Illinois has banned assault weapons, but many residents aren't complying
JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:
Illinois is less than a month into enforcement of its new assault weapons ban. It is now illegal to sell or manufacture high-powered rifles like the AR-15 or AK-47 in Illinois. Those who already own assault weapons in the state can keep them, but they're required to register them. But as Alex Degman from member station WBEZ tells us, the vast majority of permit-holding Illinois gun owners are not complying.
ALEX DEGMAN, BYLINE: Driving north out of Springfield, it's hard to miss Aim 2 Shoot, where Doug Schmidgall teaches concealed carry classes and sells guns out of his home.
DOUG SCHMIDGALL: How you doing?
DEGMAN: Pretty good. How about yourself?
SCHMIDGALL: Oh, can't complain.
DEGMAN: His farm sits atop a hill, where he mows inspirational messages that span the distance of several football fields. Today it reads, you are great. Thank a vet.
SCHMIDGALL: Push the release here.
(SOUNDBITE OF GUN CLICKING)
SCHMIDGALL: She slams forward, puts a live round in the chamber.
DEGMAN: Even before Illinois's new assault weapons ban, Schmidgall's business wasn't focused on selling high-powered rifles. But still, he says the new law has hurt his business.
SCHMIDGALL: It's already cut my gun sales down by 30%.
DEGMAN: He says he's transferring the few banned weapons he has out of state. Under the new law, anyone who already owned an assault rifle or other banned attachments prior to this year can keep them, but they have to fill out a form with Illinois State Police now. To register, people need an email address, state ID and an Illinois firearm owner's ID. The whole process is online, and critics say that's frustrating for people in rural areas with poor internet service and seniors who don't have access at all. If you're caught with an unregistered weapon, it's a class A misdemeanor. Schmidgall says the policy is singling out law-abiding citizens.
SCHMIDGALL: A criminal can't even sign up. The register has gone in, and what criminal is going to? They pass these guns around like Tic Tacs.
DEGMAN: Democratic governor J.B. Pritzker signed the Protect Illinois Communities Act into law a year ago. It came in response to a mass shooting in the Chicago suburb of Highland Park, where a gunman killed seven people and injured more than 50 in the summer of 2022. But out of 2.5 million gun permit holders in Illinois, only 29,000 people have registered assault weapons. Ron Hain is the sheriff in Kane County, about an hour west of Chicago. He says his department won't go door to door looking for unregistered guns, but someone would catch a charge if they're committing another crime.
RON HAIN: As long as we're in the investigation of a crime, we have probable cause to be there and we come across it, I thoroughly believe that they will approve the enhanced criminal charges based on these firearms.
DEGMAN: Nearly three quarters of Illinois sheriffs last year said they wouldn't enforce the law at all. Democratic State Senator Bill Cunningham co-chairs the panel that oversees the ban's implementation. He says it needs to be taken seriously.
BILL CUNNINGHAM: I'm a law and order guy, and I think police agencies should enforce the law. And I think any sheriffs or any law enforcement agency that refuses to enforce the law is guilty of dereliction of duty.
DEGMAN: Gun rights groups and conservative politicians have filed several lawsuits trying to block the law. Last month the U.S. Supreme Court declined to delayed implementation, but the legal challenge is still pending. Doug Schmidgall at Aim 2 Shoot hopes the law will eventually fall.
SCHMIDGALL: According to the Constitution and the Second Amendment, we have a right to bear arms. This government in this state doesn't seem to care about what the people want.
DEGMAN: The final rules for how the law should be implemented are still getting hashed out, and several questions remain, like how much authority state police have to regulate copycat guns that mimic existing assault weapons but are designed to get around the ban. Lawmakers hope to finalize the rules next week. For NPR News, I'm Alex Degman in Springfield, Ill.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHILDISH GAMBINO SONG, "REDBONE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.