Daily Herald opinion: Illinois sheriffs should be enforcing gun laws - not defying them

The ink was barely dry on the new high-powered weapons ban in Illinois when dozens of sheriffs across the state declared they would not enforce the requirement that current owners of such weapons register them with police.

Arguing the law was unconstitutional, they were not subtle in their refusal to embrace it.

DuPage County Sheriff James Mendrick and McHenry County's Robb Tadelman had this to say: "Neither myself nor my office will be checking to ensure that lawful gun owners register their weapons with the state, nor will we be arresting or housing law abiding individuals that have been charged solely with noncompliance of this act."

In response, several DuPage County Board members have called on Mendrick to retract his statement or resign.

Not an auspicious start for a law designed to keep those same sheriffs from having to respond to the scene of a school shooting or parade massacre.

Lake County Sheriff John Idleburg, meanwhile, took a more measured approach. He assured legal gun owners that deputies won't go door to door asking for the documentation, nor will they search the homes of law-abiding civilians who own weapons. But he expressed support of the ban and said what too many other sheriffs would not.

"It's incredibly dangerous for me to cherry-pick and enforce only laws I agree with, or only laws I feel are important," he said.

The change, signed into law last week, bans the purchase, sale and manufacture of semi-automatic assault weapons, .50 caliber rifles and ammunition, and large-capacity magazines. Those who already own the weapons can keep them, but they are required to disclose the make, model and serial number.

The courts will no doubt take up the issue of the ban's constitutionality. Changes may follow.

But the Second Amendment, and the right to bear arms, was created for the purpose of protection. Illinois residents are still allowed to buy a gun for that reason - just not the kind of weapons used too often to turn innocent bystanders into prey.

Idleburg put it well: "Our Founding Fathers were not loading .223 rounds into their muskets. They were not using firearms designed to disintegrate human bodies. As I said following the Highland Park mass shooting, these weapons of war do not belong on our streets. They're used to kill our police, used to kill innocent people and used to inflict maximum carnage on their victims."

Ordinary citizens do not need assault weapons, and even law-abiding gun owners can't always keep their weapons from falling into the hands of those who would abuse them.

The law will not eliminate mass killings. It will, however, create much-needed obstacles that will make them harder to carry out.

And even if many sheriffs don't share that view, they have a duty to do whatever they can to prevent another Highland Park.

They have a duty to enforce the law. They shouldn't be first in line to defy it.

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