The tragic shooting that left five people dead in Aurora, Ill., when a man dismissed from his job opened fire on co-workers, might have been avoided if police were empowered to remove firearms from individuals judged unfit to possess guns, according to a study by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
The failure underlined serious gaps in Illinois guns laws, said the report, produced by the Center for Gun Policy and Research at Johns Hopkins.
The study, entitled “Policies to Reduce Gun Violence in Illinois: Research, Policy Analysis, and Recommendations,” pointed to the fact that the state does not require law enforcement to remove firearms when gun owners are identified as prohibited after a Firearm Owner’s Identification (FOID) card has been issued.
The study argued that if individuals identified as prohibited fail to surrender their FOID card and/or their firearms upon notice of revocation, police should take their weapons away.
The shooter, who shot fellow workers at a warehouse operated by the Henry Pratt Co. in the Chicago suburb last Friday, passed a background check and was approved for his FOID card despite having a felony conviction.
He had been convicted of aggravated assault in a domestic violence incident several years earlier, and since then he had been arrested six times by Aurora police on traffic and domestic violence issues. He was arrested most recently in 2017 by police in nearby Oswego, Ill., for disorderly conduct and damage to property, according to reports.
Authorities had learned that he was prohibited from owning guns when he applied for a concealed carry permit, which requires fingerprinting. (The FOID card does not require fingerprinting.) But they had no power under Illinois law to take guns from someone who was barred from having them, the study said.
The authors said Illinois “should modify the current firearm purchase license (i.e., FOID) system to require an in-person application, fingerprinting, and a duration of five years.”
The authors said the incident made clear that existing Firearm Dealer Licensing and Oversight laws in the state were “insufficient.”
“Federal laws governing firearm sellers are lax, and resources for oversight of sellers’ compliance with federal firearm laws are insufficient to prevent a small fraction of the overall number of licensed sellers from channeling most of the guns used in crime,” the study said.
The study also noted other gaps in Illinois’ oversight of gun ownership, such as the failure to treat alcohol abuse as a factor in denying gun permits.
“Though Illinois has a [gun] prohibition related to narcotic use, it does not have an alcohol-related prohibition,” the authors wrote.
This separates Illinois from states with similar laws prohibiting firearm possession for individuals convicted of alcohol-related misdemeanors (MA, MD, PA), individuals recently treated for alcohol-related conditions (FL, HI, KS, MA, MN, ND, WI), and other forms of alcohol abuse (AL, CA, MO, OH, SC, WV).
The authors added that Illinois authorities should “vigorously implement and enforce” laws establishing Extreme Risk Protection Orders, sometimes known as “Red Flag” laws, which allow family members, teachers or police to petition for the removal of firearms from persons considered dangerously unstable.
New York State passed Red Flag legislation earlier this week, and it was signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo at an emotional ceremony at John Jay College Monday attended by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and survivors and relatives of those killed by gun violence.
Pelosi said she planned to direct efforts of Congress to pass tougher national gun legislation.
“This gun violence issue is a national health epidemic in our country,” Pelosi said.
And in a jab at President Donald Trump, she added, “And Mr. President, if you want to talk about emergencies, this is an emergency.”
Other recommendations of the Johns Hopkins study included:
- Establishing a requirement that private firearm sellers to verify the validity of the FOID card prior to transferring a firearm by attaching a criminal penalty for noncompliance.
- Mandating State Police to conduct a background check while verifying the validity of the FOID card to ensure the purchaser has not become prohibited since issuance.
- Modification of existing domestic violence-related firearm prohibitions to last the length of the order or 2 years, whichever is longer
The authors of the study were: Cassandra K. Crifasi, Alexander McCourt, and Daniel W. Webster.
Read the full report here.
Megan Hadley is a senior staff writer for The Crime Report.