Call it a case of two wrongs creating an avoidable tragedy.
An initial background check failed to detect a felony conviction that should have barred Gary Martin, who killed five of his fellow workers and wounded six other people – five of them police officers who rushed to the scene of the shooting at an Aurora, Illinois, manufacturing plant — from buying the gun he used.
Martin was later killed in a shootout with officers who responded to reports of the plant shooting last Friday.
Five years ago, after the initial background check failed to detect his felony conviction, Martin was issued a Firearms Owners Identification (FOID) card and bought the handgun that was used in the Aurora shooting.
Five days after that, Martin applied for a concealed carry permit. That background check, which used digital fingerprinting, found his 1995 aggravated assault conviction in Mississippi that involved the stabbing of an ex-girlfriend.
Discovery of the felony conviction prompted authorities to send Martin a letter stating his gun permit had been revoked and ordering him to turn over his firearm to police.
Aurora Police Chief Kristen Ziman said that while Martin’s state gun permit had been revoked in 2014 following discovery of the felony conviction, he never turned over the .40 caliber handgun used in last Friday’s shooting spree.
Ziman said that investigators are still trying to determine what exactly law enforcement agencies did after the letter that informed Martin the permit had been revoked was sent.
Illinois lawmakers who support additional gun control measures told The Associated Press Martin was able to keep the gun because of a flaw in the 1968 law that requires residents to get a firearm Owner’s Identification card to purchase firearms or ammunition. They must pass a background check. While that should provide a safety check, the law does not mandate that police ensure weapons have been removed if a red flag is raised later.
It is, essentially, a law without an enforcement element.
In 2016, legislation was introduced in Illinois that would require police to go to the homes of gun owners who have their FOID cards revoked and search for the weapons, but it failed over concerns it would overtax police departments.
“Let’s use some common sense,” Illinois state Rep. Kathleen Willis told The AP. “If you have someone with a felony, obviously they are not the best law-abiding citizens who are going to follow through when they get the letter and go, ‘Oh yeah, here’s my gun, no problem.’ We have to have oversight. That’s the biggest flaw in the whole system. We’re asking people who already have done something wrong to do something right.”
Other legislation aimed at preventing shootings — mass or otherwise — in Illinois is equally flawed. Last year Illinois joined other states in passing a law that allows family members to petition to have a gun removed from a home and a person’s FOID revoked if they believe they might use it to harm themselves or others.
Illinois lawmakers are also working to add teeth to restrictions on the transfers of gun ownership from a person whose FOID card has been revoked. That proposed change follows a Tennessee Waffle House shooting involving a man who had to give his guns to his father after his Illinois FOID care was revoked. The father eventually gave the guns back to his son, who used one of the guns in the Waffle House shooting.
Lawmakers want people who obtain such weapons as a result of a court order to sign an affidavit vowing to not return the weapons to the original owner. It’s a common sense law.
Lawmakers in Illinois have attempted to take steps to address the growing problem of mass shootings. While those attempts have fallen short as a result of shortcomings not envisioned when the laws were passed, they should provide a solid starting point for other states to build upon.