With domestic violence rising, police must make sure victims are safe from firearms threat

A domestic violence victim is five times more likely to be killed when their abusive partner can get his or her hands on a gun.

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On Tuesday, Cook County Sheriff officers visit a home of a known resident whose FOID card have been revoked, and they have been attempting to seize their cards and/or guns. July 23, 2013. | Alex Wroblewski~Sun-Times

Cook County Sheriff officers in July 2013 visit the home of a resident whose FOID card was revoked.

Sun-Times file photo

Spending more time at home has certainly made life easier for some Illinoisans.

Less gasoline used, as prices soar at the pump. No more need to worry about office-appropriate outfits. Additional hours with loved ones.

But for those who have been stuck inside with an abusive family member, the “new normal” brought by the pandemic has only exacerbated the attacks. Across Illinois, the problem is getting worse.

Calls to domestic violence hotlines increased in Chicago and the state last year, according to a report released this week by the advocacy organization The Network. Even more grim: Murders and shootings tied to domestic violence incidents in the city increased nearly two-thirds in 2021 from 2020, the “Measuring Safety: Gender-based Violence in Illinois” study revealed.



What makes an already-frightening situation even worse is that limited social interaction — a byproduct of precautionary measures against COVID-19 — and an unpredictable economy have created more obstacles for domestic violence victims to get help, as the Sun-Times’ Andy Grimm recently reported.

Victims deserve to be taken seriously. In many cases, their life may be at stake. Yet in some cases, they simply feel as if police are dismissive of their complaints.

A major step that law enforcement officials can do to gain some of that needed trust is to ensure that firearms are taken out of the homes where domestic violence has taken place — and could occur again.

A domestic violence victim is five times more likely to be killed when their abusive partner can get his or her hands on a gun, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

So not surprisingly, domestic violence is the most common reason for an Illinois gun owner to have his or her FOID (firearm owner’s identification) card revoked.

That’s just a first step. Unless a weapon is surrendered, potential victims are still at risk — and it happens far too often. While Illinois State Police rescinded more than 11,000 FOID cards in 2021, in only about 4,200 of those cases did gun owners surrender their weapons to authorities, The Network found.

That is unacceptable.

When residents have their FOID card revoked, they are supposed to surrender their card to the local police, get rid of their weapons and complete a Firearm Disposition Record form within a 48-hour time period.

But those prone to violence may not be inclined to transfer their firearms elsewhere — which means it’s up to law enforcement authorities to make sure others are safe from those who can no longer legally own a weapon.

Law enforcement agencies where the FOID card revocations take place must be diligent about conducting the necessary follow-up checks and coordinate their data with state police officials. State police only started tracking who actually got rid of their guns in 2015, after they were questioned about revoked FOID card protocol by the Sun-Times.

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Routinely failing to confiscate guns from people who have had their FOID cards revoked has potentially deadly consequences.

Nearly a decade ago, Sheriff Tom Dart, frustrated by this inaction, put together a unit to seize guns from residents whose FOID cards were revoked in suburbs and unincorporated areas in Cook County.

Last year, this team retrieved 168 weapons and handled nearly 800 FOID revocation cases, making sure that both the card and the weapons were no longer in the possession of the person who had his or her card revoked. So far in 2022, the sheriff’s department seized 75 guns and completed 426 revocation cases.

Dart, in 2013, said he had hoped to “eliminate tragedies” by creating the team that seizes weapons from residents who had their FOID cards revoked.

More of these deadly scenarios can easily be avoided if police in other jurisdictions and state police keep communicating, and make it a priority to take guns away from those who shouldn’t have them.

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