Pritzker institutes new laws concerning guns, abortion, cash bail

Tarek Anthony, Staff Writer

The 2023 new year has been nothing short of eventful thus far in the world of politics. To start off the year, there has already been an investigation into President Joe Biden surrounding the discovery of numerous boxes of secret documents from his vice presidency under former president Barack Obama. These documents were uncovered from multiple Biden residences drawing a striking resemblance to a similar scandal with former president Donald Trump in Aug. 2022 in regards to secret documents found in his Mar-a-Lago residence which were allegedly illegally removed from the White House in 2020 following Trump’s presidency. Furthermore, history was made in Congress after it took a highly contentious five-day 15-round vote to confirm California Republican Kevin McCarthy as Speaker of the House; this all taking place as continued calls for New York congressman George Santos’ resignation following evidence uncovered suggesting Santos lied on his congressional resume regarding his education, religion, athletic accomplishments and family history. This is in addition to the Brazilian government’s reopening and prosecution of Santos for alleged check fraud involving stolen checkbooks. The case was suspended in 2011 after the Brazilian Government failed to locate Santos for prosecution.

Meanwhile, on a state level, just six months after the Highland Park parade massacre, which killed seven and injured nearly 50 more, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker made history by signing Bill HB 5471. This was called the ‘Protect Illinois Communities Act’ and it banned the sale and distribution of assault weapons, high capacity magazines and switches; a small device that can be attached to a regular handgun allowing it to fire multiple rounds at once, essentially turning the firearms into miniature semi-automatic weapons. Illinois became the ninth state to hold a ban on assault weapons. 

“For the past four years, my administration and my colleagues in the State Capitol have been battling the powerful forces of the NRA to enshrine the strongest and most effective gun violence legislation that we possibly can, I couldn’t be prouder to say that we got it done. We will keep fighting — bill by bill, vote by vote, and protest by protest — to ensure that future generations only hear about massacres like Highland Park, Sandy Hook, and Uvalde in their textbooks,” said Governor Pritzker in a public press release.

Pritzker’s ban was met with swift resistance in counties including but not limited to La Salle, McHenry, DeKalb, Grundy, DuPage and Kankakee, whose sheriff’s offices pledged to not enforce the law claiming that it was in violation of Americans’ Second Amendment right to bear arms.

In a Facebook post, Kankakee Sheriff Mike Downey explained his reasoning for his inaction saying in part, “Part of my duties that I accepted upon being sworn into office was to protect the rights provided to all of us, in the Constitution. One of those enumerated rights is the right of the people to keep and bear arms provided under the Second Amendment. The right to keep and bear arms for [the] defense of life, liberty, and property is regarded as an inalienable right by the people. I, among many others, believe that HB 5471 is a clear violation of the Second Amendment to the US Constitution,” wrote Downey. “Therefore, as the custodian of the jail and chief law enforcement official for Kankakee 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 charged solely with non-compliance of this Act.”

Governor Pritzker responded to the statements against the ban accusing the sheriffs of ‘Political Grandstanding,’ further saying that sheriffs are elected officials who are not allowed to pick and choose which laws they enforce. 

In a press conference, Pritzker threatened that law enforcement “Will, in fact, do their job [or they] won’t be in their job,” vowing to remove any law enforcement member from their job if they choose not to enforce the new law. The governor’s office further announced that they look forward to defending the law in upcoming legal proceedings and that they are “confident that this law will hold up to any future legal challenges.”

In addition to signing HB 5471 banning assault weapons, Governor Pritzker signed additional gun laws surrounding an expansion of background checks for prospective gun owners and adding further licensing guidelines for gun dealers in the state to discourage the increase of illegal gun trafficking throughout the state. Pritzker also signed Bill HB 4383 banning a new trend of un-serialized commonly 3-D printed firearms that are often sold as sets of pieces that can be assembled at home. These weapons are commonly referred to as ‘Ghost Guns’ because the missing serial number makes the weapons virtually untraceable. 

In further legislation, Illinois became the first state to eliminate cash bail with the signing of the Pre-Trial Fairness Act, a section of Pritzker’s larger SAFE T act. Critics of the cash bail system claim it’s unfair to people who can not afford bail regardless of whether or not they pose a threat to society. However, the ending of cash bail has faced intense legal pushback in recent months with the Pretrial Fairness Act being deemed unconstitutional by a Kanaknee County judge who ruled that ending cash bail was a violation of the Separation of Powers clause in the Illinois State Constitution. This effectively blocked the act from going into place in the 65 counties that joined in the lawsuit. The goal of the Pretrial Fairness Act was to improve racial and socioeconomic discrimination in pre-trial detention and it did end up going into effect in the remaining 37 counties that did not join the lawsuit including DuPage, Lake and Cook Counties, some of the most populous in the state.

Aside from criminal justice legislation, Pritzker also signed sweeping new abortion regulations further bolstering access to abortion services in a state that already held some of the strongest abortion protections in the country. The new law protects healthcare providers who provide abortion services to out-of-state patients from being prosecuted by the patient’s home state regardless of the state’s abortion laws. 

Over 200 additional new laws went into effect in Illinois for 2023; a list of these laws can be found here.