Metro-East News

Should Madison County become a ‘sanctuary county’ for gun owners? Voters will weigh in.

What is a "sanctuary county" for gun owners?

Twenty-six "sanctuary counties" for gun owners have popped up in Illinois over the past year. Here's what a gun "sanctuary county" is.
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Twenty-six "sanctuary counties" for gun owners have popped up in Illinois over the past year. Here's what a gun "sanctuary county" is.

Madison County voters will have the opportunity to vote on whether they think the county should be considered a "gun sanctuary."

County Board members decided to put a nonbinding resolution to voters on the Nov. 6 general election ballot after a lengthy debate at Wednesday night's meeting.

The resolution would ask voters whether they want Madison County to become a "sanctuary county for law-abiding gun owners to protect them from unconstitutional gun laws passed by the Illinois General Assembly."

The measure passed in a 15-10 vote, with all of the "no" votes coming from Democrats.

Mark Maggos, who offers firearm training courses in Godfrey, told the board he supported the measure because he believes gun laws and gun restriction advocates aim to "ban all guns."

He said banning guns is "a slippery slope," adding that he uses guns for sport, personal protection and has one ready to use against "a tyrannical government, God forbid I ever need to use that one."

Nick Petrocelli, a 13-year-old from Edwardsville, talks about why he opposes putting a “gun sanctuary” question on the Madison County ballot in November.

Nick Petrocelli, a 13-year-old from Edwardsville, spoke against the measure, saying he supports gun control in light of recent mass shootings at schools.

"I, for one, would not like to be in the next round of students that gets shot or even killed," Petricelli said. "I would like to ask the Board how many more people need to be injured or killed before we decide to enforce the law."

Several County Board members expressed concern about the language of the resolution, calling it confusing. Bruce Malone, a Democrat from Alton, said he is concerned people could be misled to think they had the right to not follow the law.

"We're in danger of destroying the basic fabrics of a representative democracy by saying we can decide what's constitutional or what isn't," Malone said. "I'm not opposed to this because it's about guns, but because I think it violates the principles of what I think our country is founded on."

Board member Ann Gorman, D-Edwardsville, said the question is written in such a way that no one would oppose it.

"I can't imagine anyone would vote no," Gorman said.

The resolution would simply send a message to the state General Assembly about Madison County voters' opinions, not to change laws, said Tom McRae, R-Bethalto.

"We could probably reword it a hundred different ways, but the fact is that it's nonbinding and would send a message," McRae said.

The measure does not mean the sheriff would "stop enforcing the laws," said Philip Chapman, R-Highland.

At least two bills in the Illinois General Assembly address gun control issues, said Board Member James Futrell, R-East Alton.

House Bill 1457 would make it illegal to sell .50 caliber rifles, cartridges or assault weapon attachments to anyone under the age of 21. Another bill, HB1467, would prohibit municipalities from regulating "the possession and ownership of assault weapons in a manner less restrictive than the regulation by the State."

After Board members voted to pass the resolution, several attendees in the audience shouted "shame" at members before leaving.

The Monroe County Board recently passed a similar measure but did not put the question to voters.

In other business

In an earlier meeting, the County Board Grants Committee decided not to consider a low-income housing project in Alton for grant money.

The Alton project, known as the Community of Sunnybrook, drew ire from city leaders who said they were concerned about crime and an increase in rental properties.

Ed Hightower is spearheading the project, which would include 10 fourplex townhome units at a cost of $10 million.

The project will move forward with or without funding from the county, said Andy Carruthers, an attorney for Hightower. Tax credits from the Illinois Housing Development Authority have already been awarded to the project.

Alton Mayor Brant Walker said there's little the city can do to prevent the project from moving forward, short of changing zoning. He said the city would consider that but reiterated they might not be able to stop the development.

Walker said half of the city's properties are rental properties.

"We don't need any more rentals," Walker said.

Several supporters of the project said those opposed to Sunnybrook are afraid that black residents would rent the homes. Walker denied that claim as he addressed attendees at the meeting.

The chairman of the Grants Committee, Clint Jones, said committee members considered the grant applications in February, well before press reports surfaced in early June about disagreements among Hightower, the mayor, supporters and opponents.

Projects in Highland and Granite City moved forward for consideration of how $1 million in grant money will be divvied up. The Grants Committee next meets July 9.