EDITORIAL: Legislature fumbles chance to ‘fix the FOID,’ make streets safer

http://bit.ly/2EQEc5l

A mourner pays respects at a memorial for the five people killed in a shooting at the Henry Pratt Company in Aurora in February.

Yes, Illinois lawmakers had a lot on their plate in the last week of the spring session. But a lot of heartbreaking shootings will take place before they get another crack at passing this commonsense gun control bill.

Several recent news events, taken together, should alarm everyone in Illinois.

  • Gun violence in Chicago this past weekend left eight dead and at least 44 wounded. A week earlier, at least 43 people were shot, seven fatally, over the Memorial Day weekend, despite severe weather that kept people off the streets.
  • In Virginia Beach, Virginia, on Friday, 12 people were killed when a public works employee opened fire at a municipal building. That sparked memories of a similar workplace shooting in February in west suburban Aurora, in which a disgruntled employee who, by law, shouldn’t have owned a gun killed five co-workers and wounded five police officers.
  • Meanwhile, in Springfield, the state Senate last week couldn’t muster enough votes to pass a commonsense bill that would have made it harder for criminals to get their hands on guns.

This is, by any measure, disappointing.

Yes, the Legislature had a lot on its plate in its last week of the session, and the gun-reform bill arrived in the Senate only two days before lawmakers were scheduled to go home. But a lot of heartbreaking shootings will take place before lawmakers get another crack at getting this right, probably at the start of 2020.

So we’d like to see a clear commitment from our state senators that they will approve the bill, called the “Fix the FOID Act.”

The bill would require applicants for Firearm Owners Identification cards to be fingerprinted. It also will increase the fee for a FOID card from $10 for 10 years to $20 for five years — and require a point-of-sale background check on private gun sales.

FOID cards are required for someone to own a gun. The cards can be revoked due to a felony conviction, indictment, domestic violence conviction, orders of protection, dishonorable military discharge or a finding that the cardholder is a mental health risk.

If that happens, the FOID card holder is required to turn in the card and transfer possession of his or her guns over to someone else.

Too often, though, that doesn’t happen, which is why we need a stronger law.

Aurora workplace shooter Gary Martin, for example, cleared a routine state police background check that didn’t turn up his history as a felon with a history of violence. He was able to buy a handgun, keep it for five years and kill innocent people. His criminal record came to light only when he was fingerprinted as he applied for a concealed carry license.

That’s the kind of loophole the Fix the FOID Act bill aims to plug.

On Monday, Gov. J.B. Pritzker told the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board, “I think that most of that bill makes sense to me. There are pieces of it that I think probably need to get some amending.”

Pritzker may have simply been referring to the common tactic of revising legislation that is close to passing in order to pick up a vote or two.

We hope that doesn’t happen with this bill, though.

During negotiations, supporters agreed to drop several other Fix the FOID provisions, including requiring in-person applications for FOID cards and charging $50 for a five-year renewal. Also dropped was a mandate that local law enforcement get warrants to recover the guns from people whose FOID cards are revoked. Instead, that task would be handled by the Illinois State Police.

Further diluting the bill now would undermine its effectiveness.

Moreover, if the Senate makes changes in the legislation instead of concurring with the version that passed the House, the bill would have to go back to the House, where there is no guarantee it would pass again.

Sen. Sen. Julie Morrison, D-Deerfield, the lead sponsor of the bill in the Senate, said she plans to move things forward by seeking legislative hearings this summer to educate lawmakers who might have withheld their support because they didn’t know enough about what the bill contains.

A stronger FOID law wouldn’t take every illegally owned gun out of the hands of criminals. But like other sensible gun legislation, it would go a significant way in reducing the likelihood of future gun crimes.

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June 3, 2019 at 06:09PM

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