Report released 5 months after Highland Park shooting makes gun safety recommendations for Illinois – Chicago Tribune


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Though Illinois is considered to have some of the strongest gun laws in the country, researchers are recommending additional steps to ensure the public is safe from firearm violence.

A 16-page report by Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions, released Thursday, recommends barring gun permits — even with parental or guardian sponsorship — for those younger than 21,banning large-capacity magazines and strengthening the state’s red flag law.

The report comes five months after a mass shooting in Highland Park, in which a man with a history of threatening violence and posting violent gun-related images online allegedly opened fire with a military-assault-type weapon, killing seven people and wounding dozens of others at an Independence Day parade. Three 30-round magazines were recovered.

The report also lands as the Illinois legislature is set to consider gun safety laws.

The report only briefly mentions Highland Park, but many of the recommendations address flaws in the state’s gun regulation system that were identified by experts and lawmakers in the wake of that tragedy.

Mourners attend a vigil on July 13, 2022, outside Highland Park City Hall for the victims of the nearby July 4th mass shooting. In all, seven people were killed and over two dozen others were injured, either by rifle fire or in the stampede away from the scene.

The more than a dozen recommended changes would also address high rates of suicide, a particular problem in downstate Illinois, and Chicago’s unrelenting shootings and homicides, said Lisa Geller, who is a researcher at the Hopkins gun center and a co-author of the report.

“The recommendations in the report, while they do certainly address some of the gaps we’ve seen in Highland Park, would also address some of the gun violence we’ve seen in Chicago and around the state,” Geller said. “It’s important that when these tragedies do happen, that we learn from them. We are not saying amending those laws is going to stop all gun violence in Illinois, but to the extent we can close gaps that led to one tragedy and prevent another, I think we could call that a success.”

A ban on high-capacity magazines, for example, would address violence, including mass shootings, in Chicago, where high-powered firearms are also used. The report also calls for increased gun trafficking investigations so as to stem the flow of illegal firearms into neighborhoods where gun violence happens.

The report states that the Illinois counties with the proportionately highest gun rate deaths are downstate in St. Clair, Massac and Vermilion counties. That is because suicides are included in the data.

“In general, the more rural a county is in Illinois, the higher the firearm suicide rate it has,” the report found. “The inverse is true about firearm homicides. Seventy-five percent of all gun homicides occurred in Cook County from 2011 to 2020, even though it makes up only 41% of the state’s overall population.”

The report recommendation most on point to Highland Park is the requirement that anyone who seeks a gun permit to purchase firearms in Illinois, known as a firearms owner’s identification card, be 21 or older.

The accused shooter, Robert Crimo III, was able to secure a FOID card when he was 19 after his father sponsored him, as required by Illinois law for minors. Illinois, the report states, is an “outlier” in allowing parents or guardians to sponsor children who are between 18 and 21.

Those in that age group — 18 to 20 — have high rates of both homicides and suicides and engage in risky behavior that leads to accidental gun injury as well, the report states.

“Especially among males, adolescent brain development shows less capacity to regulate emotions, avoid impulsive behavior and anticipate consequences of risk-taking behavior in comparison to adults,” the report reads.

While research has not found a significant relationship between age restrictions for firearms and homicides perpetrated by young adults, it has found that the laws “are associated with reductions in suicide rates among the restricted age groups,” the report says.

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The head of the Illinois State Rifle Association said he opposes the recommendation.

“If you can go die for country, sign contracts and get married, you should be able to get a FOID card,” said Richard Pearson, executive director of the organization.

The report also examined Illinois’ red flag law, which became a focus of scrutiny after the Highland Park shooting because of Crimo’s alleged online postings about guns and violence.

Red flag laws, which exist in 19 states and the District of Columbia, allow for petitioners to ask a judge to order the removal of firearms and bar new purchases for individuals who are deemed to be at risk of harming themselves or others. Early research suggests that the laws have been used when respondents have threatened homicide, including mass shootings.

Gun control activists rally near the U.S. Capitol calling for a federal ban on assault weapons on July 13, 2022, in Washington, D.C. Friends, family members and mourners of the victims of the Highland Park and Uvalde, Texas, mass shootings demanded that lawmakers enact stricter gun control legislation.

In Illinois, family members or law enforcement can petition the courts for a Firearms Restraining Order, or FRO. There is no record that anyone did that for Crimo, despite his history. This led to concerns that the 2019 red flag law was underused, likely not well-known or understood. As of July, just 228 FROs had been filed.

The Hopkins report suggests investing in FRO training and education, but also the added step of hiring state FRO coordinators, people who can make sure the laws get used properly by assisting both petitioners and the courts.

The report also suggests expanding Illinois law to include licensed heath care providers as petitioners. Currently in Illinois, only family members and police can file such orders.

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