U.S. News

Illinois mass shooting reveals gaps in gun laws; state seeks to close them

(Reuters) - The governor of Illinois vowed on Tuesday to seek tighter gun control measures after learning the man who shot five co-workers dead last week was wrongly granted a firearms permit but never forced to surrender his weapon.

Governor J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat, said his “entire team is focused” on problems raised by the disclosure the gunman was a violent felon who was legally barred from owning a gun but still obtained a permit to buy a weapon.

Calls for action in Illinois coincided with renewed momentum for gun control in the U.S. House of Representatives, where Democrats wrested control from the more pro-gun Republican Party and have introduced legislation to expand background checks on gun buyers.

The Illinois gunman carried his pistol to work on Friday and opened fire on fellow employees after receiving notice of his dismissal from the Henry Pratt Company plant in Aurora, Illinois, near Chicago. Five co-workers were killed and five police officers and a sixth employee were wounded before the assailant died in a gunfight with police.

U.S. Representative Robin Kelly, a Democrat from the Chicago suburbs, called for a “federal law or laws incentivizing states so people who shouldn’t have guns don’t have guns.”

The National Rifle Association agreed the existing background check system was flawed but argued that expanding it would fail to stop criminals and only impede the rights of law-abiding gun owners.

“It’s absurd to think you will prevent criminals from getting firearms by expanding a broken system that isn’t stopping them in the first place,” NRA spokeswoman Jennifer Baker said. “A better solution would be to fix the system and enforce the laws on the books.”

CONCEALED-WEAPONS PERMITThe Illinois shooter, Gary Martin, purchased a .40-caliber Smith & Wesson with a laser sight in March 2014 using a Firearm Owners Identification (FOID) card issued two months earlier, even though his status as a convicted felon should have barred him from obtaining it.

His card was revoked later that month, after he requested a concealed-weapons permit that triggered a more thorough check, including fingerprinting, that revealed a 1995 aggravated assault conviction in Mississippi.

Police say they have no record of any effort to ensure he surrendered his FOID card or his weapons, as required, once he was notified by letter to relinquish them.

Gun-control advocates argued the Illinois case illustrates the need for more aggressive background checks from the outset and for better enforcement when it is discovered someone wrongly obtains a FOID card.

Ari Freilich, an attorney at the Giffords Law Center, a pro-gun safety group, said California has succeeded by creating a special law enforcement team whose job is to confiscate guns from people prohibited from having them.

“There’s more dramatic follow-through. It’s not a perfect process, but it’s more than most states are doing,” Freilich said.

Illinois State Police acknowledged they issued nearly 11,000 FOID revocations in 2018 alone but in most cases could not verify how many people then took the next required step: to fill out a form and attest to authorities they have transferred any guns to a lawful permit holder or to police.

“You’re asking a felon to follow the law. It’s ludicrous, and that’s the way the gun lobby likes it,” said Illinois state Representative Kathleen Willis, a Democrat who has sought more stringent regulations.

Willis said legislators are considering measures to require fingerprinting as part of the initial FOID card application, to make non-compliance with revocation a felony, and to mandate enforcement action by police when revocations occur.

Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles and Daniel Trotta in New York; Additional reporting by Karen Pierog in Chicago; editing by Bill Tarrant and Susan Thomas