Are Gun Sanctuaries the Future?


Are Gun Sanctuaries the Future?

Over the past year, numerous counties in Illinois have made headlines by taking steps to protect gun owners. In Illinois, there is often a disconnect between the metropolitan areas surrounding Chicago and the rest of the State.

This disconnect, particularly on the issue of gun rights has led some county officials to try and take matters into their own hands. The new measures have made headlines, but what do they really mean for gun owners?

defensive handgun uses
(Photo courtesy LovableNinja)

What are gun sanctuaries?

In response to increasing activism and support for gun control, 26 out of the 102 Illinois counties have become gun sanctuary counties. A “gun sanctuary” describes a city where political leaders and law enforcement enact legislation to protect the Second Amendment (the right to bear arms). Over a dozen more Illinois counties are considering such measures.

Though gun sanctuary resolutions revolve around the same ideal, protecting gun rights, they vary somewhat depending on the individual county. In some cases, the gun sanctuary resolution is designed to send a message to gun control activists and politicians that the county will fight for its right to own firearms. In other counties, gun sanctuary resolutions promise that county employees won’t enforce any type of gun control measures it considers as violating the Second Amendment.

The proponents of gun sanctuary resolutions say these measures are meant to create a safe haven for individuals who believe in the Constitution and care about protecting their gun rights.

What protections do resolutions provide?

In recent years, the Democrat-led Illinois legislature have been considering laws that place even more restrictions on owning and using firearms, in a state that already has strict gun laws. The proposed restrictions include increasing the age limit to buy certain weapons and limiting the size of gun magazines. In August 2018, the Illinois House of Representatives approved legislation allowing law enforcement to temporarily take firearms away from individuals threatening violence. Aside from the laws currently pending and passed, Republican Governor Bruce Rauner did shut down some restrictions on firearms. He vetoed legislation that would have placed more restrictions on gun shop owners.

The gun sanctuary measures popping up around the state are mostly symbolic and protest these new restrictions on the Second Amendment. In practice, the resolutions may not do much, especially depending on how they are worded. However, local officials in gun sanctuary counties are focused on sending a message to those wanting to limit or eliminate the Second Amendment. They and their citizens are willing to fight to protect the right to bear arms.

Some gun sanctuary resolutions are more practical and could have implications beyond just sending a message. For example, one county’s sanctuary resolution includes a clause regarding gun control law enforcement. According to the resolution, it is legal for county officials to choose not to gun-control laws by the and federal government that would with rights.

With the current tense atmosphere on both sides of the gun control argument in Illinois, buying and owning a firearm is a weighty decision. Even for law enforcement officials, the new gun laws could have big implications. They could be tasked with enforcing rules more strictly and taking away people’s firearmsor—or they could be told to ignore all gun restrictions.

gun control debate

How does this work with current State laws?

In Illinois, like in most states, gun ownership and use is regulated by state officials more than by the United States government. Illinois has fairly strict laws regarding firearms. Some of these rules include:

  • Citizens must possess a valid Firearm Owners Identification (FOID) card in order to possess a gun or ammunition
  • FOID cards are issued by state police to anyone over the age of 21 years who completes and passes a 16-hour training course
  • Citizens must wait at least three days after they purchase a handgun to take possession of it
  • People who aren’t from Illinois are not required to possess an FOID card if they have a valid concealed carry weapons license from their home state

There have been recent changes proposed to state gun regulations. In July 2018, Gov. Rauner signed two laws allowing judges to confiscate weapons from people considered a danger to themselves or others. In these cases, the weapons can be confiscated for a period of time and returned later. It also prohibits these people from purchasing any new guns during this waiting period.

The second bill signed into law in July limits access to guns for people suffering from mental health issues. The law also targets people who don’t have a mental illness, but may pose a threat of violence. According to the new law, family members, police officers, or other individuals can petition the court to have someone’s guns and other weapons removed. Judges can order weapons be removed for as long as six months.

The Illinois General Assembly also proposed other measures restricting the right to bear arms, such as a ban on fire-enhanced bump stocks. The legislation was part of a larger anti-gun bill.

These new laws, along with other gun control laws, are an example of a conflict between counties and the state. In some areas, county officials and their constituents feel their rights are being taken away by a state that doesn’t understand them. Understandably, they want to send a message to state lawmakers. However, by nature “gun sanctuary” measures conflict with state law, and in almost all cases the state is able to overrule a municipality. Only time will tell how the state-local conflict will work out as the gun sanctuary situation develops in Illinois.

gun sanctuaries
(Public domain)

Could this be a model for other States?

What Illinois counties are doing to become defenders and supporters of the Second Amendment has become a model for rural areas in other states that want to do the same thing. County officials in states such as Oregon, Utah, Colorado, Washington and California are following the situation in Illinois and are considering employing similar gun sanctuary measures.

As discussed previously, local governments are subject to state preemption. This means the local government must typically defer to state and federal governments. Despite this precedent, there is growing support for state and federal governments to allow local governments to implement their own laws and policies. City and county officials know what is important in their area. They are better acquainted with the people they serve than far-removed state or national legislators are, and they know what’s best for their location.

Some advocates have described this as “an important symbolic step.” Even though, local officials have acknowledged these measures don’t have a lot of real ‘teeth’ to them, they represent a visible check on the political leanings of States with large metropolitan areas.

Opponents of the gun sanctuary resolution claim it is just a ploy for the midterm elections and not something that will spread or last beyond this year. However, this doesn’t seem to be the case. Currently, there are 40 states with provisions to protect citizens right to own and bear firearms. Provisions in states such as Maryland, California, New Jersey and Iowa are similar to the words of the Second Amendment of the US Constitution and fight for their citizens’ right to bear arms.

Gun owners in Illinois and other States with similar sentiments will be well-advised to take a close reading of the actual laws. The gun sanctuary measures at the local level can be a powerful symbolic measure against the State, but ultimately it’s the State and Federal laws that will dictate the true legalities. Staying informed and within the legal constraints will help you keep your freedom and continue the fight for change.


Andrew Nickel is the founder of The Law Offices of Andrew Nickel, and has spent his entire legal career dedicated to all areas of criminal and family law. Prior to his years in private practice, Mr. Nickel spent nearly five years as a prosecutor in both Kane and Kendall Counties in Illinois, where he handled a wide variety of cases including traffic, misdemeanors, felonies, and DUI cases.

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