The deadline for Illinois gun owners to register their banned “assault weapons” with the state police has come and gone, and contrary to the predictions of Gov. J.B. Pritzker it looks like there was no last-minute flood of registrations. According to the latest figures from the Illinois State Police, about 15,000 FOID holders had registered one or more firearm, “large capacity” magazine, or other device named in the Protect Illinois Communities Act as of late last week; about double the number that the ISP had previously reported, but still fewer than one percent of the nearly two million Firearm Owner ID card holders in the state.
Not everyone who possesses a valid FOID card ones one or more of the guns banned under the Protect Illinois Communities Act, but my guess is that the vast majority of them own either a firearm covered under PICA or a “large capacity” magazine that’s supposed to be registered with the state police. Compliance with the registration looks to be almost non-existent, which raises the question of how, exactly, the new ban will be enforced going forward.
In November, state police said it is up to prosecutors in the state’s 102 counties to enforce the law, but it’s unclear what penalties would be in store for those who fail to register their weapons. Penalties can vary for illegal weapons. Carrying or possessing unauthorized assault weapons could result in a misdemeanor, with one year in jail or a fine of up to $2,500. Manufacturing, selling, or purchasing an unauthorized weapon could constitute a felony and result in up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $25,000.
Kane County Sheriff Ron Hain explained that his deputies won’t be going door to door to find residents who may have a FOID card and “asking to see all of their weapons.” He said the law works more during high-profile investigations.
“However, if we are investigating a criminal organization and we do come across firearms that are in violation of the assault weapons ban, we will certainly use this new law to enhance criminal charges against them,” Hain said.
While some sheriffs like Hain say they’ll enforce the law if there are more serious charges attached, other sheriffs and even some state’s attorneys have indicated they have no plans on enforcing the law at all, much to the chagrin of gun control advocates, anti-gun politicians, and their allies in the media.
According to University of Illinois – Chicago political science professor Alexandra Filindra, who has extensively researched the confluence of guns, policing and politics, the divide between liberal Chicago legislators passing stricter gun laws and conservative downstate sheriffs refusing to enforce them is the latest iteration of a conflict going back to the founding of the country and the socioeconomic premises it was founded upon.
At the center of the debate, she said, is the question of who gets to be a “good American” and who gets labeled as those good Americans’ enemies.
Historically, she explained, the “good Americans” have been white, Christian, property-owning men. And being a good American is more than just belonging to an elite social club. By virtue of being white men who own property and profess Christian faith, Filindra said, one’s ability to govern themselves and others is made self-evident.
“This is consistent with ideals of Jeffersonian Democracy, which held that the ‘Good Americans’ were the freeholders,” she said. “It was the property owners who can be trusted with the state.”
Part of being trusted with the state or property, she explained, is the expectation that you will defend it — by force of arms if need be — from the good Americans’ enemies. Not just foreign soldiers, but indigenous peoples, Black slaves, agitating laborers and others.
This call to arms to defend whiteness, home and property from the threat posed by not-good Americans has echoed down the centuries, Filindra said, even being enshrined in deceased, conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s majority opinion in the 2008 landmark gun rights case District of Columbia v. Heller.
Give me a break. The right to keep and bear arms is a right of the people, not a right of conservatives, white dudes, or property owners. And I would love to see the part of the Heller decision that Filindra believes enshrines “defending whiteness” with a firearm. The truth is that gun ownership has become much more diverse over the past couple of decades, with the largest growth in recent years seen in minority communities and even among Democrats.
The anti-gunners are already attempting to twist history to portray the sheriffs, police chiefs, prosecutors, and gun owners who may be exercising civil disobedience in the worst light possible, and their propaganda is likely to get even more ridiculous as the scale of their defiance becomes clear. Though Filindra paints the history of this nation as a never-ending struggle between the forces of oppression and various underdogs, the fact remains that a complete and total ban on firearms has never been enacted by the powers that be, no matter how reactionary they might have been, and even during times of widespread social and economic unrest or as the size and role of government has grown ever-larger. If she and other gun control fans want to paint the current fight in Illinois as part of an existential battle between the forces of good and evil, so be it, but I’d say the side that’s turning people into criminals for simply maintaining possession of guns and magazines they lawfully purchased are the villains of this story.