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Illinois state rep predicts thousands will refuse to register their assault weapons in Illinois

The Illinois State Police are facing pushback from gun rights advocates over proposed rules requiring owners of certain firearms to register them before the end of the year.

State police are in the process of adopting new rules to implement part of the state’s new assault weapons ban – officially named the Protect Illinois Communities Act.

That law, which lawmakers passed in January, prohibits any new sales or purchases of firearms defined as “assault weapons,” large-capacity magazines and certain kinds of gun attachments. But it says people who already owned those items before the law took effect are allowed to keep them, as long as they register them with Illinois State Police before Jan. 1.

About 50 people turned out for a public hearing Thursday in Springfield to comment on proposed rules to implement the registration portion of the law. One of those was state Rep. Brad Halbrook, R-Shelbyville, an outspoken opponent of the assault weapons ban, who asked what the state intends to do with people who refuse to register their weapons.

“Hundreds of thousands of people will absolutely not comply,” Halbrook said. “It is up to the governor and the legislature to truly decide if they’re prepared to declare war on law-abiding gun owners or not. One thing will be certain. This we will defend: the right to bear arms shall not be infringed.”

The law was passed during a special lame duck session of the General Assembly in January. It came in response to a mass shooting last year at an Independence Day parade in Highland Park that left seven people dead and dozens more injured and traumatized.

The alleged shooter in that massacre is said to have used a Smith & Wesson M&P 15 semiautomatic rifle equipped with three 30-round magazines.

But some of the people who spoke or submitted comments at the public hearing argued that the law, and the proposed rules, apply to a wide range of firearms and accessories, many of which are in common use by hunters and sportsmen. They also argued that language in the law, which ISP has noted is “very broad,” makes it difficult to know what items are being regulated and what items are exempt.

Although officials at ISP have tried to address those technical questions and concerns with information on its website, those who conducted Thursday’s public hearing were unable to provide immediate answers to many other questions.

“It was frustrating at times,” Josh Witkowski, a lobbyist for the Illinois Federation of Outdoor Resources, said in an interview after the hearing. “You come hoping to get answers and instead get told ‘put your questions in writing.’ It’s a little frustrating to come to a public hearing and be told ‘just submit it in writing.’”

Witkowski said gun owners are looking for answers “sooner rather than later” given the fact that registration must occur by Jan. 1.

“And a lot of these firearms, they (gun owners) don’t realize have to be registered under the incredibly expansive definitions in the act,” he said.

Gregory Magnuson, an Illinois native who said he moved back to the state in 2021 after living in California for several years, predicted the law will prompt many gun owners to leave Illinois for more gun-friendly states.

“Illinois’ decision to enact the same type of poorly written reactionary gun ban as California will drive any gun owner out of the state who’s able to leave,” he said. “Illinois is surrounded by gun-friendly states that would gladly receive patriotic taxpayers as new residents.”

According to data maintained by ISP, there are more than 2.4 million Firearm Owner Identification card holders in Illinois, although not all of them own firearms covered by the assault weapon ban. As of Thursday, only 2,430 individuals had submitted registrations since the agency began accepting them on Oct. 1.

But State Rep. Bob Morgan, D-Deerfield, a lead sponsor of the bill, said at an unrelated event Thursday that he believes people who own such weapons will eventually comply with the law.

“This is new for the state of Illinois. … Historically, we’ve registered people with our FOID card registration,” he said. “This is the first time we’re registering weapons themselves. I also think there are a lot of individuals who have these weapons that are considering whether to sell them to someone out of state, which is a provision in the law that they’re allowed to do.”

Morgan acknowledged that many gun owners may also be waiting for a final decision from federal courts about whether Illinois’ assault weapons ban is constitutional. One federal judge in the Southern District of Illinois has ruled the law is unconstitutional, but two judges in the Northern District have ruled that it is not. Those decisions are now under review by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals and may eventually be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

ISP is scheduled to hold another public hearing at 9:30 a.m. Friday at the Michael A. Bilandic building in Chicago. A final hearing is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Monday, Nov. 6, at the Caseyville Community Center in the metro east.