Only a tiny fraction of Illinois gun owners registered their AR-15s and similar firearms before the state’s ban officially took effect.
Fewer than 30,000 of the state’s Firearms Owner Identification (FOID) card holders registered firearms recently classified as “assault weapons” by the end of the December 31 registration deadline, according to updated data the Illinois State Police (ISP) released on Tuesday. That means only 1.2 percent of the state’s 2.4 million documented gun owners complied with the state’s terms for allowing continued ownership of AR-15s despite enforcement of the ban beginning on Monday.
The final year-end numbers paint a picture of mass non-compliance with the efforts of Illinois officials to crack down on the supply of AR-15s, the most popular rifle in America, and similar firearms in civilian hands despite facing the threat of criminal penalties. Starting Monday, possession of an unregistered assault weapon became a misdemeanor, while the manufacture and sale of one became a felony. It adds to a recent trend of gun owners being reluctant to go along with similar gun bans and registration requirements in states like New York and California.
At the same time, because the state requires all gun owners to be licensed under the FOID card system, presumably not all gun owners who didn’t register own banned firearms. That leaves the extent of the civil disobedience among Illinois’ gun owners somewhat murky.
Melaney Arnold, a public information officer for the ISP, told The Reload that the agency had no information on “how many FOID card holders have items covered under the Protect Illinois Communities Act.”
Overall, the state police recorded 112,350 registered items spread among 29,357 FOID card holders. 68,992 were registries for firearms, while 42,830 were for “accessories” and 528 were for “ammunition.”
Illinois became the ninth state to adopt a ban on so-called assault weapons and the fourteenth to restrict ammunition magazine capacity last January. The ban outlaws the possession, sale, and manufacture of more than 170 semi-automatic rifles, pistols, and shotguns by make and model. It also provides open-ended discretion for the Illinois State Police to add new weapons to the banned list on an ongoing basis through administrative rulemaking.
New sales of long-gun magazines capable of holding more than ten rounds and handgun magazines capable of holding more than 15 rounds, which come standard with most modern semi-automatic firearms, are also outlawed—as are all .50 caliber firearms and ammunition.
The law’s passage sparked an immediate backlash from county officials across the state. The Sheriffs of roughly 80 Illinois counties vowed not to enforce the ban under most circumstances last January by issuing statements that like-minded law enforcement officials quickly adopted.
“I, among many others, believe HB 5471 is a clear violation of the 2nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution,” DuPage County Sheriff James Mendrick, whose jurisdiction is the second most populous in the state, said in a public letter a week after the law passed. “Therefore, as the custodian of the jail and the chief law enforcement official for DuPage County, neither myself nor my office will be checking to ensure that lawful gun owners register their weapons with the state, nor will we be arresting or housing law-abiding individuals that have been arrested solely with non-compliance of this Act.”
The ban has also drawn multiple lawsuits at both the state and federal level from gun-rights groups who have had mixed success in court thus far. U.S. District Judge Stephen P. McGlynn ruled the law unconstitutional and blocked Illinois from enforcing it last April, but a three-judge panel on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals overturned his ruling in November. Gun-rights advocates have also filed separate challenges to the registry requirement for banned firearms. The same federal judge who previously blocked the ban declined to do the same for the registry requirement last month. Instead, he ordered an expedited hearing schedule to review the registry on the merits.
The parties in that case will appear again in court this Thursday.
UPDATE 1-3-2024 10:18 AM EASTERN: This piece initially included all “large capacity” magazines in the list of registered items. While sales of those magazines are banned and current magazines must be registered if transferred, only “.50 BMG caliber cartridge devices” are required to be registered from the enactment of the new law.