Illinois State Police rescinded more than 10,000 gun licenses last year — and more than 75 percent of the revocation recipients ignored it, according to newly released data.
The state agency provided the staggering figures late Thursday, as part of a trove of law-enforcement documents involving Gary Martin, the convicted felon who fatally shot five co-workers and wounded several police officers at an Aurora warehouse last week. Martin, 45, went on a rampage after learning he was being terminated — opening fire with a gun he never should have been allowed to purchase.
In the shooting’s wake, authorities disclosed that Martin passed two background checks before buying the Smith & Wesson .40-caliber handgun used in the mass killing. Illinois law prohibited Martin as a convicted felon from holding a firearm owner’s identification card or owning a gun.
Illinois State Police — which approved Martin’s FOID card in January 2014 — released a detailed account of the shooter’s background checks amid questions about how his aggravated assault conviction from Mississippi in 1995 could have been missed.
“The only way we can honor those who died — the only way we will ever be safer — is to shine the brightest light on the good, bad, and ugly of this system and to lay bare for the public and policy makers the depth and breadth of our vulnerabilities,” ISP Acting Director Brendan F. Kelly said in a statement Thursday.
According to the agency, Martin passed a background check when he applied for his FOID card and again when he purchased the handgun from a local dealer in March 2014.
State police used at least five Illinois-centric and five federal databases to review Martin’s criminal history before granting approval, according to the agency’s report. None of them showed that Martin had been convicted of beating and stabbing his then-girlfriend in the mid-1990s, authorities said.
In fact, federal databases omitted Martin’s felony conviction as recently as Wednesday, state police said. It only appeared in the system Thursday, according to the release.
It’s an unsettling shortcoming that raises questions about the thoroughness of the federal crime databases. Martin’s criminal court records are available to the public on the internet, and his conviction is referenced in public document databases used by the Chicago Tribune and news organizations around the country.
In 2013, the National Consortium for Justice Information and Statistics found at least 25 percent of felony convictions are not available to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, according to state police. Congress passed a law last year aimed at addressing the problem.
State police only discovered Martin’s Mississippi conviction after he agreed to be fingerprinted in March 2014 in order to expedite the processing of his concealed carry license. Illinois does not require fingerprinting to obtain either a FOID or concealed carry license.
There are currently 2,285,990 active FOID cards and 325,187 active concealed carry licensees statewide, according to state police. Of the concealed carry holders, only 126,559 submitted fingerprints with their applications.
After learning of the omission in Martin’s background check, ISP said it notified both Martin and the Aurora Police Department in April 2014 that he was no longer able to possess a gun. He was given 48 hours to find a qualified owner for his weapon or relinquish it to local authorities, as well as submit a document called the Firearm Disposition Record to Aurora police.
Aurora officials say they have no record of receiving ISP’s revocation notice and, even if they did, the department had no legal obligation to confiscate the gun. State law, however, does allow local law enforcement to obtain a search warrant to retrieve a revoked FOID holder’s weapons.
Illinois State Police does not have copies of revocation notices sent to local police departments in 2014 because the agency only preserved those records for three years, according to the statement.
State police said an “exhaustive search” failed to turn up Martin’s returned FOID card or document detailing how he had relinquished his handgun. It’s an unsurprising result, given the vast majority people ignore their revocation notices, state statistics show.
In 2018, 10,818 FOID cards were revoked, according to state police. Only 2,616 Firearm Disposition Records were returned — meaning more than 75 percent of those with revoked licenses ignored the order.
There have been only 110 arrests since 2014 for failure to return a FOID card or not submitting the Firearm Disposition Record. There were only 10 arrests statewide for the offense in 2018.
Just Thursday, Johns Hopkins University released an analysis of Illinois gun laws that found that failure of law enforcement to follow up on revocations was one blind spot the state should address by telling law enforcement to be more aggressive in their efforts to dispossess the barred owners.
Previous attempts in Illinois to mandate the follow-up has been met, however, with concerns this would overtax departments.
Report co-author Cassandra Crifasi said policymakers need to weigh this against the “public safety benefit” to getting guns out of the hands of people who are barred from having them.
“There is more weight behind the revocation if there is some legislative action, but we also recognize that at times there are constrained resources and sometimes law enforcement has to prioritize,” she said.
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