1 year after Aurora warehouse shooting, police push gun-fee hike
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1 year after Aurora warehouse shooting, police push gun-fee hike

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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — In the year since five workers died in a suburban Chicago warehouse shooting, state officials have beefed up illegal firearms enforcement efforts, including the first-ever operations by state authorities to confiscate weapons from those whose gun permits are invalid, Illinois State Police Director Brendan Kelly said Thursday.

Kelly's briefing at the state Capitol to commemorate the Feb. 15, 2019, shooting at the Henry Pratt Co. also came with an alert: Increased vigilance of illegal gun possession comes with a price that exceeds current spending. He advocated legislation pending in the Senate that would increase the Firearm Owner's Identification card fee and require fingerprinting of gun owners, a measure bitterly opposed by gun-rights advocates.

“We will be able to do a much more thorough, effective and quicker background check, even for law-abiding citizens, if we have that fingerprint," Kelly said. “Now, as to the constitutionality and the policy and the politics of all that, that's ... an issue that citizens and policymakers and others will debate.”

Five Henry Pratt employees died and five responding police officers were injured when 45-year-old Gary Martin opened fired a year ago in the warehouse just after he was told that he was fired from is workplace of 15 years.

Martin should not been allowed to have a gun. He was convicted in 1995 of felony aggravated battery in Mississippi, prohibiting his gun ownership. But the conviction was not included on key national databases and Martin obtained the handgun he used in Aurora in 2014. The state police discovered the discrepancy — through the fingerprints he submitted in an effort to get a concealed-carry permit — and revoked Martin's FOID card later that year. But the state police only generated a letter advising Martin to surrender his guns, which he apparently ignored.

Since the shooting, Kelly noted improved digital links with local law enforcement agencies and asserted that 90% of new FOID applications — 300,000 in the past year — were processed within the required 30-day limit, but at a cost of 14,000 hours of overtime. He also noted over 200 operations in which state officials visited and collected guns from people who no longer are allowed to have firearms.

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But Kelly said it's not enough. The department needs more firearms analysts, technology to deal with an increasing amount of information that could raise red flags about gun owners, and programs, such as through grant funding, to bolster local police efforts. That requires additional funding, including more than the $3.6 million FOID card fees produce annually.

The Senate legislation would increase the 10-year, $10 FOID fee to $20 for five years, in addition to the other provisions.

Kelly acknowledged that over the years, $30 million in gun-permit fees has been diverted to other expenses, which the Illinois State Rifle Association points out in a lawsuit filed against the state police this month by taxpayers claiming they've waited since 2017 for gun-permit cards.

Richard Pearson, the rifle association presdent, said increased fees are “an inhibitor to a constitutional right.”

“The state police had $30 million that they didn't spend” for the intended purpose, Pearson said. “Why give them any more money?”

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