As attorney general, I will address gun violence in a comprehensive manner that not only promotes commonsense gun legislation but works to get at the root causes of gun violence. Nearly 1,000 Illinois residents and 30,000 individuals across America are killed by guns each year.
I have seen firsthand the devastating effects of gun violence to families, communities, and the very fabric of our society. I have been dedicated in my professional and personal life to addressing the problem of gun violence. During my tenure as an Assistant United States Attorney, I investigated and prosecuted numerous cases involving the illegal use and possession of firearms. In particular, I worked with the ATF to disrupt a firearms trafficking ring that was bringing in illegal guns from out of state and selling them on the streets of Chicago.
Gun violence is a public health crisis that needs to be attacked in a comprehensive manner. As attorney general, I will attack the problem of gun violence on three fronts: (1) common sense gun legislation; (2) more proactive enforcement; and (3) a community-driven approach on education, after-school programs and economic development.
1. COMMONSENSE GUN LEGISLATION
A. Illinois Laws
i. Eliminate State Preemption of Firearms Regulation
Before 2013, Illinois had broadly permitted the local regulation of firearms. On Dec. 11, 2012, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Illinois' concealed carry ban was unconstitutional and gave the state 180 days to change its laws. However, in July 2013, when enacting the law that outlined rules related to the concealed carrying of firearms, the General Assembly incorporated amendments to the Firearm Owners Identification Card Act of 2013 that limit the ability of municipalities to enact ordinances to address gun control. The amended FOID Card Act preempts local regulation of the licensing, possession, registration, and transportation of handguns and ammunition. The Act also established that regulation of the possession or ownership of assault weapons is an exclusive power of the state. Given that our state legislators have been unable to achieve any significant progress in the way of gun control, this preemption of regulation by Illinois municipalities is problematic. I will strongly advocate for reversal of this legislation.
ii. Ban Assault-Type Weapons Statewide
Assault weapons are designed to kill as many people as possible as quickly as possible. So, it should come as no surprise that perpetrators of mass shootings often use these types of weapons. Assault weapons and the high-capacity magazines that accompany them should not be readily available to those who intend to do harm.
Chicago has banned the possession of certain semi-automatic firearms that it defines as assault weapons. Cook County has banned the possession of certain semi-automatic firearms that it has defined as assault weapons. The possession of firearms that have been variously defined as assault weapons is also illegal in Lincolnwood, Skokie, Evanston, Highland Park, North Chicago, Melrose Park, Riverdale, Dolton, Hazel Crest, Homewood, and the part of Buffalo Grove that is in Cook County. As outlined above, under current law, other municipalities are prohibited from regulating possession of assault weapons. As such, we need the state Legislature to act promptly on this issue.
Last year, a bill to ban bump stocks failed in the Illinois legislature. I will push for a ban on assault-type weapons and related equipment such as bump stocks.
iii. Create, enhance, and enforce legislation which prevents individuals in crisis or involved in domestic violence from obtaining or possessing firearms
Already five states--California, Washington, Oregon, Indiana, and Connecticut--have statutes that can be used to temporarily take guns away from people whom a judge deems a threat to themselves or others. Lawmakers in 18 other states, including Illinois, are considering similar measures. I will work to support enactment of the Lethal Violence Order of Protection Act (HB 2354) which allows for a family member or a law enforcement officer to petition for an order of protection that would prevent an individual from possessing or purchasing a firearm. The person petitioning for the order must explain why the person poses an immediate and present danger to himself or herself, or another person by possessing a firearm.
Because fatal domestic violence accounts for as many as one in six homicides in some cities, in particular, we also must work to ensure perpetrators of domestic violence do not have access to guns.
Currently, Illinois law prevents some domestic abusers from possessing guns including laws that specifically prohibit the purchase or possession of firearms by persons convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence offenses and persons subject to temporary restraining orders or final orders of protection.
However, there remain deficiencies in Illinois law that can result in abusers gaining access to firearms. I support doing more to protect women from abusers and stalkers. As attorney general, I will work to enhance and enforce legislation which prevents individuals involved in domestic violence from obtaining or possessing firearms.
For instance, In Dallas County, Tex., judges developed a courtroom process to ensure that convicted domestic abusers who are prohibited from having firearms relinquish them as mandated by law, and partnered with a local firing range to hold the guns for safekeeping.
iv. Advocate for Gun Dealer Licensing Act
I will work hand in hand with community groups to urge the Illinois legislature to pass the Gun Dealer Licensing Act, which would give state authorities and law enforcement the tools to encourage better business practices among federally licensed gun dealers and hold corrupt dealers accountable to slow the flow of illegal gun trafficking in Illinois.
B. Federal Laws
Although Illinois does have a complement of laws on the books intended to prevent gun violence and the illegal possession, use and sales of guns, we are surrounded by states whose laws are not nearly as robust as needed. The flow of guns into our communities from neighboring states is significant and problematic. From 2009 to 2013, 60 percent of the guns used in crimes in Chicago came from gun dealers outside of Illinois. However, due to current loopholes in federal law and a lack of federal resources for enforcement, Illinois residents are bearing the brunt of the gun trafficking and gun violence in our region.
As attorney general, I will be a strong advocate for state and federal gun control laws. I will seek to create a coalition of attorneys general whose states also are adversely affected by the lax gun laws of our neighbors. I will then lead that coalition to put pressure on the lawmakers of these lax neighboring states to tighten their gun trafficking laws.
A major priority will be working to strengthen federal law around universal background checks.
i. Support Enhancements to the Background Check System
Last fall, following the mass shooting incident in Las Vegas, Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT.) co-sponsored a bill to enhance the federal background check system. The measure, which has bipartisan support and is also supported by the NRA, would require states and federal agencies to produce plans to report offenses that would bar people from passing a check needed to purchase a firearm. The bill also reiterates that federal agencies must report all violations to the National Instant Criminal Background Check system and creates new financial incentives for states to report information.
ii. Support the Gun Violence Restraining Order Act of 2017
In addition to pushing for legislation creating a way to obtain emergency orders of protection leading to the temporary removal of firearms from individuals in crisis, we must also push for such legislation at the federal level. The Gun Violence Restraining Order Act of 2017 proposes that all states enact legislation that would allow courts to issue orders and warrants after finding there is a reasonable suspicion that possession of a firearm by an individual poses a significant risk of personal injury to himself/herself or others.
iii. Work Against “Reciprocity for Concealed Carry”
Currently, Illinois, which began issuing concealed-carry permits in 2014, has safeguards in place to assure that only law-abiding people able to handle guns safely may carry in public. Any resident who wants a permit has to get a state Firearm Owners Identification card, which requires a background check, undergo fingerprinting and complete 16 hours of training, including live-fire drills. However, safeguards like these are not in place in every state. For instance, in our neighboring states, Indiana, Wisconsin and Iowa, residents are allowed to obtain concealed-carry permits without live-fire training. Imagine letting a 16-year-old get a driver’s license without any behind-the-wheel experience. Missouri does not require a permit at all. That means no background check and no training for anyone 19 years or older who is not a felon or domestic violence offender.
A bill has been introduced in the Illinois House that would expand concealed carry reciprocity in the state by amending the Illinois Firearm Concealed Carry Act to allow for non-resident license applications from citizens of any state or territory of the United States that, like Illinois, merely requires firearm training and background checks before issuing a license to carry concealed firearms. Under the current law, applicants for a non-resident license must live in a state that has laws related to firearm ownership, possession and carrying, that are substantially similar to the requirements to obtain a license in Illinois. Passage of this legislation would significantly expand the number of non-residents legally allowed to carry a concealed firearm in Illinois.
The legislation pending at the federal level is more problematic. The federal Concealed-Carry Reciprocity Act would permit a resident of any state of the union to carry a concealed firearm in Illinois, so long as the person is licensed to do so in their home state. This means that non-residents of Illinois who, under state law, would be precluded from carrying a concealed weapon, are allowed to do so in Illinois. This is an unacceptable infringement on our state’s rights.
We need to work against any potential revisions to the current Illinois law on concealed carry. The safeguards present in Illinois help protect us. I will fight against these unsafe and ill-advised “reciprocity for concealed carry” efforts.
iv. Eliminate the Dickey Amendment
In order to make significant progress on the gun violence problem, we need to start treating it like the public health issue it is. However, the extent to which federal dollars can be used for research to understand gun violence is limited by an amendment to a 1996 spending bill that forbade the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from using money to “advocate or promote gun control.” Titled, the “Dickey Amendment,” after the bill’s sponsor, former U.S. Rep. Jay Dickey (R-AR), the measure had a chilling effect on the scope of research related to epidemiology of gun violence.
In 2016, more than 100 medical organizations signed a letter to Congress asking to lift the Dickey Amendment. The CDC is the primary agency responsible for using data and research to understand how to prevent, preventable health issues. Although the term “disease” is part of the agency’s name, its public health responsibilities are considerably broader. For example, the CDC studies drownings, accidental falls, traumatic brain injuries, car crashes, suicides and more. The CDC should be permitted to study the impact of gun ownership on public health.
2. WORK ALONGSIDE LAW ENFORCEMENT TO PROMOTE BETTER ENFORCEMENT OF GUN TRAFFICKING LAWS AND THE REVOCATION OF FIREARMS LICENSES IN ILLINOIS
A. Increase State and Federal Prosecution of Illegal Gun Possession Cases
We know that federal prosecution of illegal gun possession cases has been on the decline and we need to address that going forward. I will work to ensure that every jurisdiction in Illinois in which gun crimes are prevalent has a working group comprised of federal and state prosecutors and law enforcement agencies that is dedicated to investigating and prosecuting gun crime cases.
B. Enact Police Reform to Improve Case Closure Rates
Unfortunately, the rate at which the Chicago Police Department solves violent crime cases is at an all-time low. For example, in 2016 CPD solved only 20 percent of murder cases and this number fell to approximately 17 percent in 2017. Whereas in 1991, the closure rate was near 70 percent. This is a problem because violent criminals have no incentive to curtail their gun violence if they believe their chances of getting caught are exceedingly low. As attorney general, I will work to ensure the reform plan adopted for CPD will provide the resources, training, and personnel necessary to ensure the city’s violent crime case closure rate returns to its previously impressive high.
C. Improve enforcement of FOID Card Revocations
Illinois residents have been required since 1968 to have FOID cards in order to buy or own any guns, with exemptions for members of the military and law enforcement.
In general, a FOID card can be denied to or revoked from anyone who has been charged with a felony, convicted of domestic violence, is addicted to narcotics, has been a patient in a mental health facility within the past five years, is intellectually or developmentally disabled or is the subject of a court restraining order. FOID cards also may be revoked if the owner is deemed a clear and present danger to himself or herself or others.
Although Illinois State Police revoked more than 11,000 FOID cards in 2016, the largest number since at least 2010, those who lose their right to bear arms legally in the state rarely have their guns taken away unless they are later charged with a crime — and sometimes not even then.
When a FOID card is rescinded, Illinois State Police do not typically go to homes to confiscate the person's guns. Instead, state troopers merely send a notice of revocation to the cardholder and to local police. By law, the person must send a form to state police listing his or her guns and identifying another active FOID holder who will hold the guns during the revocation.
Police may not seize guns from a revoked FOID holder unless the person fails to submit the form. Failing to do so is a misdemeanor and authorizes police to search for and seize the guns, but officials say that rarely happens unless the person is stopped for some other violation.
In Illinois, more than 2.1 million people have FOID cards, a number that has grown by almost 1 million since 2010, according to state police. In 2016, about 11,000 people had their cards revoked, but only approximately 4,000 submitted the required reports stating what they did with their guns, state police said.
As attorney general, I will work alongside law enforcement to promote better enforcement of the revocation of firearms licenses in Illinois, particularly where an incident of domestic violence was the reason behind the revocation.
3. A COMMUNITY-DRIVEN APPROACH ON EDUCATION, AFTER-SCHOOL PROGRAMS, AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
We know that strengthening gun laws alone will not solve our gun violence problem. That is why I will adopt a community-based approach to increase access to after-school programs, partner with community groups to take back their communities, and promote education and economic development.
The majority of gun homicides in cities occur within a limited geographic area and among a small group of high-risk people. This is partially explained by gangs, which exacerbate rates of gun violence by obtaining guns for their members, promoting the carrying of weapons, and initiating disputes that turn violent and spur retaliation. But whole neighborhoods suffer the consequences, as bystanders get caught in the gunfire and young people exposed to violence face a higher risk of later taking part in it themselves. Even vacant lots and other aspects of a city’s physical environment may contribute, by providing a hiding place to keep illegal guns easily accessible. And all of this has a disproportionate impact on communities of color. Homes in which domestic conflict becomes violent also are far more dangerous when a firearm is present, a problem that is not unique to cities yet still accounts for a significant share of urban gun violence.
Cities can help break the cycle of violence by running programs that focus on the places and people most likely to be affected. These programs aim to change group and individual behavior and to defuse conflicts before they escalate. From Cincinnati, OH, to Richmond, CA, cities are working with law enforcement, street outreach workers and hospitals to engage with high-risk individuals and give them alternatives to violence. We need to bring more economic opportunity and educational equality to the communities that are more affected by gun violence.
According to Jens Ludwig, of the University of Chicago Crime Lab, there is data to suggest that an intensive job-training program reduces the risk of targeted individuals by 50 percent. In addition, the Crime Lab also suggests that state funding of schools is important. More specifically, the Crime Lab estimates that a 29 percent increase in school funding by the state could result in a 20 percent increase in the high school graduation rate, which in turn could lead to a 30 percent reduction in the homicide rate.
It is imperative that cities can offer positive alternatives to at-risk persons before they fall into patterns of violence, using interventions shown to have long-term impacts on violent behavior. Chicago has been piloting new programs, including cognitive behavioral therapy and short-term summer employment, which have reduced arrests and increased graduation rates. For instance, one successful program is the YMCA of Metro Chicago's Bridging the Divide program, which was developed to help build understanding between youth, law enforcement officials and other community members.
I believe the problem of gun violence is our nation’s most prevalent threat to our health and security. We need action now.