How Cook County sheriff wants to fix the FOID revocation, weapons retrieval process

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart is proposing a task force in each county of the state that would handle Firearm Owner Identification Card revocation and weapon retrieval after last week's deadly workplace shooting in Aurora.

Illinois State Police officials acknowledged Thursday that 45-year-old Gary Martin — who killed five people last Friday and injured six Aurora police officers — had his state-issued FOID card revoked in April 2017 and should have never received it in the first place.

State police say they notified Martin his FOID card was revoked after learning about an aggravated assault conviction in Mississippi when he subsequently applied for a concealed-carry permit. The initial background check for the FOID card missed the conviction, they reported. No record of Martin complying with the revocation or submitting a required “Firearm Disposition Record” could be located, state police officials said.

Dart said his proposal will transform a “completely broken, dangerous, nonexistent system.”

“Trying to describe the current method as ineffective is giving it too much credit,” Dart said. “In a world where we can get information instantaneously, you're telling me that we put a letter in someone's mailbox and there's no blowback on whether the person complied? Let's make it so there's better accounting.”

Dart created a specialized gun team several years ago that deals with noncompliant cardholders. He said there have been almost no issues when the officers collect the revoked cards and their weapons.

In addition to creating a task force in each county combining the resources of the sheriff's and state's attorney's offices, Dart is also seeking access to the Illinois State Police's Firearm Transfer Information Program database that tracks the names of potential gun purchasers from licensed firearm dealers.

Dart said knowing how many times someone has inquired about purchasing a gun gives the task force members a better idea of how many guns might be in a home. Only the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives keeps an actual list of firearms purchased from licensed dealers, but that data is not shared. Additionally, FOID cardholders don't have to own a gun to receive the card.

Dart believes he could seek search warrants for individuals with revoked FOID cards who claim to have no weapons or fewer guns than the state police database would indicate.

However, gun-rights advocates like Illinois State Rifle Association Executive Director Richard Pearson said Dart's proposal is intrusive.

“He just wants an excuse to go on a fishing trip to go after firearm owners,” Pearson said.

In 2018, state police officials said 10,818 FOID cards were revoked because of either criminal issues or mental illness diagnoses. Only 3,469 FOID cards were returned to the agency and just 2,616 required firearm disposition records were returned as well. That's less than a quarter of the required disposition records.

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