After Aurora Shooting, Lawmakers Plan Tweaks To Gun Laws | WBEZ
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After Aurora Shooting, Illinois Lawmakers Plan Tweaks To Gun Laws

Updated 4:20 p.m.

Prompted by the mass shooting last week in west suburban Aurora, Illinois lawmakers are preparing to introduce legislation that would close a “loophole” that allows residents to hold on to guns even after their gun permits have been revoked by the state.

State Rep. Kathleen Willis said the bill, which she expects to introduce within the month, could be funded by increasing the cost of an Illinois gun permit, known as a Firearm Owner’s Identification, or FOID, card.

Willis said lawmakers had not been planning to address the state’s gun permitting system this legislative session, but she said there is now a focus on the issue “in light of what happened in Aurora.”

On Friday, Gary Martin killed five people and wounded five police officers after being fired from a manufacturing plant in Aurora. He did so with a gun that he shouldn’t have had. Five years ago, the Illinois State Police revoked his gun permit when the agency discovered he’d been convicted of aggravated assault in Mississippi.

In April, 2014, state police sent a letter to Martin directing him to surrender his permit and his gun. He never did.

“This is part of our big issue: The people that should not have guns are getting guns,” Willis said.

Martin was allowed to hold on to his firearm because of what Willis called a “permissive” system in which thousands of gun permits are revoked each year, but authorities make little effort to take back the gun permits or remove firearms from the possession of people who are found to be a danger. WBEZ first highlighted the issue in 2013, The head of the Illinois State Police at the time, Hiram Grau, refused to be interviewed on the subject.

Willis said the system of revoking FOID cards works to prevent any new gun purchases. “But it doesn’t do anything at all for making sure that the guns that you currently have in your possession are no longer in your possession,” Willis said.

According to Illinois State Police, last year the agency revoked more than 10,000 gun permits, but the majority of those revocations did not result in any action besides an unanswered letter.

In his budget address Wednesday, Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker said he would take a “more rigorous approach” to getting guns out of the hands of those who should not have them.

“I’m committed to advocating for common-sense gun laws, and I’m committed to making sure that we are implementing the laws we already have on the books more effectively,” Pritzker said.

Willis said she is working with the Pritzker administration and the Illinois State Police to draft the bill.

Illinois State Rifle Association Executive Director Richard Pearson said he agreed “something has to be done” about people not relinquishing their weapons after their FOID cards are revoked.

“I’m willing to work on that problem with them,” Pearson said. But he cautioned, “I’m not sure that what they want is doable.”

Pearson said he wanted to learn more before suggesting his own solution.

He said he is strongly opposed to the idea of helping to fund the increased enforcement by raising the cost of FOID cards.

Right now, a FOID application costs $10, and the permit lasts for 10 years. Pearson said if the state were to raise the cost, the state rifle association would fight the hike in court.

“This is a fundamental right, and that’s actually a tax on a fundamental right,” Pearson said.

Willis said the legislation will be similar to a bill she co-sponsored in 2016, but that ultimately failed in the Illinois House.

That 2016 bill would have required local law enforcement to follow up on revoked gun permits and seek out warrants to seize any illegal weapons.

A key difference, Willis said, is she expects the new legislation will include funding to ease the financial burden on police departments. She said there is also a possibility the bill will mandate fingerprinting for all gun purchases.

That addition would address another issue revealed by last week’s mass shooting by Gary Martin. Martin was only allowed to purchase the handgun because a background check missed his felony conviction for aggravated assault. That conviction was detected by a subsequent background check based on his fingerprints.

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart has a task force that goes after revoked gun permits and illegal weapons. He said local departments should get access to a state police database showing each time a person has had a background check done in an effort to purchase a gun.

Access to the Firearm Transfer Inquiry Program, or FTIP database, would not provide an absolute number of guns a person owns, but Dart said it would give officers some insight.

Willis agreed that would be a helpful tool, but stopped short of promising to include it in the final legislation.

“If that’s what the state police feel that we need to put into it, I plan to work with all connected parties,” Willis said. “So, yes, I do intend to hopefully, maybe put that in there.”

Illinois State Police spokesman Lt. Joe Hutchins would not comment. Acting Director Brendan Kelly declined to be interviewed.

Patrick Smith is a reporter on WBEZ’s Criminal Justice desk. Follow him @pksmid.

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