DuPage County Sheriff James Mendrick Defies New Assault Weapon Ban, Sparks Outrage

Illinois Sheriffs face criticism after refusing to enforce new assault weapons ban, with Criminal Justice Professor Theodore Darden calling the response “problematic” and a dangerous precedent.


Devin Oommen

An AR-15 assault rifle

Devin Oommen, Staff Writer

COD Criminal Justice Professor Theodore Darden rebuked Illinois Sheriffs’ response to the new Ilinois assault weapons ban, saying the response is out of line. Sheriffs across Illinois are facing public criticism after many released statements indicating they would not actively enforce the new law. 

“When you have law enforcement saying they are not going to enforce a law that the legislation has passed, that becomes problematic,” said Darden. “You don’t get to pick and choose what law you want to enforce.” 

The law, named the Protect Illinois Communities Act  (HB 5471), bans the sale and distribution of assault weapons in Illinois. It includes restrictions on the ownership of certain assault weapons, increased background checks, and exceptions for law enforcement, military and other professions that require use of the banned weapons.

DuPage County Sheriff James Mendrick is among the sheriffs who released a statement indicating they would not actively enforce the new law. 

“I, among others, believe that HB 5471 is a clear violation of the 2nd Amendment to the US Constitution,” said Mendrick. “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. 

Mendrick did not respond to an interview request from The Courier. 

According to Darden, the response by Mendrick and the other sheriffs sets a dangerous precedent.

“If they’re not going to enforce that, what’s next?” said Darden. “The last I checked, sheriffs are not a part of the Illinois appellate court system. They are not a part of the Illinois Supreme Court, and they certainly are not a part of the federal court system and the U.S. Supreme Court.” 

The response by these sheriffs raises questions about how often officers choose when to enforce laws. Darden said the sheriff’s statements are different from the type of discretion officers might use in their work, such as when performing minor traffic stops. 

“Here you have the sheriff not using discretion,” Darden said. “He’s taking the discretion away from his officers and his office.”

“I’m disappointed in the sheriff,” Darden continued. “Even though the sheriff is an elected official, once the election is over and you have won, you have a responsibility to the public to act as a law enforcement official. Once the legislature has passed a bill, and it has become law, you can’t say ‘I think that’s unconstitutional so therefore we’re not going [to enforce it].’ That’s not how that works.” 

The weapons ban makes Illinois the 9th state to pass restrictions on the sale and ownership of assault weapons. States with similar bans are California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York. 

Illinois residents that owned an assault weapon before the law was enacted are required to register the weapons with the state if they want to keep them.

In 1994 the United States Congress passed the ​​Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act. The bill included an assault weapons ban that lasted for 10 years.

Elected officials sent a letter to Mendrick in response to his statement. Illinois congressional and county officials, including Reps. Sean Casten, Bill Foster, Delia Ramirez, and Raja Krishnamoorthi, held a press conference demanding Sheriff Mendrick to recant his stance. Casten stated the group was calling on Mendrick “To immediately rescind his statement and commit to enforcing the laws which he has taken an oath to uphold. If he can’t, he should resign.” 

The sheriff released a statement to his Facebook following the press conference saying that the officials were being untruthful. 

“Maybe they are the ones who should consider resignation,” said Mendrick. “There is absolutely nothing that we are doing or not doing that would make a mass shooting more accessible in DuPage County.” 

A joint press release posted on the DuPage County website on Jan. 30 said that Board Chair Deborah Conroy, States Attorney Robert Berlin, and Mendrick engaged in a discussion about the assault weapons ban. “Enforcement of this law does not demand that deputies go door to door seeking to remove weapons from those licensed to own them. With this understanding, Sheriff Mendrick is committed to enforcing all state and local laws,” said the statement. “Chair Conroy is committed to supporting the Sheriff’s Office in maintaining safe communities within DuPage County and sees no reason to pursue a censure resolution at this time.” 

The law is being challenged in court and enforcement of the law has been suspended for plaintiffs named in the lawsuit. Lawsuits have been filed in Effingham County and in Federal court.

Update: In a statement released on Jan. 31, Casten said he is “relieved to hear Sheriff Mendrick is committed to fairly and impartially enforcing the laws of Illinois.”