Police often forced to rely on honor system after telling people to hand in their guns

CHICAGO — After learning the man behind a deadly workplace shooting in Aurora shouldn't have owned a gun in the first place, police promised to change how they track people who have their permits revoked. But WGN Investigates found a system that struggles to even find — let alone confiscate — guns from people who shouldn’t have them.

State police said 75 percent of people who had their Firearm Owners Identification (FOID) card revoked last year didn’t even respond to a letter asking them to turn in their cards and surrender their weapons. In most cases a computer search will prevent them from buying new gun, but when it comes to guns already in their possession, police are essentially forced to rely on the honor system.

Five workers were killed and five police officers were injured when a recently-fired employee opened fire at Aurora's Henry Pratt Company on February 15. A convicted felon, the shooter was previously issued a FOID card by mistake after lying on his application. Once the error was discovered, state police sent a letter to him and local police saying his permit had been revoked and he should turn in his guns.

That's all state police are directed to do under the law.

Kane County Sheriff Ron Hain said after the deadly shooting, the county created a database to at least track FOID card revocations.

“I noticed we were taking in these revocation letters and not doing much more than placing them in a file,” Hain said.

While the county may be able to track who has been told to turn in their guns, because of federal law it's impossible for them to know how many weapons a person owns in the first place.

WGN Investigates rode along with Kane County deputies Chris Peeler and David Wolf as they checked-in with people who’ve lost their FOID cards for crimes or mental health issues.

At one stop, a man with an order of protection against him gave the deputies his FOID card, but their chat ended about 60 seconds later. Wolf asked if he'd turned in any guns.

“I asked him if he had and he said he didn’t own any,” Wolf said.

But Wolf has no way of knowing whether there are any weapons in the house. While police can ask about weapons, they can’t go inside someone’s home to check for weapons without probable cause or a search warrant.

“If there were any teeth behind what we’re doing it might be more comforting; but again, if they say ‘no,’ we have nothing legally right now to pursue any further,” Kane County Sheriff Commander Christopher Peeler said.

It’s not just the law that limits follow-ups, but also the enormity of the task. Last year 10,818 people had their FOID cards revoked in Illinois.

Back on the road, a father told deputies his son had already complied and turned his FOID card in to officials in Batavia. But without a central database, Illinois State Police were unaware.

“We have seen some of that, where they did comply and the record didn’t get passed onto the state, or records weren’t updated with the state,” Sheriff Ron Hain said.

Of the nearly 6,000 people who had their FOID cards revoked in the Chicago region in 2018, there's no way of knowing how many kept their guns.

Other counties have also stepped-up efforts to track those with revoked FOID cards. In Lake County, sheriff’s deputies took three guns from one person this month.

State police admit there continue to be gaps in the system, and they are now sharing information about “attempted” gun purchases with local police. Still, with no national database collecting and tracking firearms purchases, there is no way for police to know how many guns a person with a revoked FOID card should be handing over.

"We want this to be a supporting action by the sheriff so more people will comply,” Sheriff Hain said.

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