant felons by virtue of owning currently legal equipment.
In Effingham County, Campbell contacted McGinnis to acquire a copy of the resolution. Campbell said he'd been approached by residents and business owners asking the board to support the Second Amendment.
The Iroquois County resolution was a great start, he said. So Campbell passed it to Effingham County State's Attorney Bryan Kibler for review.
Kibler inserted the "sanctuary" language that captured attention across the country. The resolution passed in an 8-1 vote.
U.S. Rep John Shimkus (R-Collinsville) said he likes the idea of the gun sanctuary decision as a political statement.
"I'm proud of my counties taking this action," he said.
He said declaring a sanctuary county attracted more attention than a resolution in opposition, making it much more effective.
"It's a good choice of a document to get all the national attention," Shimkus said.
As far as respect for the rule of law, Shimkus drew a parallel to the sanctuary resolutions opposed to immigration enforcement.
That parallel bothers some.
"This effectively equates firearms with human lives," said Mark Walsh, the campaign director for the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence.
"It's really caught fire," he said, but added it's limited in its effect.
"It seems to be the theater of politics," he said, and hasn't been noticeable at the state level.
The largest cluster has been near Effingham County, where every neighboring county has passed a similar resolution. Most of the remaining counties are south of Christian and Douglas counties. The farthest north is Henry County, which passed a resolution opposing the bills on May 17. The farthest south is Pope County.
Christian County board member Vicki McMahon said she heard about the Effingham County version through social media. She thought it was a perfect way to express the frustration of local gun owners with the General Assembly.
"(This will) let them know that their constituents, the people of Illinois, are saying stop with the legislation, stop penalizing your gun owners," she said.
She said a referendum in her county will serve two purposes, as it allows direct voter input and, if passed, will send an even stronger message.
The decision has not been without opposition.
Effingham County Board Member Karen Lutchefeld, one of two Democrats on the board, has been outspoken in her opposition to the resolution. She said she views it as a waste of time and money for the county.
It's also drawn opposition from some community members, who have spoken against the resolution at county board meetings and in letters to the editor.
John Cohorst told the county board he thought it was a terrible idea to allow the guns in question to come to the region.
"I'd feel guilty for the rest of my life for letting them come in here," he said, especially if they were used in a shooting.
Bills at issue
The resolution took issue with five proposed laws in the House and Senate.
Two are dead after action by Gov. Bruce Rauner. One would've required additional registration for gun store owners, which he vetoed totally. However, a similar measure, Senate Bill 337, was sent to Gov. Bruce Rauner at the end of May. He has until July 30 to act.
The second bill would have extended the 72-hour waiting period for some firearms. In an amendatory veto, Rauner extended the requirement to all firearms and added several other gun control measures to the mix. The General Assembly did not agree with the changes, and the bill died.
One other bill has remained in a rules committee since April 27. It would have provided a definition for "assault weapons" and added a 72-hour waiting period for such weapons. Rauner amended the bill by adding in provisions for a special restraining order that would remove firearms from a person's possession and a death penalty requirement for murderers who kill multiple people or police.
Called a "poison pill" by some activists, it seems unlikely to return to the governor's desk.
Two other bills entered the conference committee on July 2, where they await action.
One bill, HB 1465, categorized assault weapons and made it illegal for them to be owned by people under the age of 21. Campbell said this would "create instant felons" as someone older than 18 that owned a rifle with a detachable magazine with more than 10 rounds would be a felon.
The other bill, HB 1467, would make ownership of a bump stock or trigger crank illegal. However, the Senate added a provision that would prevent home-rule communities from making laws less restrictive than state ones.
That means new bills are possible, both this year and going forward.
Campbell said he thinks the current resolution is sufficient. The county has established its opposition to more restrictions on firearm ownership, he said, but left open the option to revisit the idea in the future.
Graham Milldrum can be reached at 217-347-7151 x131 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Counties that have passed a gun 'sanctuary' resolution:
Henry, Mercer, Woodford, Tazewell, Ford, Iroquois, Brown, Douglas, Christian, Shelby, Cumberland, Clark, Bond, Fayette, Effingham, Jasper, Clay, Clinton, Washington, Monroe, Perry, Jefferson, Wayne, Perry, Franklin, Hamilton, White, Saline, Pope, Hardin