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EDITORIAL: We could have taken Gary Martin’s gun away

Hundreds of mourners pay their respects at a prayer vigil for the five people killed two days earlier in a mass shooting at the Henry Pratt Company in Aurora, Sunday afternoon, Feb. 17, 2019. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

How on earth did Gary Martin have a gun?

How was a felon with a history of violence able to buy a handgun, keep it for five years and go on a shooting spree that left five co-workers dead and five police officers wounded?

And so, we have another in a long line of mass shootings that will keep happening in our country, over and over again, until we create saner gun laws and do more to enforce laws already on the books.

EDITORIAL

What happened this time around? What lessons can we learn to stop this from happening again?

When Martin applied for a Firearm Owners Identification Card in 2014, his aggravated assault conviction — for stabbing a woman in Mississippi in 1995 — didn’t turn up in a background check. He was able to buy a .40-caliber handgun, no problem.

It wasn’t until Martin applied for a concealed carry permit two months later that the felony conviction showed up in a background check — because concealed carry permits require fingerprint checks.

Lesson One: Require fingerprinting to get a FOID card.

“I don’t see why we shouldn’t,” Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart told us Monday, stating what should be the obvious. “You’re trying to buy a gun.”

Kathleen Sances, president and CEO of the Gun Violence Prevention PAC, echoed that sentiment. “We need to tighten up the process to keep people from getting guns in the first place. There’s research from other states that fingerprinting, up front, may be the way to go.”

Requiring fingerprints to get a FOID card would be no burden at all on law-abiding, responsible gun purchasers. It would, however, be a strong deterrent to violent felons who have no business owning a gun, and every incentive to lie about their criminal record on their FOID application.

When Martin’s concealed carry permit was denied, the state revoked his FOID card as well.

But Martin — and this is everything — kept his gun.

No one went to his home and took the gun away, despite an Illinois law that empowers the State Police to do so. Sadly, that’s the norm: Law enforcement authorities routinely fail to confiscate guns from people who have had their FOID cards revoked.

This is not a new revelation. We, the Sun-Times Editorial Board, first wrote about this problem in 2015.

Dart, in fact, has been so frustrated by the problem that he put together his own team to seize guns from people whose FOID cards have been revoked. Last year, the team retrieved about 100 weapons. Hundreds more, Dart estimates, are still out there.

“Think about the insanity of it,” Dart said. “We act as if we’ve hit a home run because we revoked their card online. You’re sent a letter to mail your card in. If you don’t, nothing happens. We’re literally doing nothing to go after guns they might have.”

A law sponsored by state Sen. Julie Morrison, D-Deerfield, would tighten the law. Senate Bill 99 stalled under former Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration, but was reintroduced in January.

Lesson Two: Legislators should move quickly to make SB 99 law, and put resources behind it.

Dart’s office wants to incorporate the state police Firearms Transfer Inquiry Program, known as FTIP, into that law. FTIP, a cross-check system for gun purchases, allows law enforcement to know how many guns have been purchased by FOID cardholders who have had their cards revoked.

“It would help us to know who has guns, and how many,” Dart said.

How hard is this to understand? If somebody is so dangerous to society that he’s not allowed by law to own a gun, every gun he has should be taken away.

Five people are dead because that did not happen.

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