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Letters to the Editor

Time to act to protect our communities from gun violence

State Rep. Keith Wheeler, 50th District
State Rep. Keith Wheeler, 50th District

The tragic shooting at the Henry Pratt Company in Aurora that took the lives of five innocent people and wounded five Aurora police officers requires that the State of Illinois take common-sense action to prevent this type tragedy from occurring again.

However, the mere mention of a call to action tends to produce knee-jerk reactions from passionate individuals on both sides of the gun debate. There are those who reflexively oppose any new restrictions or regulation on gun ownership. On the other extreme, there are those who believe that simply passing more laws or going so far as to confiscate the guns of law-abiding gun owners will somehow eliminate the threat of mass shootings. However sincere and well-intended folks on either end of the spectrum might be, their unwillingness to listen or work together produces the societal stalemate we’ve been living under.

As a proud advocate of the Constitution’s Bill of Rights which guarantees the rights of law-abiding gun owners, and also as a husband and father who is very sensitive to the issue of gun violence in our country, I will do my level-best to utilize my leadership position in the Illinois House of Representatives to help bridge this divide, at least in our state.

It starts with a simple premise. The system in Illinois failed us when Gary Martin had his FOID card revoked on April 17, 2014. Letters were sent to Martin as well as local law enforcement shortly thereafter.

But that’s all that was required. No follow-up. No consequence. So, Gary Martin illegally maintained possession of a weapon that he was no longer allowed to have because there was no recovery system in place. Now, there will be.

I have filed new legislation, House Bill 3839, aimed at putting a system in place to recover weapons belonging to revoked FOID cardholders along with strengthening the process by which law enforcement, judges and state’s attorneys can determine if someone appearing in court is a prohibited person where they can take appropriate action before that person is released from custody. In addition, HB 3839 cleans up some issues in the revocation process and timeline along with giving the Illinois State Police the option to cancel a FOID card if a person doesn’t renew or moves out of state as opposed to revocation for criminal or other disqualifying reasons.

This approach stands in sharp contrast to new legislation proposed by Representative Kathy Willis (D-Northlake), that would require mandatory fingerprinting for all FOID and concealed carry applications and renewals, as well as dramatically raising the FOID card fee (from $10 for 10 years up to $50 for 5 years) and requiring all gun transactions take place through a Federal Firearms Licensee. The combination of all three of these measures significantly raises the price of purchasing and owning a weapon as a part of a citizen’s Second Amendment right. The ultimate effect of this approach could be to drive gunowners and gun sales underground which is exactly what we don’t want to see happen.

I filed HB3839 as a common sense, first-step approach that could be supported by all sides of the Second Amendment debate. The second-step should look more deeply into Illinois’ FOID process and include more substantive reforms that take into account the 2.5 million law-abiding FOID cardholders without penalizing them or their constitutional rights.

We should start with the “back-end” of the process (revocation and recovery) and move to the “front-end” (application and screening) for two reasons:

Revocations occur on a regular basis and we clearly need a real process to deal with gun owners whose privileges have been revoked. Even if the fingerprinting requirement started today, it would take 10 years (the current length of a FOID card) before everyone would have gone through the additional requirement.

Let’s start with this first step first and continue to work in a bipartisan manner to get the second and further steps right. A legislative overreach that leads people out of compliance is ultimately a step in the wrong direction.

Keith Wheeler is the state representative for Illinois’ 50th District, which covers portions of Kane County.

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