The spate of counties suddenly passing “gun sanctuary” ordinances immediately aroused suspicions.
For those not keeping score, by mid-summer, 26 of Illinois’ 104 counties — including Hamilton, Hardin, Jefferson, Perry, Saline, Pope, Wayne, Washington and White in Southern Illinois — passed such ordinances.
The ordinances vary slightly.
Iroquois County passed a resolution declaring five bills in the Illinois General Assembly dealing with gun ownership, licensing for gun sellers and large capacity magazines to be unconstitutional. Other counties, such as Effingham County, changed the approach slightly, declaring themselves actual sanctuaries.
In some counties, the resolution directed county employees not to enforce laws that unconstitutionally restrict the Second Amendment. Yet, in the next breath, the county boards maintained the gun sanctuary designation was symbolic.
The problems with these symbolic gestures are many, but one is most basic: It does not fall upon county boards or sheriff’s departments to determine whether a law is constitutional or unconstitutional. That type of determination can only legally made by the judiciary.
Sheriff’s departments are likely within their rights if they decide to aggressively enforce a certain law, but they have no right, nor the ability to determine a law to be unconstitutional.
On their face, the resolutions are empty rhetoric.
But, there is something more.
They are tone deaf. Yes, the Second Amendment is currently a hot button issue. Yes, a significant portion of the population believes their rights to own rifles, shotguns and pistols are under attack. And, yes, those people have every right to contact state and local officials to protect those rights.
That is indisputable — we're not arguing against that.
On the other hand, mass shootings continue to plague the United States. So far, Southern Illinois has been fortunate. There have been no such mass shootings in the region, but our neighbors in Kentucky saw 16 people shot at Marshall County High School.
We are not immune, and we hope and pray to never feel that pain in Southern Illinois.
Finally, from the beginning, this movement felt a bit manufactured … like a political ploy.
Then, Williamson County happened, confirming what we had believed from the beginning.
The Williamson County Board considered placing a gun control advisory measure on the ballot earlier this summer. However, the matter was tabled while commissioners tried to agree on the proper wording. On Friday, it was decided that the question will not be on the November ballot.
When the proposed question morphed to “Shall the Williamson County Board of Commissioners pass a resolution that opposes any gun control legislation in the Illinois General Assembly?”, commissioner Brent Gentry balked. His concerns were aired in a July 25 story in this newspaper.
After the story was printed, Ron Ellis, a Republican, received a text message from Rep. Dave Severin urging Ellis to support the resolution, “Wanted to let you know how important this is to myself and Dale’s (Sen. Dale Fowler) campaign, and the other Republicans running.”
The message went on to say the statewide Republican party planned to use the referendum to target Republican voters as a ploy to increase turnout.
That’s when Ellis bowed his neck. He said he was not fond of “putting Williamson County citizens in the middle” of a political fight playing out in Springfield and Chicago. Without the support of Ellis and Gentry, the motion to pass the measure died without a second.
Ellis said he has been told by Republican officials that his action will have political repercussions. Both Ellis and Gentry have stated they won’t back down from their positions. Of course, when pressed for comments, Republican leaders gave opaque, vague non-answers.
We applaud any effort by political parties to enhance voter turnout. We believe our democracy is best served by an active and engaged electorate. However, we also believe our democracy is best served when voters are well-informed and not going to the polls because of behind the scenes political shenanigans.