Signs of Civil Disobedience in Illinois Gun Registration Efforts

AP Photo/Andrew Selsky, File

There’s just a little more than a month left before Illinois gun owners must register their so-called assault weapons with the state police or risk the possibility of criminal charges if they’re caught with their modern sporting rifle, and so far it looks like many gun owners are willing to run that risk. As of November 21st, fewer than 3,500 gun owners have registered some 6,600 newly banned firearms with the state police; about 0.001 percent of the state’s 2.4 million legal gun owners.


So far state officials are downplaying the lack of compliance, suggesting there’ll be a flood of new registrations as we get closer to the January 1 deadline.

On Oct. 31, when about 2,000 people had registered their grandfathered-in assault weapons about a month into the policy being in effect, Illinois State Police Director Brendan Kelly said the registration process had been “slow but steady.”

“We’ll just see how the process continues to work and we’ll share the data as we continue on a daily basis to do so,” Kelly said during an unrelated event in Springfield.

Two days later in Lake Forest, Gov. J.B. Pritzker downplayed any suggestion that not enough people owning the prohibited guns were registering them, saying it was too early to make such an assessment and suggesting registration would pick up closer to Jan. 1.

“I can tell you, at least for me, that I think all of us take our time sometimes when we know the deadline is two-and-a-half months (away), that we’ll find the time eventually to go online, which is what they need to do and to register as they’re required to do,” Pritzker said.

Maybe Pritzker’s right, but if I were him I wouldn’t bet his billion-dollar fortune on his assumption that gun owners are just waiting for the last minute to comply with the state’s mandate. Sure, some folks may be holding off in the hopes that the federal courts will put a halt to the Illinois law before the reporting requirements kick in, but with scores of county sheriffs and even some prosecutors saying that they don’t plan on proactively enforcing the “assault weapons” ban my guess is that when the deadline rolls around there are still going to be an awful lot of gun owners who haven’t informed the state that they possess a now-banned rifle, pistol, or shotgun.


After Pritzker signed the gun ban into law, an estimated 90 of Illinois’ 102 county sheriffs issued letters stating they “believe that (the new gun law) is a clear violation of the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution” and that they wouldn’t enforce it.

At public hearings in Springfield and Chicago earlier this month, state police heard concerns about the ban and its registration requirement from several gun rights advocates. One Republican lawmaker predicted that “hundreds of thousands” people would “absolutely not comply” with registering their weapons.

“We know this public hearing is taking place because (of) the governor and his radical-left agenda,” state Rep. Brad Halbrook, a Shelbyville Republican who is a member of the House Freedom Caucus, a group composed of his chamber’s most conservative legislators, testified before the state police. “He and his Democrat legislators passed this bill and then laid it at your feet to have to deal with it.”

So far Halbrook’s prediction looks to be pretty accurate. The number of registered guns will undoubtedly go up, of course, but I’d still be shocked if there was a big surge in the days before the mandate takes effect. When New York mandated a similar registration of “assault weapons” as part of the SAFE Act in 2013, we saw “massive noncompliance” on the part of gun owners more than two years after the deadline passed. Attorney Paloma Capanna had to sue the state police to get the numbers, and learned that just 44,000 guns out of an estimated 1 million “assault weapons” had been registered with the state police.


 Capanna said that the high rate of noncompliance with the law could only be interpreted as a large-scale civil disobedience, given the high level of interest and concern about the law on the part of gun owners.

“It’s not that they aren’t aware of the law,” said Capanna. “The lack of registration is a massive act of civil disobedience by gun owners statewide.”

Don’t be surprised to see the same phenomenon play out in Illinois, especially with the vast majority of sheriffs indicating they have no plans on enforcing the gun ban or its registration requirements. The odds of getting hit with a misdemeanor charge for maintaining possession of a so-called assault weapon without informing the state is fairly low, at least for downstate gun owners in more conservative counties, and that may be enough potential protection for them to run the risk of criminal charges and engage in their own act of civil disobedience by refusing to comply with the state’s mandate going forward.

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