GOP lawmakers say lack of guidance from attorney general puts gun buyers in legal jeopardy

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A group of Republican state lawmakers said Wednesday that a lack of guidance from the Illinois attorney general’s office after a federal court in southern Illinois temporarily put the state’s sweeping gun ban on hold late last month has left residents who bought high-powered firearms prohibited under the law in legal jeopardy.

Gun shops across the state late last month resumed selling high-powered semi-automatic weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines subject to the ban after a federal judge in the Southern District of Illinois issued an injunction April 28 blocking enforcement of the law. That decision was reversed six days later by the Chicago-based U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, which previously had declined to block the law in a separate case.

Guidance has since been posted to the Illinois State Police website that says purchases made during the six days the injunction was in place remain subject to the ban.

That means sellers can’t deliver guns and magazines that were ordered during that time period, and buyers who already received their purchases cannot legally possess them.

Republicans in the state Senate are criticizing Attorney General Kwame Raoul and Gov. J.B. Pritzker, both Chicago Democrats, for failing to provide that guidance before the appeals court made its ruling.

“The attorney general had an opportunity to urge caution and express the consequences of what may or may not happen down the road to people that are exercising their constitutional right during that six-day period of time, but he neglected to do it,” GOP state Sen. Jason Plummer of Edwardsville said Wednesday during a statehouse news conference. “Now, today, the attorney general is saying that those transactions were illegal.”

Plummer accused Raoul and Pritzker of engaging in “an intentional effort ... to entrap Illinoisans, law-abiding citizens, and turn them into felons.”

A spokeswoman for Raoul’s office pushed back, saying in a statement: “Any insinuation that the attorney general’s office would intentionally mislead or ‘entrap’ law-abiding Illinois residents is, at best, laughable. At worst, it is dangerous.”

At the same time, Raoul spokeswoman Annie Thompson acknowledged the office has not provided any help to consumers and gun shop owners who have been whipsawed by a host of legal challenges and court rulings that have created confusion about where the ban stands at any given moment.

“Consistent with our handling of any rapidly-evolving litigation being handled by the attorney general’s office, our office has not issued formal guidance related to the Protect Illinois Communities Act as the matter goes through the court system,” Thompson said.

Under the law passed by the Democratic-controlled legislature and signed by Pritzker in January, people who possessed the now-prohibited firearms when the law took effect Jan. 10 will be able to keep them if they register them with the state by the beginning of 2024.

But the recently posted state police guidance says that option will not apply to people who purchased guns banned under the law during the six-day period between the federal court decisions.

The issue could continue to come into play because the law is facing several pending legal challenges, including a request from a Naperville gun shop owner to block both the state ban and a similar local ordinance that is pending before U.S. Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett.

State Sen. Terri Bryant, a Murphysboro Republican, said she reached out to the attorney general’s office and the state police after the federal court ruling in late April for guidance for her constituents and gun sellers in her district and the response was “crickets.”

Bryant said a representative from the attorney general’s office said they were waiting to see what happened on appeal.

That response was “unacceptable,” she said.

“The law is fairly clear on the face of it, and so people need to follow that law,” Pritzker said during an unrelated event, responding to the Republican criticism.

“There are many gun dealers who would like to have something different in the law, but the law that passed bans assault weapons, and I want to be clear to everybody, that the purpose of that law is to save lives, and we’ve seen just in the last two weeks that entire families have been killed by assault weapons. It is time to end this madness and to save our families’ lives,” Pritzker said.

The gun ban was passed in response to the deadly mass shooting at last year’s Fourth of July parade in north suburban Highland Park. After Pritzker signed it into law in January, about 90 of Illinois’ 102 county sheriffs vowed to not enforce it, based on their presumption that it violates the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

On Wednesday, Plummer, who represents parts of south-central Illinois, said his constituents don’t “need to worry about their local sheriffs.”

“I’m worried about the state of Illinois, and the state of Illinois has shown under this governor time and time again that they’re more than happy to be punitive and vindictive toward their political enemies instead of just viewing them as people that they live in the same neighborhood and they just mildly disagree with,” Plummer said. “That’s not how this governor operates. It’s not how this attorney general operates.”

Dan Eldridge, who owns Maxon Shooter’s Supplies and Indoor Range in Des Plaines, said the legal wrangling since the late April federal court ruling in southern Illinois has created confusion for firearms dealers and customers.

Eldridge said dealers were able to sell guns prohibited under the new law after the April 28 federal court ruling but had to halt those sales following the 7th Circuit’s stay. He said dealers cannot complete sales that were in process before the appellate ruling.

“Our guidance to customers right now is to sit tight. This thing is not over,” said Eldridge, who also heads Federal Firearm Licensees of Illinois, a gun dealer advocacy group. “Something’s going to break here very soon in the next week or two, and then we’ll be able to deliver your property to you as occurred before.”

Also on Wednesday, lawyers for Naperville gun shop owner Robert Bevis, who sued the city and the state over the gun restrictions, said in a U.S. Supreme Court filing that Raoul’s office is “spitting on the Constitution” in its arguments to uphold the law.

The filing was a response to the attorney general’s brief filed earlier this week arguing against Bevis’ request that the high court place the Naperville ordinance and the state law on hold while his lawsuit works its way through the lower courts.

It’s unclear when the Supreme Court may issue a decision.

Gorner reported from Springfield.