Lawmakers clear path for assault weapon registration rules
New permanent rules will soon go into effect spelling out how people who own assault weapons and related items that are now heavily regulated in Illinois can register them with the Illinois State Police.
The legislature’s Joint Committee on Administrative Rules voted along party lines Tuesday to let the rules go into effect, ending months of negotiations and debate between supporters of the law and gun rights advocates.
“Obviously, this is an issue where there is a difference of opinion on a partisan basis, and I think you saw that play out today,” Sen. Bill Cunningham, D-Chicago, a co-chair of the committee, told reporters after the meeting.
The rules are the result of an assault weapons ban that state lawmakers passed last year in the wake of a deadly mass shooting at an Independence Day parade in Highland Park in 2022.
That law, known as the Protect Illinois Communities Act, bans the sale, purchase, manufacture, or possession of a long list of firearms that are defined as “assault weapons,” as well as several types of attachments, large-capacity magazines and certain kinds of high-power ammunition.
Under that law, people who already owned such items before the ban took effect are allowed to keep them. But to do so legally, they were supposed to register those items with the Illinois State Police before Jan. 1.
Last fall, ISP published temporary “emergency” rules that went into effect Oct. 1, enabling people to begin filing online registrations ahead of the Jan. 1 deadline. But many gun owners, gun rights advocates, and state lawmakers pushed back against the rules, complaining that they were too vague in some areas, too complicated in others, and generally impossible to comply with.
In response, ISP held additional public hearings in October and November as it worked to craft permanent rules.
One of the concerns raised during the discussions focused on how ISP planned to collect and store information about the items people registered, and what the agency would do with that information if the law is eventually overturned as unconstitutional.
So far, the law has survived legal challenges in both state and federal courts, but the National Association for Gun Rights, which is the major plaintiff in one of the federal lawsuits, has said it plans to file an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court within the next several weeks.
Rep. Ryan Spain, R-Peoria, who also co-chairs the committee, said Tuesday he was frustrated by the short timeframe used to adopt the new rules and by the way some issues were handled. He then offered a motion to prohibit ISP from adopting the rules, arguing that the rules do not meet a requirement in state statute that they be “simple and clear” so that people and groups affected by them can understand them.
That motion failed because it needed eight votes on the 12-member committee but only received six.
Spain then made a motion to “object” to the rules on the same grounds that they were not “simple and clear.” An objection has little practical effect on the rule, except that it requires the agency to respond to the objection in writing within 90 days before the rule can take effect.
That motion, which only requires a simple majority of members taking part, passed on a 6-5 vote.
That vote allows ISP to move forward by adopting the permanent rules and enforcing them into the future. But it remains unclear how many assault weapon owners will comply with the law by registering those firearms.
According to data maintained by ISP, just under 30,000 individuals had filed registration forms ahead of the Jan. 1 deadline. Those registrations covered roughly 69,000 firearms that fall under the ban as well as nearly 43,000 accessories.
It is not known what percentage that represents of the total number of assault weapons and banned accessories in circulation in Illinois, but many people have suggested that a large number of gun owners will refuse to comply with the registration requirement.
Cunningham, however, said he was not concerned about speculation of widespread noncompliance with the law.
“I would just repeat what I said earlier, which is the law is in place, and I would encourage people to follow the law,” he said.
Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government. It is distributed to hundreds of newspapers, radio and TV stations statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, along with major contributions from the Illinois Broadcasters Foundation and Southern Illinois Editorial Association.