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Editorial: For everybody’s safety, enforce this gun law

You’re not supposed to own a gun in Illinois if you suffer from a significant mental illness that could make you a danger to yourself or others.

Somebody ought to tell that to the Illinois State Police.

As reported in the Sun-Times on Sunday, the State Police have largely ignored a state law that they track what happens to guns owned by thousands of people whose gun ownership rights have been revoked for mental health reasons. The state police started doing so only in recent weeks — and only after Sun-Times reporters Frank Main and Mick Dumke began asking questions.

Many local police departments also have paid no attention to the law, often unaware that it even exists.

At every level, then, law enforcement agencies in Illinois largely have failed to perform a basic and legally required task — check whether people whose gun ownership rights have been revoked for good reason are, in fact, complying with the law.

EDITORIAL

After the mass shooting at Virginia Tech University in 2007, Illinois required health professionals to notify the state of any patient showing “violent, suicidal, threatening or assaultive behavior.” Then, as part of a 2013 law allowing concealed carry in Illinois, State Police were required to send notification letters to Firearm Owner’s Identification Card holders when their cards are revoked. The cardholders have 48 hours to turn in the cards, transfer the firearms to the police or a valid FOID holder, or file a report with police saying how many guns they have, where they are and whether they plan to transfer ownership.

If they don’t follow the rules, police can get a warrant and search their homes.

The idea behind the law makes sense. The vast majority of people struggling with issues of mental health are not violent, obviously. And people who have been diagnosed with mental health issues are, almost by definition, seeking help. But it is a matter of common sense that people who have been judged a legitimate threat to themselves or others shouldn’t own guns.

Last year, the State Police revoked 1,415 cards because of mental health issues and denied 1,791 new applications. What they did not do is check to see if the people whose cards were revoked actually got rid of their guns. They don’t know if people whose cards have been revoked are complying with what the letters say they have to do.

Part of the problem, as in so many areas of state government, is that the State Police are operating with a squeezed budget. As so often happens, the General Assembly added new responsibilities without providing any new money. But that excuse goes only so far.

The State Police not only need to get serious about sending out letters to people whose gun cards have been revoked, but also need to follow up in cases where people don’t respond. If the state cops don’t have the manpower to make all those house calls, they should coordinate their efforts with local police departments.

So far, that coordination has been lacking, to say the least. One suburban police department told Sun-Times reporters Frank Main and Mick Dumke that local law enforcement officers don’t have the legal authority to get a warrant to search a home where an occupant whose gun card has been revoked has not complied with the state reporting requirements. But, in fact, they do.

When Illinois expanded gun rights to allow citizens to carry concealed firearms, the Legislature balanced that with extra safety precautions. For the safety of citizens — and for the safety of those who may be a danger to themselves — police should fully carry out this law.

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