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State police changes focus on recovering guns from owners with revoked licenses

First responders and emergency vehicles are gathered near the scene of the shooting at an industrial park in Aurora, Ill., on Friday, Feb. 15, 2019. | Bev Horne/Daily Herald via AP

Three weeks after the mass shooting in Aurora, Illinois State Police on Wednesday announced changes to ensure that dangerous people who’ve had gun licenses revoked actually give up their guns.

The changes call for the creation of state police “gun liaison officers” to share information and work with local police to recover guns and, if necessary, secure a search warrant allowing officers to forcibly go into homes and retrieve them.

“We’re going to try to take care of the worst first and work our way down,” State Police Lt. Joe Hutchins said.

State police will “develop a plan of action for the highest risk individuals, work with sheriffs and local police to plan enforcement actions as appropriate … and conduct ISP-only enforcement operations as appropriate,” according to a state police news release issued Wednesday.

Force will be a last resort, Hutchins emphasized.

“There are other ways than having officers bust down doors,” he said, declining to discuss methods.

The proactive measures are a break from the past.

“It’s been the stance that it’s not in our wheelhouse to do this, it’s on local law enforcement to do it. That stance is changing, we’re going to be working side by side,” Hutchins said.

State police will also now be sharing with local police information on whether anyone with a revoked gun license — also known as a Firearm Owner’s Identification card — actually bought firearms and how many.

The information will be invaluable to the Cook County Sheriff’s Department, one of the only law enforcement agencies in the state that regularly dispatches officers to search for guns owned by people with revoked FOID cards.

The state’s procedures were put under a microscope after Gary Martin killed five coworkers and wounded five officers Feb. 15 at an Aurora warehouse because he was enraged over being fired.

Martin, who was killed by officers, had a handgun even though his gun license had been revoked.

In 2014, he passed background checks and legally owned a gun.

It wasn’t until later that same year, when he submitted finger prints to expedite a concealed-carry permit application, that authorities discovered he’d previously served five years in prison for stabbing a woman in Mississippi.

His gun license was revoked and state police were supposed to send a letter to Martin saying he needed to transfer any firearms he owned to another FOID cardholder or his local police department. The state police also were supposed to notify the Aurora Police Department in an electronic message.

But the state police say they purged those electronic messages after three years. So they don’t have a record of sending the message — and the Aurora police say they don’t have a record of getting one.

Martin never filed the required Firearm Disposition Record saying what he did with his weapons, authorities say. It doesn’t appear any law enforcement officers went to his home to look for guns, either.

Martin’s felony assault conviction didn’t surface until he submitted his fingerprints because Mississippi hadn’t updated his profile on their criminal database.

“It would be impossible to speculate how these would have changed the course of 2/15/19, but we can say that we are encouraged to work with all of our law enforcement partners to ensure a tragedy like this never happens again,” Aurora police spokesman William Rowley said in an email.

The Illinois State Police revealed last month that it revoked 10,818 FOID cards statewide last year, but only 2,616 people with revoked cards submitted a Firearm Disposition Record stating what they did with their firearms. And only 10 people across Illinois were charged last year with violating the law requiring them to submit those forms.