Lake County Board candidate demands gun control action; rival calls timing of comments 'extremely disappointing'

After the massacre of 11 Jews at a Pittsburgh synagogue, a Lake County Board candidate is calling for the board to take action on gun control.

Susan Malter, a Lincolnshire Democrat running for the 21st District seat, said commissioners could pass a resolution supporting a statewide ban on assault weapons or lobby the General Assembly to allow counties to ban such weapons, among other possible actions.

"We need to be talking about what Lake County can do about gun violence," Malter said.

Republican incumbent Ann Maine, also of Lincolnshire, criticized Malter for politicizing the Pittsburgh tragedy in the final days of the campaign. Additionally, Maine said banning assault-style weapons in unincorporated areas would be difficult to enforce because of their scattered locations.

But Maine said the county board should look at the greater issue of gun violence, including suicides and domestic violence, next year.

Malter and Maine will face off Tuesday. The winner also will serve on the Lake County Forest Preserve District board.

Regulating the possession of assault weapons is the General Assembly's responsibility. State law also limits the ability of home-rule municipalities or counties to regulate firearms.

The Lake County Board isn't a home-rule agency and thus can't restrict gun ownership.

Malter, who unsuccessfully sought the Democratic Party nomination for the state House 59th District seat this year, said she supports outlawing assault-style weapons. Such guns have been used in many mass shootings in the U.S., including the one in Pittsburgh.

Malter acknowledged the board is unable to ban assault weapons but insisted the group isn't powerless to act.

"The county board should take a position on this issue, not pretend that it's someone else's problem," she said.

In addition to a resolution supporting a ban, Malter suggested the county board could fund gun safety education programs through the health department. The sheriff and coroner could publicize gun deaths, too, she said.

Malter criticized the Lake County Republican organization for raffling off firearms, including an assault-style rifle, as a fundraiser in October 2017, less than two weeks after a mass shooting in Las Vegas.

"These guns are not to be celebrated," Malter said.

Maine, a county commissioner since 2002, called the timing of Malter's call for county action on guns "extremely disappointing."

However, Malter has spoken in favor of gun control at other times, including at a public forum about the issue in September. Maine spoke at that forum, too.

Regardless, if the board had the power to regulate assault weapons, such a ban would apply only to people who live in the unincorporated areas scattered throughout the county, Maine said.

That would create a patchwork system "that would change block by block" and be difficult for sheriff's deputies to enforce, she said.

"I would prefer that the state take the lead on assault weapons ban because then there would be a comprehensive law enforceable in every city, township, municipality and county," Maine said.

Maine also said she supports "common-sense gun laws" such as a ban on bump stocks. But a county resolution urging action on the issue in Springfield would be nonbinding "and have little to no legal standing," she said.

Maine also said gun safety classes won't prevent mass shootings.

Maine pledged to include gun violence in the county board's strategic plan discussions next year - and not just regarding mass shootings. Gun violence also includes accidents, suicides, gang activity and domestic violence, she said.

The 21st District includes Lincolnshire, Riverwoods, Bannockburn, Mettawa and Green Oaks, as well as portions of other nearby towns.

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