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Lawmakers call on DuPage sheriff to enforce assault weapons ban

Chicago Tribune logo Chicago Tribune 1/24/2023 Megan Jones and Jeremy Gorner, The Courier-News, Elgin, Ill.

Jan. 23—Some area Democratic members of Congress, state lawmakers and DuPage County Board members gathered Monday to call on DuPage County Sheriff James Mendrick to retract his statement or resign after he said he will not enforce the state's new assault weapons ban.

Mendrick, a Republican, issued a statement Jan. 13, saying he believes the new bill violates Second Amendment rights and that his office won't be checking to ensure that lawful gun owners register their weapons with the state nor arresting or housing anyone charged solely with not complying with the act.

Dozens of sheriffs around Illinois have also declared they will not enforce the new assault weapons ban.

Lawmakers, including U.S. Reps. Sean Casten, D-Downers Grove; Delia Ramirez, D-Chicago; Bill Foster, D-Naperville; and Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Schaumburg, spoke at Monday's news conference at Danada House in Wheaton, calling Mendrick's statement irresponsible.

"I just want to say with one voice, we cannot wait another day, we cannot wait another hour, we cannot wait another minute for the sheriff to do his duty because lives depend on it," Krishnamoorthi said.

Casten said Mendrick's actions will make future mass shootings more likely. Casten said he spoke with Mendrick last week before joining other Democratic lawmakers to issue a letter calling on Mendrick to retract his statement and answer several questions by Feb. 3.

In the letter, they asked Mendrick if there were any other laws he has chosen to disregard because he viewed them as unconstitutional.

"The questions we ask are questions all citizens should want to know. If he believes he has the authority to act as a judge and interpret the Constitution, please advise where that authority resides because all of us who operate under the laws of the United States have not previously been familiar with that theory," Casten said.

In an interview with the Chicago Tribune last week, Mendrick said he planned on staying out of the statewide outcry among other sheriffs about the new law but said the concerns he heard from his own deputies and regular citizens were too much to ignore.

"The first couple of days, I was actually trying to call people back personally. But everyone would keep me on the phone for 30, 40 minutes apiece. Every citizen I talked to wanted to vent on all of this stuff," said Mendrick. "The way the law was released scared society. I know it wasn't the intent. But it did. It scared everybody who owns guns."

"Gun owners, lawful gun owners, this makes them feel that their rights are being infringed upon, that this is just the beginning," said Mendrick. "How much further will it go after this?"

He said he tries to "comply with everything I can" but believes the new law, as written, is incomplete. While the ban says that current owners of high-capacity magazines are required to register them with the Illinois State Police by April and high-powered weapons by Jan. 1, Mendrick is concerned over whether he'll have the police resources to enforce the law.

"If you're expecting us to be the arm of this, how? Tell me where I get the people," he said.

If manpower is the issue, Casten encouraged Mendrick to reach out to legislators to try and seek federal, state or county funding to help increase staffing levels.

In a follow-up statement after the news conference, Mendrick said the law is poorly written and has no clear direction as to who will be enforcing it. He said he was contacted by Casten on Jan. 16 about enforcing the law.

"There is absolutely nothing that we are doing or not doing that would make a mass shooting more accessible in DuPage County," Mendrick said in the statement. "In fact, I have asked on multiple occasions to increase penalties on all existing gun crimes, but it does not appear that they want to have that conversation. They seem more concerned with lawful gun owners than people illegally possessing guns."

During Monday's news conference, some DuPage County Board members said they've talked about the possibility of censuring Mendrick for his position on enforcement of the assault weapons ban and encouraged residents to speak during the public comment portion of county board meetings on the issue.

On Friday, an Effingham County judge temporarily blocked the ban from being enforced on more than 850 people and a handful of licensed gun dealers. The ruling stems from a lawsuit filed last week by attorney Thomas DeVore, a Republican who argued the ban violated the state constitution's due process and equal protection clauses.

The judge set a hearing for Feb. 1. The order only applies to the plaintiffs and the state can still enforce the ban against anyone who isn't a part of the lawsuit.

mejones@chicagotribune.com

(c)2023 The Courier-News (Elgin, Ill.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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