EDITORIAL: Over time, small steps can make big difference in reducing gun violence

SHARE EDITORIAL: Over time, small steps can make big difference in reducing gun violence

A memorial for the five people killed in a shooting at the Henry Pratt Company in Aurora in February 2019. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Reformers in Congress who want to reduce gun violence are playing the long game.

That’s why lawmakers in the U.S. House last week sent two major gun bills to the Senate, though the bills are almost sure to die there.

On Wednesday, the House passed a bill that would expand gun-buyer background checks to gun show sales, online sales and private sales.

On Thursday, the House approved legislation that would give the government more time to conduct background checks, closing a loophole that allowed Dylann Roof to buy a firearm before the 2015 mass shooting in a Charleston, South Carolina, church.

By pushing the bills, gun law reformers hope to keep up a sense of urgency and open the door to bills that have less lofty aims. This would include legislation introduced by Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Ill., for example, to require the surgeon general to give Congress a yearly report on how gun violence affects public health.


Such small gains count as victories in Washington, with Republicans in control of the Senate and the White House.

Should another national tragedy involving guns unfold that stirs the public to demand tougher gun laws, reformers want to have a number of House-approved bills queued up in the Senate, ready for a quick vote.

And by passing important gun bills, the House is setting the stage for a national debate about gun violence in the 2020 elections.

Meanwhile in Illinois, lawmakers are drawing up several sensible bills, including legislation pushed by Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart — expected to be introduced in Springfield soon — that would help get guns out of the hands of people who have had their Firearm Owners Identification cards revoked. By law, such people are supposed to give up their FOID cards and guns, but typically they do not.

As of the end of December, there were 6,030 cases in Illinois in which a FOID card had been revoked — because the holder had committed a felony, was mentally ill or had had an order of protection entered against them — but failed to give up their cards and guns. Statewide, the non-compliance rate is an estimated 75 percent.

Convicted felon Gary Martin recently highlighted the flaws, Dart has said. Last month, Martin killed five coworkers and wounded five officers at an Aurora warehouse because he was enraged over being fired. He had a handgun even though his state firearm licenses were revoked.

Dart’s bill would authorize the creation of regional law enforcement units to recover illegally held guns, and require State Police to turn over information from a database called the Firearms Transfer Inquiry Program. Then local police would know how many times a person with a revoked FOID had purchased a gun.

Dart’s bill also would increase penalties for noncompliance from a Class A misdemeanor, which often isn’t prosecuted, to a Class 4 felony, which carries a sentence of up to three years in prison.

Small steps? Yes. And entirely reasonable.

The wonder is that the gun lobby would oppose even this.

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com.

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