Vetting of concealed-carry applicants too weak to trust

Written By EDITORIALS Posted: 02/13/2014, 01:11pm

How safe does this make you feel? Twelve people certified as concealed carry trainers under Illinois’ new gun law have such extensive criminal backgrounds that Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart wants them banned from carrying hidden firearms altogether. One of them was the subject of an order of protection, and police say another threatened to kill a law enforcement officer.

That’s just part of the problem with the new law, approved by the Legislature last summer. There’s no longer any debate that concealed carry is the law of the land, but there’s an excellent argument that it is being carried out in an excessively permissive manner. Combing through a list of 9,349 Cook County residents who have applied since Jan. 5 for five-year concealed carry permits, Sheriff Dart’s office found 300 applicants who have records for domestic violence, gang activity, gun crimes, sex crimes, burglary and other criminal activity. All but five of those applicants were cleared for concealed carry by the Illinois State Police, however, and the grounds for rejection for the five might have been something as benign as not including payment.

We see two problems here. The first is that Dart’s office is the source of most of the objections filed statewide, which suggests that other sheriffs and municipal police departments — who were provided no extra funding to pay for criminal background checks — are failing to dig as deeply as Dart into the background of people applying for concealed carry permits.

The second problem is that even Dart can’t do a truly thorough job because he is prohibited from checking a police database called the Law Enforcement Agencies Data System, the nation’s most comprehensive listing of arrest records. According to the State Police, that’s because LEADS is to be used only for criminal justice purposes, and the FBI considers concealed carry permits to be an administrative matter.

No wonder Dart calls the concealed carry law “horrifically unworkable.”

As drawn up by lawmakers under pressure from a federal appeals court, the concealed carry law allows people with a valid Firearm Owner’s Identification Card to apply for a license to carry loaded concealed guns. The applications go to the State Police, who check about a dozen databases to screen out applicants who are felons, or who in the past seven years have had five or more arrests or at least three arrests for gang-related offenses. Also nixed are people with at least two DUI convictions or a conviction for a violent crime.

But anyone with fewer than seven arrests gets the green light, which is less than reassuring. Someone with four arrests — two of them gang-related — is not necessarily a person you want packing heat on the streets.

That’s where the objections by local law enforcement agencies are supposed to come in. They are allowed to file an objection before the state’s new seven-member Concealed Carry Licensing Review Board if they think someone shouldn’t be toting a gun. But cop shops are given only 30 days after an application is filed to do so.

Making an objection is not easy. Dart has assigned some 25 officers to comb through jail records, orders of protection and Chicago’s database of arrests. Putting in more than 2,000 work hours, they’ve found applicants who’ve been picked up for domestic violence, gun crimes, gang crimes, sex crimes, battery and assault. Are these really the “law-abiding” people that defenders of the concealed carry law claim to be standing up for?

One applicant was arrested 29 times, including 10 times for felonies, but had only three convictions. The arrests were for murder, aggravated assaults on public safety workers, armed robbery, aggravated battery (twice), false personation of police, imitation of a public official and resisting arrest (three times).

A second applicant is affiliated with the Harrison Gents gang and had a machine-gun/automatic weapon arrest. A third had four arrests for domestic battery. A fourth, affiliated with the Vice Lords gang, had 13 arrests, two of them for battery and one for aggravated battery.

In the Illinois concealed carry law, the provisions for objections by local law enforcement need to be beefed up fast.

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