Pike state's attorney urges county to wait on proposed gun ordinance

Posted: Mar. 15, 2013 8:16 am Updated: Apr. 5, 2013 9:15 am

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

PITTSFIELD, Ill. -- Pike County State's Attorney Carrie Boyd is advising the County Board to not adopt a concealed-carry ordinance before the Illinois General Assembly acts on the issue.

Board member Dan Mefford last month proposed an ordinance that would make any state or federal law unenforceable if it infringes on the right to keep and bar arms; ban or restrict ownership of a semi-automatic firearm or any magazine of a firearm; or require any firearm, magazine or other firearm accessory to be registered.

Included ini Mefford's ordinance was a provision that would make it illegal for law enforcement personnel to enforce any state law that conflicts with the local ordinance.

Boyd sent her written legal opinion to board members last week, telling them the proposed ordinance "is unenforceable at best and unconstitutional at worst."

"The county needs to see what the law will become June 9 and tailor any ordinance to that law as it exists," Boyd said. "An ordinance cannot trump state law."

A three-judge panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down Illinois' ban on carrying concealed weapons last year and gave lawmakers until June 9 to develop legislation to legalize the practice.

Boyd said taking action now could be costly to the county and confusing to residents. She said adopting the ordinance could also open up the county to potential legal action.

"Law enforcement authorities will make arrests, and the county would have to pay the attorney fees for those defendants who are deemed indigent," Boyd wrote in the opinion.

"Additionally ... the civil lawsuits stemming from this ordinance would financially devastate Pike County. The damage awards the county would have to pay to those persons who believed they could lawfully carry certain types of guns pursuant to the ordinance would be crippling."

Equally troubling, Boyd said, was the provision in the ordinance calling for arresting officials, such as members of the Illinois State Police, for trying to enforce state or federal laws.

Despite those concerns, Mefford said he plans to continue work on the ordinance.

"I'm not easily deterred. I'd like to continue to pursue it and see where it goes," he said. "The spirit is in the right place. There are issues that obviously need to be dealt with. It hasn't had the chance to be developed."

Mefford plans to make a statement on the proposed ordinance at the board's March 28 meeting.

"As the only state without, it's reasonable we should enact some form (of conceal carry)," said Boyd, who serves on Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon's Firearms Working Group, an advisory panel for state lawmakers on gun legislation.

"But we need to do it lawfully and with patience rather than a quick response."