It was no accident Effingham County’s resolution to protect the rights of gun owners stole an important word from the very people the resolution was intended to provoke, supporters of the country’s sanctuary cities movement.
Effingham County State’s Attorney Bryan Kibler last month told a raucous crowd the origin story behind the “Second Amendment sanctuary county” movement, which began in Effingham and now includes 64 of the state’s 102 counties, counties in three other states, and nine more states in which counties are eyeing similar nonbinding measures. And as state legislators, emboldened by Gov. J.B. Pritzker, look at more gun-control measures, counties are looking at more ways to resist them.
Effingham County Board member David Campbell came to Kibler with a resolution passed by Iroquois County regarding gun rights, saying he wanted to do something similar, but questioned if they could make the language “a little more provocative,” he said in remarks posted on YouTube. He hit on the idea of alluding to some cities’ policies on cooperating with federal authorities on immigration enforcement.
“I said, well, they’re creating sanctuary counties for illegals up in Chicago, why don’t we just steal their word and make Effingham County a sanctuary county for firearms?” Kibler relayed to the crowd at a conservative gathering, to massive applause.
Effingham’s 2018 resolution asserted that at least five pieces of proposed Illinois legislation dealing with gun ownership would be unconstitutional. The resolution targeted proposed laws including those that would raise the minimum age for gun ownership to 21, outlaw various types of weapons, and outlaw bump stocks or body armor. It also demanded “the Illinois General Assembly cease further actions restricting the right of the people to keep and bear arms” and demanded the governor veto any such bills.
When the measure passed in the county of about 35,000 last spring, it may have looked like a publicity stunt or a way to provoke Chicago officials who object to Trump administration immigration policies. But as the movement gained traction, it also has grown in substance. County sheriffs and state’s attorneys have publicly backed the cause, saying they will use their discretion to leave new gun laws unenforced.
Close to Chicago, Ogle, Boone and LaSalle counties have passed such resolutions and are among the more than 50 percent of Illinois counties to do so in the past year. Campbell keeps a map in which counties that have passed resolutions are colored green and those where no action has taken place are marked red. There also are yellow and orange counties, for those that are voting soon and those where a movement is underway to introduce the resolution to the county board.
Only 12 counties are red, including Cook County, meaning the other 90 are either on board or entertaining the idea.
In Cook County, officials have generally supported more restrictions on gun ownership and the types of guns available, in an attempt to reduce violence involving guns. Cara Smith, chief of policy for Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, who has supported closing what he and others see as loopholes in firearm laws, including the firearm owner’s identification card process, said she does not recall anyone reaching out to Dart’s office to pitch a sanctuary county resolution.
“It’s the age-old struggle with gun control efforts in Illinois. Historically, central and southern Illinois, fortunately for them, don’t experience the kind of gun violence and trauma that Cook County and some of the collar counties do,” Smith said. “There’s always been this divide.”
On April 9, Plainfield Township adopted its own “Second Amendment sanctuary” resolution. It is notable not just because of Plainfield’s proximity to Chicago, but also because it’s the first township to pass this type of resolution.
The movement has spread “like wildfire,” Campbell says, in part because gun rights advocates believe the state’s current laws are unconstitutional.
“It’s not a binding law, it’s to get the attention of legislators. I think there is a big disconnect — our lawmakers down here really don’t have a say, they’re overwhelmed by the Democrats,” Campbell said. “I will say that legal gun owners can rest much easier knowing they have a safe haven …”
Effingham County on Monday upped the ante, this time adopting a resolution to ban state firearm owner’s identification cards, Campbell said, mainly to send a signal, based on a White County case in which a rifle owner asserted Second Amendment rights after an arrest. Before Effingham even passed the resolution, 20 counties had contacted Campbell to ask for a copy, he said.
But Campbell said until the Illinois Supreme Court weighs in on the matter, gun owners need to keep a current FOID card.
“I still believe that people need to have a FOID card, although I think it’s unconstitutional to require someone to pay a fee for a constitutionally protected right,” he said.
Monroe County Sheriff Neal Rohlfing is one of a handful of sheriffs who have thrown their support behind the latest measure, as has Kibler. Sheriffs and state’s attorneys can to some extent control who is arrested or charged with a crime, moving the nonbinding resolution into the sphere of practical implementation. Each has said they plan to use their discretion when making arrests and charging decisions regarding guns.
“We in law enforcement can’t assign police to families for personal protection and I think that’s what the Second Amendment is all about — personal protection for yourself and your loved ones,” Rohlfing said.
Rohlfing said the FBI’s 2016 Uniform Crime Report — which details the number of violent felonies nationwide — explains why the sanctuary county movement has snowballed. There were 941 homicides in Illinois that year, and 762 of them were in Chicago, he said.
“All of them are tragic, all of them,” Rohlfing said. “But we just don’t have the type of illegal gun activity Chicago has.”
If fingerprints become a requirement for a firearm owner’s card, as proposed in House Bill 96, he said people would need to comply with that unless the group is successful in getting FOID cards declared unconstitutional statewide.
“I wouldn’t take the approach of, hey, don’t worry about it, and don’t get the FOID cards,” Rohlfing said. “… If you have to submit your prints every few years and that prevents something like Aurora, I wouldn’t have a problem with that. I think most people wouldn’t have a problem with that.”
Edwards County also was added to the list of green counties this month. Edwards County Sheriff Darby Boewe is a concealed-carry instructor who has taught many in his county. In a 2018 interview, he said the majority of applicants were pursuing the permit so they could leave a weapon in their vehicle during hunting season.
“We’re actually closer hour- and mile-wise to Nashville, Tennessee, than we are to Chicago and we identify in most ways more with Kentucky, Indiana and such than with Chicago,” Boewe said.
Kibler has said state’s attorneys are able to weigh decisions on a case-by-case basis and that will continue. When explaining discretion, he often uses the example of a man from Mississippi who was passing through Effingham County on his way to visit relatives in Chicago. The man had a small revolver visible inside a driver’s-side door compartment when he was pulled over. He originally was arrested by a state trooper for having a loaded weapon in the car.
“I said, ‘get him out of here and give him his gun back.’ The state of Illinois should not be making a felon out of this man,” Kibler said.
Kibler also said the central and southern parts of the state are dealing with high rates of methamphetamine use and police and the state’s attorney’s office don’t have time to pursue minor gun cases.
“We don’t have the luxury of trying to enforce the laws that come on down from high from liberal jurisdictions while we’re making record numbers of arrests in a meth epidemic,” he said.
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