3 Years After Henry Pratt Shooting, Illinois Grapples With Revoked FOID Cards

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Three years after the deadly mass shooting at Henry Pratt Company in Aurora - after which it was revealed that the gunman's Firearm Owner's Identification card had been revoked five years earlier - the state of Illinois is still grappling with efforts to get weapons out of the hands of people who are not allowed to have them.

In February 2019, five people were killed and six others, including five police officers, were wounded when 45-year-old Gary Martin opened fire at Henry Pratt. In the aftermath, it was revealed that Martin had been convicted of aggravated assault in 1995 in Mississippi - a felony conviction that should have prevented him from receiving FOID card, which he was granted in 2014.

When Martin applied for his concealed carry permit days after getting his FOID card, state regulators found the assault conviction and his FOID card was revoked. But it appeared as though no one followed up after the revocation to determine if he had returned his card and disposed of his weapons as required by Illinois law.

Three years after the shooting, despite the public outcry, there are still thousands of people in Illinois who are legally barred from owning guns, yet continue to do so.

Here's how the law is supposed to work: If a person's FOID card is revoked for something like a felony conviction or if they have an order of protection filed against them, they are required to surrender their card and fill out a form explaining how they will dispose of their weapons.

But a report from the Illinois Auditor General released last fall revealed that in 2019, just 45.8% of the 10,024 individuals whose FOID cards were revoked returned those cards, and just 35.5% submitted the paperwork indicating where they planned to transfer their guns.

Since then, Illinois State Police say they've plowed through a long-standing backlog of more than 140,000 records like criminal and mental health records that could prohibit firearm ownership under state law, reducing that backlog by 97%.

ISP Director Brendan Kelly said the agency revoked a total of 17,457 FOID cards last year, which was 70% more than in 2019. He added that the number of people who obeyed the rules last year and actually surrendered their cards was at an all-time high of 5,364.

But because revocations were also way up, that's actually a lower compliance rate: just 30.7%, leaving roughly 12,000 people who still didn't surrender their FOID cards or account for their guns - the very same scenario which left the Henry Pratt shooter with a weapon he wasn't allowed to have.

"We are doing everything we can with the tools we have, the growing number of tools that we have, to keep firearms out of their hands," Kelly said. "We’ll work with anybody, whether they are anti-gun, whether they are pro-gun, we are gonna work with anybody on this issue to try to make sure we are keeping people safe."

A new law passed in the wake of the Henry Pratt shooting took effect on Jan. 1, providing more money for enforcement efforts.

But not everyone who breaks the law gets a knock on the door. Kelly said it's necessary to make judgment calls and concentrate on those who pose the greatest risk.

"Someone who just got an order of protection last week, someone who just committed an act of domestic battery last week and just before that we know purchased a firearm, that's someone who is an imminent threat," Kelly said. "And those are the people that we prioritize and those are the people that we work cases up on, go and literally knock on the door where they live, where they work, pull them over in their vehicle while they’re traveling, and make sure that the firearms that we have reason to believe they may have are properly disposed of and properly removed from them to make sure that they’re not going to be a threat."

Kelly said ISP conducted that kind of enforcement action 595 times last year.

But there is still one major loophole: people who have their FOID cards revoked can still simply transfer their guns to a family member if that family member has a valid card, meaning those weapons can even remain in the same home.

"Well, that's one of the gaps that exists in our system," Kelly said. "That's certainly one of the weak links in the overall firearm safety regime. But that's something that the legislature is going to have to change, if we want to place those firearms with someone who is not in the same household."

In Cook County, there are currently 27,612 active FOID card revocations, 49% of which are in Chicago, according to the Cook County Sheriff's Office. Roughly 42% of those individuals countywide have returned their FOID cards and 26% have accounted for their weapons on the required form, authorities say. A sheriff's office spokesman said the agency has had dedicated officers assigned to this effort since 2013, and since then, they have resolved more than 5,200 cases, recovering more than 2,400 FOID cards and over 800 firearms.

The Chicago Police Department says that since the creation of its own dedicated unit in August, officers have recovered 612 revoked FOID cards and 162 firearms.

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