Do more gun permits mean more guns?
Second of three parts
Round Lake Park would seem to have hardly any guns in town compared to the similarly sized village of Itasca, based on an analysis of valid Illinois Firearm Owners Identification cards.
Round Lake Park has 314 FOID cardholders among its population of 7,362, or 4.3 percent, Illinois State Police records show. That compares to Itasca's 1,258 FOID cardholders in a village of 8,375, or 15 percent of the population.
Round Lake Park ranked 99 out of 100 suburbs for FOID cardholders per capita in 2013, according to a Daily Herald analysis of 2013 FOID data obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request to the state police. Itasca tied for 25th place.
Yet, those statistics actually might have little to do with how many guns are in each town, experts say, even though firearm owners are legally obligated to have the identification cards for all types of guns.
Despite the FOID statistics, Round Lake Park Chief George Filenko doesn't believe people in his town have fewer guns than in Itasca.
The FOID records do not reflect the likelihood of illegal firearms or those owned by transient residents who have cards listed for addresses where they haven't lived in years, said the police chiefs in Round Lake Park and Itasca and a prominent criminal defense attorney -- all of whom agreed to examine the FOID card statistics in an effort to explain the wide gap between the two villages. A single card also can represent any number or type of guns, they pointed out.
Crime records for the two towns bolster their assessment.
In spite of the town's lower rate of FOID cardholders, police in Round Lake Park arrested five suspects accused of committing a crime with a gun in 2012 and made five arrests for not having an FOID card. They seized three illegal guns, according to village records.
Itasca, with its higher rate of FOID holders, had zero in each category, records showed.
State and federal authorities do not track instances when guns are used to commit crimes such as robbery, assault or murder.
While FOID records are an uneven measurement of guns in a community, they are the only publicly available statistical indicator of potential gun ownership by geographic area in Illinois. Federal law prohibits creation of a national gun registry, and Illinois bans the release of names and addresses of individual FOID card holders for reasons of privacy and the potential for theft.
"FOID (cards) are good in the respect we can check if a person is legally able to own a weapon," Filenko said. "In criminal investigations and homicides, again, another valuable tool to run inquiries on people. Statistically, though, the amount of people that have FOID cards as opposed to the amount of population really doesn't have any kind of relevance."
Filenko has been working with federal agencies to eradicate gangs armed with illegal guns in Round Lake Park and in other nearby communities as part of Operation Street Sweep. He said "the gang element" isn't interested in applying for FOID cards.
"We do believe that we have a substantial illegal gun problem within Round Lake Park specifically attributed to the underground sales of guns in exchange of weapons for narcotics by local gangs," Filenko said.
Itasca Police Chief Scott Heher said he's unsure what the higher FOID numbers mean for a village that generally contends with property crime and traffic offenses rather than violent crimes or weapons violations.
Several other similarly sized suburbs also show disparities in FOID holders per capita -- West Dundee at 15.3 percent, Oak Brook at 15 percent and Lincolnshire at 7.8 percent. None reported a 2012 arrest for a crime involving a gun or an invalid FOID card, and only Lincolnshire had a single illegal gun seized by police.
"It's an interesting data set," said Heher. "We don't see a lot of gun crimes. We don't see a lot of weapon offenses. We don't see a lot of (invalid) FOID (card) offenses. That being said, I think it's just that -- an interesting data set for us here in Itasca."
Leafy Itasca contrasts with Round Lake Park, which has a sprawling senior living subdivision as well as pockets of low-income rentals in the older part of town where Filenko said most of the crimes are committed. Filenko, who heads the Lake County Major Crime Task Force, said Round Lake Park has more gang activity than Itasca and, therefore, a greater chance of homes or other places with illegal guns.
Although having three illegal guns seized by Round Lake Park police in 2012 might seem low, the chief said each weapon likely represented multiple crimes. In general, he said, gang members share weapons and hide them around a community where they are difficult for authorities to find. Those guns could be tucked in alleys, under bushes or even beneath a decorative rock in a shopping center, Filenko said.
"We're making headway in seizing illegal guns," he said.
Meanwhile, defense lawyer Thomas Glasgow, a former Cook County prosecutor, said there is another problem related to FOID cards that might skew the numbers and lead to the wide statistical difference between Itasca and Round Lake Park.
Glasgow said the cards' 10-year renewal period is too long. He said that length of time -- well beyond the standard four years for a driver's license -- raises questions about how many cardholders file a required address change with the Illinois State Police when they move. Thus, accurate numbers are hard to come by in a suburb that attracts mobile residents.
"I am sure that given the length of time the FOIDs are issued, any statistician could rip apart the effectiveness of keeping such statistics," said Glasgow, who's also an Arlington Heights village trustee.
Filenko agreed, saying there could be more legal gun owners in Round Lake Park than the state claims. He believes those residents would be in the more transient part of the village and list addresses from other cities on their FOID cards.
Likewise, Heher said, the larger number of FOID card holders with Itasca addresses could be attributed to it being a village where residents tend to stick around.
Another problem with the FOID data, as illustrated with the Round Lake Park and Itasca comparisons, is authorities don't know the number or types of weapons represented by each card, Glasgow said. Gun purchases are not linked to the FOID registrations, so Itasca's 1,258 card holders don't necessarily represent more guns than the 314 FOIDs in slightly smaller Round Lake Park.
"One holder may own 200 guns," Glasgow said. "Another may keep theirs off site at a vacation home, hunting site or skeet facility."
In his role as the commander of the Lake County Major Crime Task Force, Filenko said he recently consulted on a case involving an affluent resident on the North Shore who possessed at least 30 firearms and 1,000 rounds of ammunition -- all legal -- with one valid FOID card.
Glasgow said the lack of detail associated with the FOID card numbers per city leads him to question whether the state should continue keeping such statistics.
"People who are prone to follow the law and obtain a FOID card are generally not inclined to commit gun crimes," he said. "There are the exceptions, but this is generally not the rule in my practice."
• Part 3: Illinois issues permits to those who want to own guns, but local law enforcement has limited access to the information.