Kotowski: Courts need to do more to keep mentally ill from getting guns
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A suburban state senator and leading gun control advocate is calling on county courts to do more to report mental illness, disqualifying potentially dangerous Illinoisans from obtaining a firearm.
Dan Kotowski, a Park Ridge Democrat and former executive director of the Illinois Council on Handgun Violence, said he has been working with the Illinois State Police to determine whether Illinois counties across the state are adhering to a law requiring circuit court clerks report cases to the state police when a person is considered "mentally defective" — legally declared a danger to himself or others, incompetent to stand trial, sexually violent or not guilty by reason of insanity — or involuntarily committed to a mental hospital.
State police then use those records when doing background checks on firearm owner's identification card applicants or when guns are purchased.
Before the law passed last August, Kotowski said only three of the state's 102 counties were reporting such cases.
According to Kotowski's research, as of February, only 25 of the state's 102 counties have since reported individuals who have been tagged by the court system as mentally defective, as there are no fines or penalties for courts that don't follow the law.
In the Chicago suburban area, only circuit courts in two counties — Cook and DuPage — are correctly reporting to the state police those who have been declared mentally ill.
Kane, Lake, and McHenry counties have not been reporting those cases at all, Kotowski found.
Kotowski, in a Saturday interview, said his efforts were "a direct result of what happened at Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois universities."
In both instances, shooters of large numbers of students had underreported histories of mental illness.
"Why are these counties not doing this? How many cases do they have that they're not reporting?" Kotowski asked, describing the scenario as a "ticking time bomb."
Kotowski said his "next step" will be to introduce legislation to ramp up reporting requirements for those voluntarily seeking mental health treatment.
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