Rural counties’ response to state firearm laws: ‘Gun sanctuaries’

“There’s an attitude and opinion around here that Cook County shouldn’t come over here and start restricting our rights,” Mocsary said. “It should focus on keeping its own house in order, and if it can’t, it shouldn’t impose rules on parts of the state that have nothing to do with what’s going on there.”

Mocsary added that the resolutions could dissuade local police and county sheriffs — who are elected and generally more independent-minded — from enforcing the laws.

Sheriffs around the country have said in the past that they would not enforce gun laws they saw as unconstitutional.

‘None of them do anything’

Rural counties’ response to state firearm laws: ‘Gun sanctuaries’
Rural counties’ response to state firearm laws: ‘Gun sanctuaries’

Critics, however, see the measures as little more than words.

“None of them do anything, actually,” said Michael Boldin, executive director of the Tenth Amendment Center, which helps state and local governments fight what it calls federal overreach by ignoring laws on guns, marijuana, surveillance and health care.

Boldin disagrees with calling the Illinois and Oregon efforts “gun sanctuary” measures because, he says, they don’t go as far as the immigration sanctuary laws they were named after.

Most immigration sanctuary laws, passed by cities and states across the country, prevent local officials from helping federal agencies detain undocumented immigrants. But the Illinois resolutions do not have the force of law, so it’s unclear whether local law enforcement authorities would choose to follow their guidance. And the Oregon ordinances, Boldin said, rely on a sheriff to determine if a gun law is unconstitutional and whether it should be enforced.

Some Oregon sheriffs, even those who oppose gun control measures, have expressed skepticism about their power to decide what is unconstitutional, and have raised concerns about making their county governments vulnerable to lawsuits.

In Illinois, local police agencies have not taken a public stand on the resolutions. The Illinois State Police has said the resolutions won’t change its commitment to enforcing all state laws. The executive director of the Illinois Sheriffs’ Association, Jim Kaitschuk, said the “gun sanctuary” resolutions do not compel sheriffs to do anything.

Only one sheriff in southern Illinois, Neal Rohlfing of Monroe County — where the county board passed a “gun sanctuary” resolution on May 7 — has said publicly that he will not enforce gun control bills passed by the state.

Image: Monroe County Sheriff Neal Rohlfing has said his department will not enforce anti-gun laws
Monroe County Sheriff Neal Rohlfing in his office at the Monroe County Jail in Waterloo, Illinois. Eva Russo / for NBC News

Kibler, the state’s attorney in Effingham County, said that it’s also a question of getting local prosecutors onboard. In the past, he has chosen not to prosecute some people charged with violating Illinois laws against keeping shotguns in car racks while driving through the state from elsewhere. He suggested he could do the same if the bills protested in the county resolutions become law.

“It’s prosecutorial discretion,” Kibler said.

‘It energizes the activists’

In Illinois, state lawmakers have yet to vote on the bills targeted by the southern counties’ resolutions; the General Assembly’s current session is scheduled to end May 31. In Oregon, the battle could continue until November, as organizers collect signatures to put “Second Amendment preservation” ordinances on county ballots while gun-control advocates do the same for their proposed ban on semi-automatic weapons.

Dave Workman, senior editor at the Second Amendment Foundation, an organization that advocates for gun rights, said he wouldn’t be surprised if the county efforts caught on elsewhere in the country, if only as a way to rally gun supporters during the midterm elections.

“What this really does is engage your people,” Workman said. “It energizes people out there to say, ‘Hey, someone is sticking up for our rights,’ and gets them involved, makes them want to go out and vote and become a local activist in their community.”

That’s true for David Campbell, the Effingham County Board member, who spends his days tracking the spread of “gun sanctuary” measures and fields emails from supporters around the country.

“We’re looking for strength in numbers,” he said.

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