Two significant pieces of reasonable gun regulation legislation are headed to Governor Pritzker’s desk for signature after having been approved by substantial majorities in the House last week.
Firearm Restraining Order
The first piece of legislation is HB1092. It amends Illinois’ version of a “Red Flag” law known as the Firearm Restraining Order (FRO) Act. Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have enacted Red Flag laws so far. They vary greatly from state to state, but they tend to have one thing in common. They are intended to give local authorities the opportunity to prevent gun tragedies before they occur. The Illinois FRO Act as originally enacted into law on 1/1/2019, allowed family members of a respondent gun owner to petition the police or the courts to temporarily remove guns from the respondent owner’s possession because they present a danger to the owner or to others. The owner has the right to contest the petition. The local authorities can seek to extend the temporary time of removal of the gun or guns, due to the continuation of the circumstances that gave rise to the removal of the gun(s) in the first place. Under the law, once the danger has passed, the gun is to be returned to its rightful owner.
HB1092 only somewhat expands the scope of the FRO Act, but it significantly strengthens the administrative and enforcement processes. Substantively, the bill expands the class of people who will be able to petition the police or the courts from just the immediate family to both ex-spouses of, and common parents with, the children of the respondent gun owner. Ammunition was being removed along with guns under the original act. Now ammunition and gun parts to build a weapon are specifically called out for removal under the amendment to the act.
The strengthened administrative framework for the act will:
1) Now require the IDPH to create a program to promote public awareness of FRO.
2) Require the Illinois Law Enforcement Training Board to create a standardized FRO training program for officers.
3) The Illinois State Police will now be required to file a report annually on their enforcement activities under FRO.
4) Finally, the director of the Illinois State Police is authorized to create a commission to review all aspects of the FRO law and to develop policies for its effective enforcement.
These are the kinds of administrative underpinnings that we have needed for the last couple of years to assure that the goals of the Firearms Restraining Order Act will be met. We owe much to Rep. Denyse Stoneback, as primary sponsor of the bill, and Speaker of the House Chris Welch, and Senate President Don Harmon for successfully shepherding HB1092 into law.
Fixing the FOID
The second piece of legislation adopted last week by the House in a concurrence vote is the bipartisan compromise bill, SB562. It had a slightly more complicated path to the finish line, and, while containing substantial and important gains for the reasonable regulation of guns in Illinois, it also leaves us with the significant and necessary task of continuing to pursue the incorporation of mandatory fingerprinting into the FOID (Firearm Owner ID) application background check process.
Some of the gains under SB562 include:
1) Authorization of the State Police to remove guns from owners who no longer possess valid FOID cards. This corrects one of the major flaws existing in the law at the time of the Aurora mass murder. This provision was carried over from HB1091, known as the BIO Bill.
2) SB562 also carried over from HB1091 the requirement that background checks be conducted on all gun sales. The elimination of all remaining gun sale loopholes is a huge step forward for the FOID card background check process in Illinois.
3) A permanent record will now be required to be maintained of all lost, stolen and recovered guns.
4) $9M will also be budgeted for mental health care in areas of the city that have been impacted by gun violence. While this does not advance the goal of keeping guns out of the hands of criminals, the dangerously mentally ill, and minors, it does contribute to addressing one of the harsh realities that accompanies the tragedy of gun violence in the city — the mental health of people forced to live in such a war zone. It also begins to address racial equity issues by focusing this mental health funding on the areas most impacted by gun violence, which happen to be both minority and poor.
There are also important pieces of the BIO (Block Illegal Ownership) HB1091 that were left on the cutting room floor when the Senate spliced together compromise Senate Bill 562. One of the most important provisions in HB1091 that did not to survive the transition is mandatory fingerprinting. The impetus for the FIX the FOID/BIO Bill was born of tragedy and driven by the intention to fix the flaws in the law that allowed it to happen in the first place.
A brief description of that tragic event demonstrates the important role that fingerprinting played in it, and how, if mandatory fingerprinting had been in place at the time, the tragedy may have never taken place at all.
On Feb. 15, 2019 a mass shooting occurred at a manufacturing plant in Aurora that left the shooter and five civilians dead, and six wounded, including five courageous Aurora police officers. Five years earlier, in January of 2014, the shooter was issued a Firearms Owners Identification Card (FOID) in spite of the fact that he had a 1995 felony conviction for aggravated assault in Mississippi. This felony conviction should have prohibited the shooter from being issued a valid FOID Card, but the background check conducted at that time did not require fingerprinting, and, therefore, did not reveal the felony conviction. Instead, on March 6, 2014, the shooter purchased a Smith and Wesson .40 caliber handgun, which he eventually used to kill those five people and wound six others.
On March 16, 2014, five days after the shooter obtained possession of his handgun, he applied for a concealed carry permit. As a result of that application, the shooter chose to be voluntarily fingerprinted to expedite the background check process, and it revealed the shooter’s 1995 felony conviction for aggravated assault in Mississippi. As a result, the shooter’s concealed carry permit was rejected and his FOID card was revoked. The then Aurora police chief indicated that a letter was sent to the shooter notifying him that his FOID Card had been revoked and further notifying him that he was required to relinquish his firearm to the local authorities. The shooter did not comply with the letter and no apparent action was taken either by the State Police or the Aurora Police to recover the shooter’s handgun so the shooter retained possession of this handgun until he used it to commit mass murder on Feb. 15, 2019.
The “incentivized” fingerprinting offered in SB562 as a replacement for “mandatory” fingerprinting, is not an acceptable substitute. The incentive for volunteering to be fingerprinted under SB562 is a free first-time FOID card renewal worth $10. Since any applicant who has a felony conviction virtually guarantees that his felony conviction is discovered during the course of a fingerprint check, his FOID card will be rescinded or denied, or his concealed carry permit will be denied and any gun he may have will have to be relinquished to the authorities.
How likely is it that a FOID card applicant with a felony conviction will volunteer to be fingerprinted to save a $10 permit fee? I would suggest that, aside from the Aurora shooter and his odd behavior, not many in their right mind will step forward.
HB1091 proposed FOID card renewals every five years with a $20 fee. SB562 instead held firm on the existing 10-year renewal period and the $10 fee. Ten years is a long time for any authorizing permit to remain in place).
If the bottom-line purpose of the BIO Bill is to keep guns out of the hands of criminals, the dangerously mentally ill, and minors (and it is), then there can be no doubt we need to begin pursuing mandatory fingerprinting as an absolute requirement for FOID card background checks.
If you need further incentive to renew your active support for mandatory fingerprinting and shortened FOID card renewal periods, just remember that these provisions are proposed because they can save lives, while those who oppose them do so to either avoid minor personal inconvenience or out of irrational paranoia.
The sooner we have the reasonable and rational tools we need to prevent gun violence from continuing unabated, the sooner we can gain control over this epidemic and really begin to save lives.
Ray Heise, the former Oak Park village attorney, is a member of Gun Responsibility Advocates.