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February 19, 2019

It’s Not About New Laws; It’s about Implementing the Ones We Have

By Larry Keane

The murders in Aurora, Illinois, reveal the inability or unwillingness of many in authority to ensure that our existing laws are working. The convicted felon who murdered five at his workplace last week should never have had a gun. We need to know why that happened so it can be fixed so it never happens again.

We already have the laws we need to stop the criminal misuse of guns. Drafting new laws, especially since nearly all proposals affect only the law-abiding, distracts us from the real solutions that are at hand. Getting these priorities backwards can and does cost lives.

We need political leaders who will assume responsibility for ensuring law enforcement agencies have the resources and authority to carry out their responsibilities. Those agencies must ensure they are doing what the law was intended to do.

Implementation is the Hard Part

That process, accomplished out of the public spotlight, is a whole lot harder than holding press conferences and passing new laws. Successful implementation of laws and continuing oversight does not make news. Lax, inadequate, misfocused or neglected enforcement does make news in the form of tragic incidents.

Since the news broke in the Illinois case, we’ve learned the murderer had been convicted for felony aggravated assault in Mississippi in 1995. One report said he’d bludgeoned and stabbed his girlfriend, which was documented in the victim’s own words in police records.

He served less than three years of a five-year prison sentence and continued to tangle with law enforcement. He was arrested six times by Aurora Police for traffic and domestic violence issues, including a 2008 arrest for violation of a protective order. Nearby Oswego police arrested him in 2017.

Despite his 1995 conviction, this felon was granted an Illinois Firearms Owner Identification Card (FOID) in 2014. Aurora Police Chief Kristen Ziman said the man’s past record “would not necessarily have shown up on a criminal background check conducted for the FOID card.” Successful applicants must not have been convicted of a felony. Disqualifications include domestic battery offenses. Just days after being issued this FOID, the murderer purchased a handgun.

Sending Out a Letter

Only when the murderer applied for a concealed carry permit did authorities ascertain his criminal past and that he was a prohibited person. They denied the permit and sent an FOID revocation letter to him, but no one acted to recover the firearm they knew he had. One report noted that Illinois State Police lacks the manpower and relies on an “honor system.”

The result of this poorly thought-out system is that the murderer took a gun he should have never owned, and the State Police knew he possessed, into his workplace. Moments after being fired, he began killing his co-workers.

Giffords Law Center rated Illinois “B+” for enacting strict gun control measures, ranking it 8th among all states for strengthening extreme risk protection orders, violence intervention programs and extended firearms purchase waiting periods. Illinois has some of the strictest gun laws on the books. Where is the grade for the oversight to ensure that those laws work? It’s not enough to pass a law and move on.

Passing a new law is exactly what the Illinois legislature did. In a move that will do nothing to make our communities safer, Gov. J.B. Pritzker recently signed a duplicative law to regulate firearms retailers already subject to federal regulation. Legislators are considering more new laws, including additional taxes on guns, requirements to turn over social media accounts to buy guns and bans on entire classes of firearms.

Presidential Hopefuls Want More Laws

It’s not just Illinois, of course. Democratic presidential hopefuls call for more laws. Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar tweeted that America needed universal background checks, despite these very checks failing to stop the Illinois murderer.

California Sen. Kamala Harris cites the need to ban so-called “assault weapons,” despite most murders being committed with handguns. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren blames the NRA for a public health emergency she claimed could be cured by more research. New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand demonizes the firearms industry for what she said is indiscriminately selling guns to criminals, terrorists, children and the mentally ill.

Sen. Gillibrand should know that it was the firearms industry that provided the model for trying to ensure that existing law works better in the form of the successful Fix NICS legislation to incentivize states to submit all disqualifying records to the FBI’s National Criminal Information Center that is searched as part of a background check to purchase a firearm. She co-sponsored and voted for this legislation before it was signed into law last year by the President. She, and these other politicians who run on gun control promises, conveniently ignore the fact that it is the firearms industry that runs programs to keep guns out of the hands of those who shouldn’t have them. The industry works with ATF to prevent straw purchases and better secure retailers against thefts.

Our industry is integral to a national partnership to help prevent suicides with firearms, and our industry has rolled up its sleeves to be involved in implementing real solutions that work to make our communities safer. It’s time our elected officials do the same.

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