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EDITORIAL: Five ways to fix Illinois gun laws and save lives right now

Now is the time to act. The gun lobby relies on memories fading and new priorities emerging. But gun violence is too serious an issue to go on the back burner.

Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson speaks during a press conference outside the Thompson Center about the Fix the FOID Act, Tuesday morning, April 9, 2018. Johnson was joined in the press conference by representatives from the Gun Violence Prevention Action Committee, the Illinois Gun Violence Prevention Coalition, Moms Demand Action Illinois and more. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Another deadly burst of shootings in Chicago screams for better gun laws in Illinois.

One set of gun bills in particular, now pending in Springfield, would be a move in the right direction.

From Friday through Monday, 46 people were shot in Chicago, including an 8-year-old boy and 10-year-old girl at a family gathering and a 14-year-old girl who had just entered her family’s apartment when shots ripped through the door.

In Chicago Heights, a man was shot on Monday as he waited to take a road test for his driver’s license.

Forty-six shootings with almost as many guns.

As Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson said on Tuesday: “If those weapons weren’t readily available like that, we wouldn’t see the violence we do, and until we address that with common sense, we are going to continue to see it.”

The proposed gun laws, which likely will be rolled into omnibus bill, are aimed at the 40% of illegal guns that are first in the hands of in-state gun dealers and wind up in the possession of criminals. The proposed laws also seek to take guns out of the hands of people who no longer should have them.

For the first time, gun owners would be required to submit fingerprints and apply in person to get or renew a Firearm Owners Identification Card, making it harder for applicants to lie about their identities. FOID cards would be issued for five years instead of 10, and sheriffs would be required to attempt to seek warrants to seize weapons after a FOID card is revoked if there is probable cause.

The legislation also would ban private gun sales that are not overseen by a federally licensed firearms dealer, which would be a back door way of bringing universal background checks to Illinois. And State Police would be empowered to deny concealed-carry licenses to applicants who pose significant danger to themselves or others.

“We are stepping in where the federal government is weak,” said Mark Jones, senior policy adviser for the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence. ”We have to bring our nation’s firearms laws to the 21st century.”

Under existing laws, a routine State Police background check for a FOID card failed to reveal a criminal history for Gary Martin, who earlier this year shot five people to death in Aurora. His record came to light only when he was fingerprinted for a concealed carry license. But even for a concealed carry license, fingerprinting only speeds up the approval process and is not required.

Many people in Illinois don’t turn in their FOID cards or guns when the cards are revoked, and many of these people have subsequently harmed or killed others.

Gun safety advocates say the legislation undoubtedly will be revised as it goes through the legislative process.

For example, local law enforcement officials will need some funding if they are to take on additional responsibilities, said Cara Smith, director of policy for Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart. The State Police will need extra funding, as well.

Now, with a new governor in Springfield, is the time to act. Get this done.

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