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Counties In Southern Illinois Declare That They Are Gun Sanctuaries


And now to Southern Illinois and a story about counties that are declaring themselves sanctuaries for firearms. From member station WUIS in Springfield, Rachel Otwell reports.

RACHEL OTWELL, BYLINE: The Illinois legislature is controlled by Democrats. And this session, they're pushing several measures adding restrictions to gun ownership. One would make 21 the minimum age to buy an assault weapon. Another seeks to ban bumps stocks. And a third would have forced gun dealers to get a state license. It made it out of the General Assembly before being vetoed by Republican Governor Bruce Rauner. Like many, Illinois is a politically-divided state. Chicago and some border counties are blue, but much of the rest of the state is deep red.

BRYAN KIBLER: And I think what happens in this state is is everything just is about what Chicago wants. The rural agricultural places get ignored over and over again.

OTWELL: That's Bryan Kibler, state's attorney for Effingham County, which passed a resolution stating objections to certain proposed gun-related legislation. It went further, declaring sanctuary status for firearms. It was Kibler's idea to use the sanctuary terminology.

KIBLER: It kind of became kind of an aspect of a larger culture war that we're just playing our little part with it.

OTWELL: While sanctuary has been used to describe safe communities or areas for immigrants in the country illegally, Kibler says Effingham would be happy to work with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Mony Ruiz-Velasco has long worked on immigrants' rights issues in the Chicago area. She says the resolutions being passed stand in stark contrast to other sanctuary efforts.

MONY RUIZ-VELASCO: The policies that we work on with the community have a very different focus and a very different intent. In some ways, I think it is a twisted version of it. We are disappointed to see that adoption of our language and co-opting of our language.

OTWELL: A couple miles from the Effingham County Building, where the sanctuary vote was taken, is a small brick building with a big American flag out front. It houses the Disabled American Veterans chapter. Kay Boerngen is sitting at the bar. She says, here, guns are an important part of everyday life.

KAY BOERNGEN: You got country people. They want to hunt. They want to hunt deer. They went to hunt geese. They want to hunt wild turkeys. Leave them alone, you know. We're not hurting anybody.

OTWELL: Boerngen echoes the sentiment of many gun rights advocates who fear that those pushing for more restrictions want to take away their guns. State Senator Don Harmon says that's just not the case. The Oak Park Democrat says his main concern is halting the flow of illegal guns into Chicago.

DON HARMON: I wish we could do more talking to each other because I don't want to take their guns away from them.

OTWELL: Harmon sponsored the measure that would have licensed gun sellers. He says the move by some counties to try to give guns sanctuary status illustrates just how politically charged the debate now is.

HARMON: If sanctuary cities are a bad thing and somehow extrajudicial or illegal, I don't know how sanctuary cities for guns would be any different.

OTWELL: So far, at least five other Illinois counties have followed Effingham's lead. And the board says they've heard from officials in states like Washington and New York who might want to follow suit.

MARTIN: It's NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rachel Otwell