Gun Control Advocates Push for Action in Springfield

Exactly two years ago, Abby Parks lost her husband — and her son lost his father — when Clayton Parks was among the five people fatally shot by an aggrieved worker at the Henry Pratt warehouse in suburban Aurora.

“Clay had such a charismatic personality. He was determined and hardworking and loved by everyone that knew him. But he was only 32 when he died and he had so much more life to life,” Parks said on Monday during a Zoom event organized by the Gun Violence Prevention PAC. “Part of honoring Clay’s memory means addressing the fact that Clay and the four others taken that day could still be with us if illegal guns were not left in the hands of people with revoked FOID cards.”

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The Aurora shooter shouldn’t have been able to buy and posses the handgun used that day because he had a felony on his record. The out-of-state conviction was initially missed in a background check, but it later came up when the shooter tried to get a concealed carry license.

Illinois State Police then revoked the shooter’s Firearm Owners Identification card — often called a FOID card — which meant he couldn’t legally own guns.

But no law enforcement acted to take them away.

“Following the Aurora tragedy, we were forced to confront the reality that a large part of Illinois’ gun violence crisis is caused by dangerous loopholes in our FOID card permit to purchase system,” said state Sen. Ram Villivalam, D-Chicago.

Villivalam was the sponsor of a proposal to close what gun control advocates say are loopholes in Illinois law; while the measure – which came to be known as the Fix the FOID bill – passed the House, it stalled in the Senate.

Now they’re trying again.

“We’re not trying to penalize responsible gun owners. We’re trying to solve the problem that exists today which led to another mass tragedy in Aurora,” Villivalam said.

They’re calling for changes, including a requirement that all FOID applicants be fingerprinted, that background checks be required for all gun purchases (Illinois requires background checks when firearms are sold by dealers or at gun shows, but not for person-to-person sales), and that police step up efforts, with additional funding, to retrieve guns from individuals with revoked FOID cards.

“We need to do fingerprints so that we can verify identification. People can’t easily change their names or have a common name and slip through the crack and be able to get their guns,” said state Rep. Kathleen Willis, D-Addison.

But the Illinois State Rifle Association’s Richard Pearson said that would be prohibitively expensive, especially for families.

“It prices everything out of reach for the average person,” he said. “There’s no other fundamental right that requires fingerprints to exercise it.”

Pearson also says gun owners already undergo enough background checks.

“Purchasing firearms, renewing FOID cards, renewing concealed carry cards, and their every day background checks. So we have plenty of background checks, that’s not necessary,” he said.

The gun control advocates’ plan also calls for directing more money to police so they can step up efforts to retrieve guns from individuals who shouldn’t legally have them after getting their FOID card revoked.

“Right now we know there are so many dangerous loopholes that allow violent domestic violence offenders who have had their FOID cards revoked to keep their guns,” said Tami Tunnell, a downstate domestic violence prevention advocate. “In my career I have seem so many victims who have been forced to live in fear because their abusers had guns or they were threatened, and these guns … we tried to get them taken away and it didn’t happen.”

The Illinois State Police likewise indicated in a statement Monday the agency has taken more seriously retrieving firearms and cross-checking criminal files since the 2019 Aurora shooting.

In a statement, ISP says it created a web portal that local police and prosecutors can access to verify whether someone is in compliance with the FOID law; that state police created a special detail to enforce gun takebacks after FOID revocations; and that background checks last year blocked 11,500 attempts to unlawfully get a FOID card.

Meanwhile, 2020 saw an uptick in the number of Illinoisans applying for FOID cards.

Pearson, of the Illinois State Rifle Association, said he believes it’s because people “suddenly realize that you can’t depend on the police to protect you, and so people are understanding that finally that they have to protect themselves.”

Pearson says staff shortages due to previous administrations shorting the ISP’s funding has caused a delay in processing FOID applications, which by law are to be processed within 30 days.

In July and again in December, the rifle association filed lawsuits to try to compel the state police to issue FOID cards and renewals on time.

Pearson says another lawsuit may soon come on behalf of members frustrated with long delays in ISP processing permits for concealed carry licenses.

While not directly addressing the lawsuit, ISP Director Brendan Kelly said in a statement Monday that the Henry Pratt shooting “revealed clearly the need to use less of our resources on an outdated, inefficient renewal process that’s similar to that of a fishing license and more on enforcement against real threats to public safety.”

He indicated the ISP will seek action and authority from the legislature to “untangle the patchwork.”

Sunday was the 13th anniversary of the mass shooting at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, in which five students and the shooter died.

It also marked the third anniversary of the Parkland high school shooting in which 17 people died.

President Joe Biden is calling on Congress to ban so-called assault weapons and to require more background checks on gun purchases.

Follow Amanda Vinicky on Twitter: @AmandaVinicky

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