CHICAGO SUN TIMES EDITORIAL: Year of surging gun violence adds to urgent need to plug loopholes in Illinois gun laws

CHICAGO SUN-TIMES EDITORIAL: Year of surging gun violence adds to urgent need to plug loopholes in Illinois gun laws

The Illinois Legislature has a chance to save lives by reducing gun violence. But it must act quickly.

The local firearms toll is staggering. In Chicago alone, 769 people were killed in 2020, mostly by guns. More than 4,000 were shot. Just over this past holiday weekend, 30 were shot and six were killed. Gun violence also has increased in cities around the state.

Illinois does not have to meekly accept such horrific mayhem.

Legislation called the Block Illegal Ownership bill would plug legal loopholes through which guns flow to the criminals who turn streets into killing zones. It passed in the House in 2020 but stalled in the Senate as the Legislature took fewer votes during the pandemic.

The Senate, where the vote will be close, needs to pass the bill by Jan. 13 during its lame duck session or the bill will go back to square one as a new General Assembly is sworn in. If that happens, the state will lose its chance to act quickly to make it harder for dangerous people to get guns and harm others, including children, while giving law-abiding citizens access to guns.

Among its measures, the BIO bill would require point-of-sale background checks for all gun sales, including by private sellers. It would require applicants for Firearm Owners Identification cards to submit fingerprints. It would require Illinois State Police to remove guns from someone whose FOID card has been revoked.

Similar measures have made a big difference elsewhere. A combination of a FOID-type system with background checks on all gun sales has reduced gun violence by 40% in other states. Illegal gun trafficking is 48% lower in states that require background checks, according to the Gun Violence Prevention Education Center-Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence.

And the recovery of guns from someone whose FOID card has been revoked would prevent future shootings like the one in Aurora in 2019 in which Gary Montez Martin killed five people with a gun he kept after his FOID card had been revoked.

The requirement for fingerprinting would reduce a backlog of applications for FOID cards and concealed-carry permits by shortening the time it takes for police to confirm applicants’ identities. According to an updated Illinois State Police website that went live this week, it is taking the state an average of 122.47 days to process new FOID applications and 158.84 days to process non-fingerprint concealed-carry permit applications.

Speeding up the process would benefit law-abiding gun owners.

Last year, Chicago police seized 11,280 illegal guns and made 7,236 gun arrests. Under current laws, it’s too easy for criminals to acquire new illegal guns to replace those police confiscated. The BIO bill would slow the flow of illegal guns and make us safer.

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As the Lake County State’s Attorney, I am honored and humbled every day to lead the fight against crime, and to strive to ensure equal and just treatment under the law. I have been an attorney for twenty-two years – and each of those years has made me a stronger and smarter advocate for people, for ideas, and for the principles that unite us all.

I am so proud to lead an office of 140 dedicated colleagues who serve the public by prosecuting crime, advocating for victims, and planning crime prevention programs. I am also proud to work with hundreds of Lake County police officers on a daily basis to connect with every community and to develop comprehensive, holistic plans to respond to the mental health and economic crisis that arose from the COVID-19 pandemic.

On one particular day, July 4, 2022, I was saddened, inspired, and motivated by the bravery of so many people. We will always stand with the victims and honor the police and other first responders who ran toward the danger. Just as so many heroes that day thought only of themselves, I also witnessed the prosecutors in my office answer the call to serve survivors and their community – even on one of its darkest days.

Every moment that I have been your legal representative, I have worked tirelessly to oversee prosecutions and to implement policies that make my family and my neighbors safer in the short term and in the long term. That is the job of the State’s Attorney: to prosecute, to innovate, and to strategically plan.

I was raised in a small town. My parents are teachers, and from them, I learned that everyone must be treated equally and that America’s sacred mission is to provide a political, economic, and legal system that allows anyone to prosper regardless of the circumstances of their birth. After graduating from Knox College and the University of Chicago Law School, I spent two years at a first-rate civil law firm in Chicago where I learned that hard work and attention to detail on every case mean the difference between success and failure.

With my wonderful wife Stephanie, I am raising my two sons, Sam and Teddy, in Lake County. Nothing is more important to me than my family’s safety and I bring that passion and determination to protect all families with me to work every day.

I joined the Lake County Public Defender’s Office in 2003 and started my own law firm in 2009. From 2003 until 2020, I watched the Lake County legal system fail to prioritize violent crime, prevent wrongful prosecutions, or address racial disparities.

So, in 2019, I decided to run for State’s Attorney so that I could serve our community by improving a local legal system that cared more about covering up its mistakes and biases than uncovering new and innovative ways to help people.

I won the 2020 election, and became the first Democrat to hold this position in 40 years. Bringing in a new party wasn’t as important as ending 40 years of one mindset that had forgotten the people and that had failed to act urgently to develop new strategic plans to prevent crime while also ensuring that each prosecution is smart, moral, and just.

We have followed through on our promises. We have built the first-ever violent crimes unit, increased prosecutors in our domestic violence division, and vastly upgraded our cyber lab. Now, we have top-notch software and personnel to finally keep up with those who would exploit others.

We have been awarded a large federal grant to bring the first ever Human Trafficking Task Force to Lake County. We have deepened our investment in people by bringing in more victim specialists and raising the salaries of many of our prosecutors.

But the work goes on. We must expand our prevention efforts that are starting with the Gun Violence Prevention Initiative launched in 2022. And we know that the opioid crisis touches thousands of lives throughout this country.

I am proud to serve on the Executive Board of the Lake County Opioid Initiative which has been working tirelessly since its founding in 2012 to reverse a devastating trend of increased overdoses. In 2022, our office was part of a national settlement against opioid manufacturers and distributors.

As an attorney of 22 years, I have committed my life to helping people, and I have conducted over 70 jury trials in Lake County, and handled appeals that have culminated in over 20 oral arguments before the appellate court and Supreme Court of Illinois.

I see my time in this office as the next phase of helping a community that I love and where I have chosen to raise my family. In my first term, we have made Lake County safer and fairer through just prosecutions, constitutional policing, and innovative crime prevention policies.