Looking to address the broken system that enabled the Aurora shooter to buy a gun and keep it — despite his criminal history — the Illinois House narrowly passed legislation Wednesday that requires residents to provide their fingerprints before obtaining a firearm license.
The measure also would create a task force to enforce laws requiring those whose gun licenses have been revoked to surrender their firearms or place them with a legal owner. And the bill would raise the application fee for the license, known as a firearm owner’s identification card, to $20 for a five-year license, up from a $10 fee for a card that was good for 10 years.
The 62-52 vote followed about three hours of heated debate on the House floor, with strong opposition mainly from suburban and downstate Republicans. One downstate lawmaker, Rep. Darren Bailey, called the bill “a total and complete infringement of the Second Amendment and the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution.”
Within minutes of the measure’s passage, the Illinois Rifle Association issued a statement vowing a court fight and calling it “one of the most onerous regulations for gun owners.”
But Rep. Barbara Hernandez, an Aurora Democrat, thinks the bill is fair, saying $20 was a reasonable fee that, along with the fingerprint requirement, would help keep communities safe.
“I don’t want to see this happen anywhere else in Illinois,” Hernandez told the Tribune after the vote, speaking of the February mass shooting in her hometown. “It was really heartbreaking to see in Aurora, and to see the community broken because of one man’s actions and the families left behind.”
The bill’s House endorsement comes after a Tribune investigation found that more than 34,000 Illinois residents had their FOID cards rescinded during the past four years, but nearly 80% still could be armed because law enforcement has not followed up on their revocations. State records indicate the revoked cardholders have purchased as many as 30,000 guns from federally licensed dealers.
The loopholes were exposed when a disgruntled employee opened fire at the Henry Pratt Co. warehouse in Aurora on Feb. 15, killing five co-workers and wounding five officers before dying in a shootout with police.
As a felon, Martin never should have been allowed to buy the handgun used in the shooting. But he was able to do so after a background check using five distinct federal databases failed to show his 1995 felony conviction in Mississippi for choking his ex-girlfriend and beating her with a baseball bat.
With his improperly acquired FOID card, Martin was able to purchase the Smith & Wesson handgun in 2014. His criminal history caught up with him later that year when he applied for a concealed carry license and provided his fingerprints to expedite the process. His prints flagged his conviction, prompting state police to deny the license and revoke his FOID card.