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It's time to do more to protect each other

Another tragedy has befallen our communities at the point of a gun, this one claiming the lives of five innocent people working at the Henry Pratt Co. in Aurora and leaving five police officers wounded.

We extend our condolences to all who have suffered a loss, and thank the first responders for placing their own lives in jeopardy to protect citizens.

But our sympathies and support for our neighbors is not enough. We as a society have a duty to do a better job protecting Americans in the places where they learn, work and worship.

There is more that we can do. Although we support the right of people to bear arms, it is not unreasonable to put more safeguards in place to prevent people who should not possess deadly weapons from legally obtaining them. Better enforcement and reasonable enhancement of gun laws should be a priority in Illinois.

There are a couple of proposals, which could have prevented the shooter from legally owning a gun, that make sense. One would require people who apply for a FOID card to submit fingerprints, to be checked against the FBI database, to prove they are not felons. Another would increase the fee to obtain a Firearm Owners Identification card, currently at $10, in order to devote more resources to background checks and maintaining the registration system.

Both of these steps seem reasonable means of keeping weapons out of the hands of dangerous people. They might have prevented the tragedy that unfolded on Friday in Aurora.

The shooter in the latest incident, a veteran employee who opened fire during a hearing that was to end his employment at the plant, purchased a gun legally in Illinois but should not have been able to do so. Although he had a felony conviction on his record in Mississippi, that was not detected when he applied for a Firearm Owners Identification card in Illinois in 2014. When later he applied for a concealed carry permit, the shooter submitted fingerprints, which led to the discovery of his criminal record. That disqualified him not only from carrying concealed, but from owning a weapon at all.

Illinois State Police say the shooter's FOID card was then revoked, but local police did not submit paperwork that would have led them to confiscate the Smith & Wesson handgun used in the attack.

Had the shooter submitted fingerprints at the time he applied for a FOID card, he never would have been able to buy the gun. Had the system been properly administered, that gun might have been confiscated.

Illinois already requires people in many licensed professions to undergo fingerprint-based background checks, including locksmiths, child care workers, real estate appraisers, massage therapists, and others. It is not unreasonable to ask people to provide the same level of proof to show they are fit to own a deadly weapon as they are to appraise property.

If adding this enhanced level of background checking requires an increase in the FOID fee, then it is worth it to protect public safety.

Understandably, some may find these changes inconvenient or unfair. But instances of mass murder have become too prevalent in our communities and across the country.

We must enforce the gun laws we have and take sensible measures to enhance them while still respecting the rights of law-abiding citizens to own weapons.

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