Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart is once again sounding the alarm about Illinois’ failure to enforce its own gun laws.
At a news conference Friday, flanked by tables of illegal guns seized by sheriff’s deputies, Dart called on lawmakers in Springfield to allocate millions of dollars toward going after revoked gun permits. But at least one Republican lawmaker said he doesn’t think Dart’s plan will get much traction in the statehouse.
“Right now, there’s 27,000 People in Cook County, just in Cook County, who have had the right to have a firearm revoked. And there’s been no effort to go and get any of the guns back. None,” Dart said at the Friday presser. “And this has become normal. No, that’s called insanity.”
Illinois gun owners are required to be licensed by the state. The license is called a FOID card, short for Firearm Owner’s Identification. Those licenses can be revoked if a gun owner is convicted of a felony, admitted to a mental hospital or had an order of protection filed against them, among other reasons. However, there’s very little done to ensure people who have lost the right to own a gun actually turn over their license and, more importantly, relinquish their guns.
“The thing that people constantly are talking about, and rightfully so is, ‘Where are all these guns coming from? Who has these guns? Where are they at?’ Well, what would you think if I were to tell you, we in law enforcement, we actually know where thousands of them are, illegal guns. We know who has them. And we have the address … And yet, we have this wildly ineffective system to deal with it,” Dart said.
WBEZ first reported on the lack of enforcement in 2013, and it became a major focus in 2019 after a man whose FOID card had been revoked used a gun he should have been forced to turn over to kill five people in Aurora. After that tragedy, leaders promised sweeping changes to the way Illinois handles revoked gun licenses. There was some action, but it fell short of what was promised, and what was needed.
Dart, who has an annual budget of more than $500 million, set up a task force to go after guns in 2013. However, he said with the other demands on his office he couldn’t devote enough officers to go after the thousands of licenses revoked in Cook County every year.
“Right now we’re doing the bare minimum,” Dart said.
That’s why Dart held his press conference, a week before the Illinois Legislature adjourns for the summer. Lawmakers in Springfield are working on an omnibus gun control bill. Dart, who is a former state lawmaker himself, is calling on them to include $8 million to $10 million per year to fund regional law enforcement task forces with the sole mission of going after revoked gun permits and illegal guns.
“Do we need new laws? Of course, we need new laws, better laws, tweak some laws? Yeah, we need all that,” Dart said. “Do we have laws on the books right now, though, that are either not being used at all or not effectively used? Yeah.”
Illinois state Rep. John Cabello, R-Machesney Park, said he agreed with Dart that it was silly for the Legislature to be aiming for new laws, when the state is failing to enforce the ones currently on the books. However, he threw cold water on Dart’s proposal, saying the state doesn’t have any additional funds to devote to gun enforcement.
“It’s nothing that I think should happen. And no, I do not believe that it’s going to get done,” Cabello said.
Last year, the state doled out $2 million in grants to local law enforcement agencies to fund FOID enforcement efforts.
Dart said his office got $700,000 of those dollars. But he said it’s not enough money, and he doesn’t believe it’s a good idea to leave enforcement to municipal departments because many don’t have adequate staffing or expertise to handle it.
Cabello, who is a Rockford police officer, agreed with Dart that local agencies don’t have enough officers to go after revoked gun permits, and acknowledged that the state police don’t have the necessary resources either.
However, he said considering the state’s current budget situation and the need to respond to other incidents of crime, making sure guns are recovered from people who have lost the right to own them should not be a priority for the Legislature or for law enforcement agencies.
“It doesn’t make fiscal sense for us to do that [and] … the Police Department should be handling the emergency calls that are coming in,” Cabello said. “When you have people that are calling 911, and they’re waiting hours sometimes to get a police officer to their emergency, you better darn well be doing that over going and [focusing on] some other things that are not putting people in major jeopardy at that point in time.”