Last year was a very good year for those of us in Illinois who believe that reasonable gun regulation must be an integral part of any solution to the epidemic of gun violence that has plagued us both nationally and locally over the last two decades. In 2018, Illinois was finally able to enact two important pieces of gun legislation that have the potential to significantly reduce gun violence in a number of different ways.
The first was the Gun Dealers Certification Act. Its primary purpose is to prevent guns from being sold to persons who are not legally authorized to own them. The second law is the Firearms Restraining Order (FRO) Act. Its primary purpose is to provide family and household members of a person they reasonably believe to be a danger to themselves or to others with an effective way to petition the courts to order the removal of guns from the possession of such a person until it is determined that the danger has passed.
There are at least two good reasons why these laws were finally able to be enacted into law last year, when this was not possible in the past. First, gun violence tragedies continue to occur on a daily basis throughout our nation and on the South and West sides of Chicago. As the death toll rises, so does the pressure to do something about it. The question for me has never been, “Will meaningful action to address gun violence ever take place?” It has always seemed inevitable to me. The question has always been, “When will it occur and at what cost?”
The enactment of these laws show that, at least on the state level, and I think nationally as well, we appear to be reaching critical mass on the issue of gun violence. Society seems to be quickly approaching the point where it has had enough.
The second reason for this major legislative breakthrough in 2018 has been the incredible and unremitting effort of people of good will from every spectrum and at every level of civic involvement, year after year, to push this stone up a steep hill without ever faltering. Courageous and principled state legislators, like our own state Senator Don Harmon, and state Representative Kathleen Willis of the 77th District, assumed leadership roles on both 2018 legislative successes. Sen. Harmon has been carrying the water for reasonable gun control for over a decade and Rep. Willis has been doing the same since being elected several years ago.
These successes also would not have taken place without the thousands of dedicated volunteers and hundreds of citizen advocacy groups that have come together in recent years under the leadership of the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence (ICHV), to form a powerful and effective citizen advocacy coalition known as the Illinois Gun Violence Prevention Coalition (ILGVP). I would like to think that the mantra adopted by our local citizen advocacy group, the Gun Responsibility Advocates (GRA), more than six years ago, “With rights come responsibilities,” is gaining traction with more and more people with each passing year.
Before we pat ourselves on the back, however, we need to be clear about the fact that much of the hard work to make these laws as effective as they can be still lies in front of us. No one knows this better than the people I have mentioned above. The type of hard work that remains before us is, however, very different.
The Gun Dealer Certification Act requires that much of the work necessary to make this law truly effective will be focused on the administrative rule-making process which is ongoing.
The work now required to make the Firearms Restraining Order Act truly effective, on the other hand, focuses on educating the public about the new law. The FRO Act, as mentioned, provides citizens with a way to take action when they reasonably believe a family or household member who possesses a gun may pose a danger to him or herself or to others. Family or household members (or law enforcement) now will be able to petition the court to have guns and active FOID cards temporarily removed from the family or household member in question until such time as the danger has passed. As with all such laws, the FRO law is only as effective as the public’s awareness of what FRO is and how it works. The bulk of the work, therefore, involves information dissemination and training the public.
Toward that end, the ICHV, one of the oldest and most respected pro-gun-regulation advocacy groups in Illinois, has been tasked with putting on FRO training sessions throughout the state. One session has been scheduled at the Oak Park Main Library, 834 Lake St., Oak Park, next Wednesday, Oct. 9 from 7 to 8 p.m. The discussion will be led by two of the most knowledgeable individuals in the state of Illinois on the inner workings of the FRO Act, Peter Contos of ICHV, the lead person for ICHV’s Speak for Safety education campaign, and Mark Jones, former police officer and ATF Special Agent, who is the person heading up the ICHV campaign to educate all law enforcement officers in the state about the new law. Officers from the Oak Park Police Department will also participate in the training session.
Moms Demand Action of Oak Park and Austin is sponsoring the training session, and GRA endorses the program and will be present for it along with members of the League of Women Voters. The primary purpose is to educate the general public about the new law. This training session is free and open to everyone. If you are interested in understanding the benefits of the new law or if you have a family or household member who is a gun owner and you believe they could present a danger to themselves or to others, you should consider attending this FRO training session on Oct. 9. It will be worth your while.
Ray Heise, retired Oak Park village attorney, is a member of Gun Responsibility Advocates.