The short lame duck session called by the Illinois Legislature came to a close at noon, Jan. 13, marking the close of the 101st General Assembly. And so ended the incredible efforts of thousands of people and hundreds of organizations dedicated to the enactment of additional responsible gun regulation, including scores of Oak Park citizens and organizations, to stanch the exploding epidemic of gun violence that has occurred in 2020 by having reasonable gun legislation enacted which has, as its sole purpose, the prevention of access to firearms by criminals, the dangerously mentally or emotionally ill, and minors.

In spite of the fact that 80% of voters favored such legislation, that the House had overwhelmingly approved such legislation in the spring of 2020, that the Governor had committed to signing such legislation into law when it reached his desk, and the Senate being, apparently within one vote of approval, SB 1966, known as the BIO Bill (Block Illegal Ownership), was never called to the Senate floor for a vote during this final session of the 101st General Assembly.

SB 1966 was specifically targeted at closing existing gaping loopholes in the Illinois gun regulation system that permitted the mass shooting at the Henry Pratt Company in Aurora in February of 2019. Six people, including the shooter, were shot and killed that day. Four police officers were also shot and wounded and two other officers were injured in this mass shooting. The shooter had a 1995 felony conviction in Mississippi for aggravated assault, which prevented him from legally possessing a gun in Illinois. In 2014 he applied for, and was issued, a FOID Card by the Illinois State Police and then, using that FOID Card, purchased the gun with which he is believed to have committed the mass murder. The FOID Card was issued because the Mississippi felony conviction was not disclosed by the State Police background check which did not include a fingerprint check. 

Later in 2014 the shooter applied for a concealed-carry license from the State Police and agreed to a fingerprint check to expedite the background check for the concealed-carry license. As a result, the State Police found the felony conviction in Mississippi, rejected the shooter’s concealed-carry application, cancelled his FOID Card, and sent him a letter demanding that he turn in the gun he had purchased. The shooter did not surrender the weapon and the State Police did not follow up with the confiscation of the weapon.

All of the provisions set forth In SB 1966 were specifically intended to prevent anything resembling the horrible event that took place at Henry Pratt Company from ever happening again. It is worth noting that nothing contained in SB 1966 would have in any way interfered with the Second Amendment Rights of law-abiding citizens to own or possess firearms. SB 1966, among other things, would have required that fingerprint checks be made a part of all background checks for the sale of any firearm, that person- to-person sales be regulated in the same manner as all sales from licensed gun dealers, that the State Police be authorized and directed to confiscate the FOID Cards and weapons of all persons who have had their FOID Cards voided, and that FOID Cards would only be issued for 5-year terms, instead of the present 10-year term. 

The importance and urgency of this legislation is self-evident from a review of the loopholes in the law that allowed the Henry Pratt mass shooting to take place, and the proposed provisions of SB 1966 that would have closed each and every one of those loopholes.

During the Illinois Gun Violence Prevention Coalition’s (ILGVP) Digital Day of Action earlier this year, over a half million Illinoisans heard Senate leadership promise to prioritize SB 1966 to address Illinois’ gun violence crisis. I think everyone accepted the fact that passage of a state budget and funding for pandemic relief took precedence in the spring. There is also no question that the legislature also accomplished a major priority during the lame duck session by enacting much of the Illinois Black Caucus legislative agenda, including all important criminal justice reforms. We nevertheless remain disappointed that Senate leadership did not prioritize this important piece of public safety legislation.

The ILGVP consists of over 200 organizations Statewide, with several of these organizations or chapters located in the village, including the Gun Responsibility Advocates (GRA) of which I am a proud member. We are all incredibly disappointed that, during the time that the Senate failed to act on the Bill after the House had passed it, 7,752 Illinoisans have been shot, over 100 children have been shot and killed, and at least 36,000 illegal guns remain in the hands of people who are prohibited from owning them.

The Illinois Gun Violence Prevention coalition and the tens of thousands of constituents who have tirelessly advocated for the passage of this legislation, look forward to again working with chief senate sponsor Sen. Julie Morrison and chief house sponsor, Leader Kathleen Willis, to, as she has stated, reintroduce the bill quickly in the next session and work with legislators on both sides of the aisle “to quickly pass this legislation at the start of the new session.” 

Join us in this effort by contacting your state senator and state representative and urging them to make the passage of this important piece of public safety legislation an early priority in 2021.

Ray Heise, a member of Gun Responsibility Advocates, is the former Oak Park village attorney.

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