Dart: Seize some felons' guns without a warrant

January 31, 2013

AP/File
Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart.

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart wants state lawmakers to give local law enforcement more power to take guns from people who shouldn’t have them, including the authority to seize firearms from some convicted felons without a warrant.

At a press conference Thursday, Dart said he’s pushing for the introduction of a bill in Springfield next week that would toughen enforcement of the state law regarding Firearm Owners Identification cards, or FOID.

Illinoisans need a FOID card in order to buy or possess a gun, but convicted felons and people with mental illness aren’t allowed to hold one of the cards. Nonetheless, Dart said his officers have found several people whose gun ownership rights have been revoked by the state, but who failed to turn in their FOIDs – or their guns.

“The fact that we consider it a success in this state that we get their card back so they can’t buy new guns, but the fact that they can hang onto all the guns they have stockpiled for years - this is wrong and it’s insane,” Dart said.

Dart’s proposal would require people to hand over their FOID cards to local law enforcement and make an account of all their guns within 48 hours of having their FOID revoked. If they don’t, he wants the power to seize the guns – without a warrant – if the violator was convicted of a gun- or gang-related felony.

“The ability for me to enter a house without a warrant would be huge,” Dart said. “And once again, It’s not because we randomly pick citizens to kick in doors. These are people we’ve identified by the fact they are convicted of carrying guns illegally.”

In a case where a FOID was revoked due to mental illness, Dart’s spokesman said the sheriff’s office would seek a warrant to take a person’s firearms. He said the Illinois State Police, which runs the FOID system, largely relies on the honor system when it comes to people handing over their gun licenses and firearms.

“The Illinois State Police makes every attempt, when informed, to seize illegal guns from criminals and individuals who have revoked FOID cards,” Sgt. Jose De Jesus, with the Illinois State Police, told WBEZ in a statement Thursday.

There are nearly 4,000 people in Cook County alone who have had their FOIDs revoked, but have not turned them into authorities, according to Dart's office.

Meanwhile, Illinois National Rifle Association lobbyist Todd Vandermyde said he has come concerns about seizing private property without a warrant. But he seemed open to Dart’s proposal.

“It’s not gonna be a divide over, you know, should these guys have guns or not,” Vandermyde said. “I think it’s just gonna be more of a practical question of what the implementation is.”

Dart's plan would make doctors and psychologists alert the state if people are mentally ill and shouldn't own a gun. Right now, only hospitals and mental health facilities have those reporting requirements. And it would increase parole time for felons and gang members caught with a gun.

Last spring, Illinois’ Auditor General released a report identifying loopholes in the state’s FOID system when it comes to the mentally ill getting a hold of guns.