After Aurora Shooting, Illinois Police Pledge Improved Gun Law Enforcement
Illinois State Police are making changes to the system for handling revoked gun permits in an effort to close a loophole that contributed to last month’s mass-shooting in west-suburban Aurora.
However, local law enforcement officials cautioned the changes won’t have an impact without more funding for enforcement.
The changes include giving local law enforcement more up-to-date information about why permits were voided and how many times each permit was used to try to purchase a gun.
Last year, the state voided more than 10,000 Firearm Owner’s Identification, or FOID, cards but the majority of the time those revocations did not result in any action besides a letter to the gun owner.
That means 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 after they’ve legally purchased guns.
That failed system allowed Gary Martin to keep the firearm he used last month when he killed five people at a manufacturing plant in Aurora.
In a written statement Wednesday, Illinois State Police Acting Director Brendan Kelly promised major changes to how the state collects and shares data on people who have been deemed too dangerous to own a gun.
“We must increase sharing of information, the quality and value of information shared, and most importantly enforcement. Mailed letters are not enough,” Kelly said.
The state police released a 21-point plan to improve information sharing and enforcement related to revoked FOID cards.
The agency is promising to make an online database for law enforcement agencies that would include information on people whose gun permits have been voided, including information about why their permits were revoked and whether they’ve responded to a letter demanding they turn over their permit and guns.
Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart said he’s “ecstatic” about the new information being shared.
“Taking this live and actually having this so that it is up and available to people so they can get it via the Internet and it'll be updated immediately is immediately rocketing us into the 21st century,” Dart said. “We've gone from a the most ineffective system in the country to one that will be effective. I'm not going to say it’s going to be perfect. There's still some glaring areas that we're going to work on here but at least we're moving rapidly in the right direction.”
Most important, according to Dart, is that for the first time, the state police will be sharing information about how many times each individual with a revoked permit has attempted to purchase a gun.
Dart, whose office has a gun task force aimed at recovering weapons from people with voided permits, said access to that information will give his officers some idea of how many guns they should be attempting to recover.
“To get real information about guns that would be in someone's house will be really helpful to us,” Dart said.
But he cautioned that the improved data sharing won’t make a difference without additional resources to enforce the laws.
“You can give a law enforcement agency all the information in the world and if they have no resources to go out and get the guns then what have we done here?” Dart asked.
Bartonville Police Chief Brian Fengel said he has heard from police chiefs all over the state worried about extra demands on their departments without any additional resources.
“Everybody's resources are tight, manpower is tight, funding is tight,” said Fengel, who is president of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police.
Fengel said he has had multiple discussions with the state police’s Kelly, and other law enforcement leaders who are all “working together on this issue.” But he stressed that ultimately, the responsibility to enforce the gun permitting laws lies with the state.
“The FOID card is issued by the state police, and the revocations are issued by the state police, and it's their process,” Fengel said
The Illinois State Police said they are working on a potential “gun violence task force” that would include FOID-related enforcement.