Civil Disobedience in Illinois As Gun Owners Defy Registration Mandate

Illinois gun owners found in possession of unregistered “assault weapons” and “large capacity” magazines could now face criminal charges, but that hasn’t stopped many gun owners from engaging in civil disobedience, especially with many sheriffs and some state’s attorneys saying they have no plans on arresting or prosecuting otherwise lawful citizens.

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While most gun owners acting in defiance of the law aren’t advertising their refusal to comply, there are some who aren’t afraid of poking the bear. Darren Bailey, a former legislator, 2022 Republican candidate for governor, and current congressional candidate, has repeatedly dared Gov. J.B. Pritzker and the Illinois State Police to come and arrest him this week for keeping ahold of his so-called assault weapons and large capacity magazines without registering them with the ISP.

Bailey’s civil disobedience has had no shortage of detractors; both online and in print. One common theme is that lawmakers shouldn’t be lawbreakers, no matter what law might be in question.

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Do you think Dana was just as incensed and outraged when 17 Democratic members of Congress were arrested for blocking the streets near the Supreme Court after it overturned Roe v. Wade? Yeah, me neither. What about the late civil rights activist John Lewis, who was arrested 40 times between 1960 and 1966 for protesting or willfully disobeying Jim Crow laws that were in place across the south? Does Dana believe that should have disqualified him from serving in Congress for more than 30 years?

I highly doubt it. That was “good trouble”, you see; Lewis and other activists were willing to risk arrest to advance the cause of justice, liberty, and civil rights, whereas Bailey is… well, doing the same thing for the same reasons. But for folks like Dana, the right to keep and bear arms isn’t a “real” right, so Bailey’s acts aren’t good trouble at all.

Bloomington, Illinois Pantagraph columnist Brendan Moore, meanwhile, tried to minimize the civil disobedience being practiced by gun owners like Bailey in his most recent column, comparing his refusal to register his now-banned guns to driving over the speed limit.

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Disagreeing with it doesn’t mean it isn’t the law. Kind of like a speed limit. You can still get a ticket if caught going 40 mph in a 30 mph zone even if you disagree with the set limit. Except the potential consequences for violating the weapons ban, of course, are much more serious than a speeding ticket.

Choosing to defy Illinois’s latest gun control law is much closer to the acts of Lewis and other civil rights activists than it is to someone with a lead foot, even if Bailey’s act of civil disobedience comes with less risk than Lewis’s actions in the 1960s. I don’t think the sheriff in Clay County, Illinois wants to enforce the gun and magazine ban any more than Bailey wants to obey it, so there’s a much different dynamic at play than Lewis challenging, say, the chief of police in Nashville, Tennessee to arrest him for sitting at a lunch counter meant for white customers only.

But while the risk might not be as great, I’d say the goal is still the same: full recognition of our fundamental rights. In the Jim Crow South the fight was about a portion of the population gaining access to all of the rights protected by the Fourteenth Amendment, while today’s struggle is about we the people having access to one specific right, but that doesn’t make it any less of a civil rights issue.

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Will this civil disobedience have an impact in Illinois? That remains to be seen, but U.S. District Judge Stephen McGlynn indicated that widespread non-compliance with the registration mandate would factor into any decision to grant an injunction after the mandate took effect. So far no hearing on a rewened request for an injunction has been filed, but I suspect that McGlynn will have another opportunity to weigh in and grant gun owners the relief they’re seeking in the very near future.

 

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