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Illinois lawmakers accuse sheriff of "dereliction of duty" for stance on gun, mag ban

Illinois lawmakers accuse sheriff of "dereliction of duty" for stance on gun, mag ban
(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli,file)

The war of words over Illinois’ newest gun control laws is heating up, with more than a dozen legislators issuing an open letter calling DuPage County Sheriff James Medrick’s recent pledge not to make arrests solely for violations of the newly-imposed ban on “assault weapons” and “large capacity” magazines a dereliction of duty. Democratic officials in DuPage County, meanwhile, are calling on Medrick to retract his statement, though there doesn’t appear to be much the board can do about his position.

Medrick is one of dozens of sheriffs across the state who’ve taken a similar pledge not to enforce the new bans, but unlike most of the others he represents a county where Democrats hold a majority of seats in both county government and state legislative offices, which means he’s an inviting target for gun prohibitionists eager to cast law enforcement officers who won’t go along with their gun-banning ways as the villains in their anti-2A narrative.

I’ve gone over the legality of law enforcement using discretion in terms of charging individual offenses so often that I’m not going to repeat myself here, but suffice it to say that if Sheriff Medrick or any of the local police chiefs in DuPage County decided to strictly enforce every law on the books for just one week, Rohr and her Democratic colleagues would be screaming about overpolicing, disparate harms, and the need to reign in abuses by law enforcement. Police use discretion in their jobs every day, and adopting policies that deprioritize certain offenses is not unusual. In fact, we’re already seeing this same type of discretion being used by Chicago police when it comes to arrests for drug offenses.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020, arrests for possession of small amounts of drugs have plummeted in Chicago as officers focused on a surge of violent crime.

In 2019, through mid-October, Chicago police officers arrested more than 6,400 people on Class 4 drug-possession cases for which that was the most serious crime involved in the arrest.

Over the same period this year, about 1,300 people were arrested.

You think illegal drug use actually declined by more than 50% in Chicago between 2019 and 2022? Or was it more likely that the department’s informal policy was to focus on more serious offenses instead of low-level felony drug cases?

My guess is the latter, and when it comes to enforcement of Illinois’ new gun and magazine ban it makes even more sense for sheriffs and police chiefs to say this isn’t going to be an enforcement priority. Leave aside the constitutional concerns for a moment; given that possession of a “large capacity” magazine is a low-level misdemeanor offense under the new law, it’s not likely to have much of a chilling effect on any violent criminal in the first place. Even if the ban were constitutional (which it’s not), from a public safety perspective it makes way more sense to focus the finite amount of law enforcement resources on the few individuals who are responsible for the most serious violent crimes rather than trying to strictly enforce a non-violent, possessory misdemeanor offense.

One of the dirty little secrets about the new ban is that even where it is enforced, the punishment for a first offense is typically going to be a fine; hardly a serious consequence for someone accused of committing a criminal act while possessing a banned magazine. The gun and magazine bans are constitutional abominations, but they’re also just plain dumb from a public safety perspective.

Medrick and his fellow sheriffs are on solid legal, tactical, and moral ground with their position, but DuPage County Democrats are doing everything they can to get him to surrender the field. At Tuesday’s meeting of the county board’s Judicial and Public Safety Committee, prohibitionist board members read emails from their progressive constituents trashing the sheriff and tried to name and shame him for standing up for the fundamental rights of residents.

“Bottom line: Mendrick was elected to enforce the law and not interpret it,” Elmhurst resident Amy Lippert said in an email read at Tuesday’s committee meeting. “If he won’t uphold his oath and enforce the law, he should resign or be recalled. If he wants to interpret laws, he can try to become a judge.”

Committee members echoed residents calls for Mendrick to retract his statement, with some suggesting the board should censure the sheriff if he does not. It was unclear Tuesday morning, however, if the board has the authority to censure a sheriff.

County board member Liz Chaplin said if the sheriff does not retract his statement, he should resign.

“If he can’t enforce the laws of the state then he needs to really consider stepping aside,” said Chaplin, a Democrat from Downers Grove. “We need somebody in that office that’s responsible and that will uphold the laws of this state.”

I love the fact that some board members were calling for Medrick’s censure when they didn’t even know if they had the authority to do that. If you’re going to accuse someone else of abusing their power, shouldn’t you have a handle on the scope of your own responsibilities first?

At least they didn’t convince themselves they had the power to act when they didn’t, unlike the lawmakers in Springfield who swear they believe this new ban will pass constitutional muster despite it banning arms that are in common use for lawful purposes by large numbers of Illinois gun owners. It’s just a shame that instead of standing with Sheriff Medrick in protecting the fundamental rights of their constituents, they’re standing on the wrong side of history and the Constitution.