Aurora shooting reveals holes in gun enforcement
Friday, February 22, 2019
Aurora investigators determined immediately after Friday’s killings of five people at a manufacturing firm that the shooter had worked there for 15 years. They soon learned he had caused the carnage with a handgun purchased from a local dealer in 2014. What’s now under question, as five families grieve and wounded police officers recuperate, is why the killer still had a gun he shouldn’t have possessed.
According to authorities, the man who fatally shot five employees of Henry Pratt Co. and wounded several officers Friday was a convicted felon. Gary Martin served time in prison in Mississippi in the 1990s for aggravated assault. Yet about a decade later, he was issued an Illinois firearm owner’s identification card and purchased a Smith & Wesson .40-caliber handgun.
Not everyone is allowed to have a FOID. A felony conviction is a disqualifier. Martin wasn’t flagged until after his purchase, when he sought a concealed carry license. It appears that during the background check process, which included fingerprinting, his criminal record popped up. What happened next? Frustratingly, not enough. Martin’s FOID was revoked, but he kept his firearm — later using it to cause a bloodbath in Aurora.
There are gun laws on the books designed to keep weapons away from dangerous people. Then there is enforcement. In this instance, there was a deadly lapse. Martin should never have received a FOID. Once that error was discovered, Illinois State Police apparently would have notified Martin by letter that he was not legally eligible to own a gun. Obviously, he either never got notification or ignored it. And no one took his gun away.
“Some disgruntled person walked in and had access to a firearm that he shouldn’t have had access to,” Aurora police Chief Kristen Ziman said Saturday. Did anyone from law enforcement try to track down Martin and confiscate his weapon? That’s one of many “unanswered questions,” Ziman said.
Police will continue their investigation, but there should be more work ahead for other officials, including Gov. J.B. Pritzker and state Attorney General Kwame Raoul. There needs to be a thorough, fast accounting of how Martin received a FOID. Also an explanation of why his gun wasn’t taken from him and — after authorities learned of his felony record — whether he refused to relinquish the weapon.
It appears that Illinois law — or follow-through — is weak. Mark Jones, a senior policy adviser for the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence and a former federal law enforcement agent, told the Tribune over the weekend that state police typically don’t act beyond sending a letter when someone is found to have a gun he or she shouldn’t have. “They’re not funded to do anything more than that,” Jones said.
There’s the starting point for Illinois after Aurora: an intensive examination of gun laws and enforcement practices to try to prevent another shooting of this type. Regulations and enforcement rules need to be tightened to give police the authority and resources to track down people who may possess weapons they no longer are allowed to have.
There may be other mismatches between statutes and enforcement. Last year, Illinois undertook a re-evaluation after a mass shooting in Tennessee allegedly carried out by Travis Reinking, a troubled native of Morton, Ill. Illinois lawmakers passed a “red flag” law that allows police or family members to seek a court order to confiscate guns from those who are deemed “an immediate and present danger” to themselves or others.
After Aurora, as the families of Russell Beyer, Vicente Juarez, Clayton Parks, Josh Pinkard and Trevor Wehner mourn, state lawmakers and the law enforcement community should coalesce around a goal that ought to unify gun rights and gun control advocates: No gun owner should be stripped of a FOID card but able to keep a firearm.