Updated 6:00 p.m.
Illinois State Police said they revoked more than 10,000 gun permits in 2018, but the majority of the time those revocations did not result in any action besides an unanswered letter.
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, a failure that allowed Gary Martin to keep the firearm he used last week when he killed five people at a manufacturing plant in west-suburban Aurora.
When an Illinois gun permit — called a Firearm Owner’s Identification, or FOID, card — is revoked, the state police send a letter directing the person to turn in their permit and any guns they have. They also send a letter to the local police department notifying them of the revoked permit.
However, according to a statement from the state agency, in most cases people do not surrender their firearms, or the permits that allow them to continue buying ammunition.
Police said Martin’s gun permit had been revoked after it was discovered that he had a conviction for aggravated assault, but Martin never surrendered his handgun.
On Saturday, Aurora Police Chief Kristen Ziman said they were still investigating whether any follow-up attempts were made after state police sent a letter to Martin directing him to turn in his permit and handgun.
In a statement Monday, State Police Lt. Joe Hutchins put the onus on local police departments to track invalid gun permits in their jurisdiction.
“The county sheriff or law enforcement agency where the individual resides may petition the court to issue a search warrant for the FOID card and any firearms in their possession; however, Illinois law does not require them to do so,” Hutchins said in the statement.
However, Bartonville Police Chief Brian Fengel said the issue is entirely up to the state police.
Fengel, who is the president of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police, said local departments are notified when someone in their jurisdiction has his or her FOID card revoked with what he called a “courtesy letter,” but he said that's where their involvement ends.
“The state police handles it from there,” Fengel said. “We got the information, we’re aware of it, but we don’t go out and, you know, seize people’s guns based on that.”
When asked if that process makes sense, Fengel said, “It’s the process we have and it’s the process we have to follow.”
“I always caution people, you know if somebody wants to do a horrific crime, they don’t have to go the legal way to get a firearm, they can go the illegal way, and there’s plenty of guns out on the street,” Fengel said.
Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart has been sounding the alarm about this lapse since at least 2013. Dart called Friday’s mass shooting in Aurora “the nightmare that we have talked about for years.”
Dart said the solution is straightforward.
“This does not require some incredibly, incredibly cynical task force to study. We know what we need to do,” Dart said.
He said the state police should work with local law enforcement to make sure officers go to the house of every person who has a permit revoked and make sure their card and any guns are surrendered.
“Police departments, are they strained these days? Yes they are,” Dart said. “But … we really need to do it.”
In a statement, a spokeswoman for Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker said the administration is “closely reviewing” policy and procedure around how revoked permits are handled.
Patrick Smith is a reporter on WBEZ’s Criminal Justice desk. Follow him @pksmid.