Editorial: Start with failures of existing gun laws, but don't stop there
Last in a series
One week ago, on the very day that we editorialized it is time for the state to undertake a disciplined study of measures to control gun violence, a man apparently upset during a meeting in which he was being fired from his job pulled out a .40-caliber Smith & Wesson handgun he wasn't supposed to possess and killed five people. He would later wound six more, including five police officers, before being killed in a gunbattle with police.
In this series of editorials, we have spoken first of the urgent things -- the needs to acknowledge our sense of community, to be grateful for the resources that exist for our protection and to find ways to discuss such tragedies that don't encourage more of them. Those are immediate responses. But the long-term response, the statutory approach that has eluded us for decades, continues to linger unaddressed.
In the broad context, that must not continue. In the narrow context, the Aurora case can set the stage for a deeper discussion. For, the case of the Aurora shooter exposes serious flaws even in the limited controls over gun possession already in place in Illinois.
How, in short, was the shooter able to purchase and keep a deadly weapon in spite of having been sentenced to five years in prison for violent crimes in another state? Addressing this question is surely a point on which gun-rights advocates and gun-control advocates will agree. We have to at least start by enforcing the laws that already exist.
We must get beyond finger pointing to identify, first, why he could simply lie on his FOID application that he had never been convicted of a felony and his imprisonment not be discovered. Then, we must find out how he was able to keep the weapon he purchased with that FOID card even after the error had been found and he had been ordered to relinquish the gun.
Questions will need to be sorted out about whether it was local authorities who were required to confirm that he had given up the gun or state authorities and about how whoever was responsible failed to do that. But let's also acknowledge reality: Even if they had confirmed at some point that the man had given the gun to a relative, friend or some other person, as the law allows, there's no assurance that they wouldn't have just given it right back, as we have seen happen in other cases. Indeed, the most natural question following the revelations about the shooter's gun permit story is, "How many similar cases must exist in Illinois right now?"
So, officials ought first to be focusing on that question. Then, we have to look at the controls themselves to see how they need to be adjusted. And after that, we must -- we absolutely must -- get serious about finding ways to keep guns out of the hands of people who can't be trusted with them.
There has to be some middle ground between allowing any felon to get a deadly weapon simply by lying on his gun-permit application and requiring every employee discipline hearing to be protected by armed guards. We reissue our call for a statewide panel to start looking for that middle ground, and we plead with the governor and all state lawmakers to summon the energy and the courage to get serious about taking on this scourge.