Illinois has some of the strictest gun laws in the country, yet policymakers are scrambling to explain the series of missed warning signs and communication failures that led to the Fourth of July mass shooting in Highland Park.
Much like 9/11, when law enforcement agencies had information prior to that tragedy but failed to cohesively communicate, mass killings continue to uncover indicators identified by some agencies but not communicated to others.
Preventing any type of crime takes proper law enforcement and community engagement with follow up and follow through on laws already in the books.
The answer to reducing mass shootings is not to violate one Constitutional right through the abuse of a second Constitutional right, as in the ridiculous new law in New York that will troll social media accounts of every gun applicant searching for subjective signs of “character and conduct.”
It will be an easy law for the Supreme Court to strike down. The Constitution clearly prohibits this type of government control—using a person’s speech to deny them their ability to exercise their Second Amendment right to carry a firearm for protection in New York or anywhere.
A more sound effort would be better implementation of the laws and legal frameworks already in place in New York, Illinois and across the country.
Take a look at the alleged suspect in Illinois with escalating and troubled behavior documented by an arrest at 16, a suicide attempt at 19, and just three short months before applying for his FOID (Firearm Owners Identification card), the suspect threatened to “kill everyone” including his mother and other family members with 16 knives, a dagger and a sword.
The suspect’s troubled past and social media did not alarm his family enough to cooperate with authorities, and his mother refused to press charges. Highland Park Police, on the other hand, immediately filed a Clear and Present Danger report with state police.
Here’s where things took a wrong and preventable turn. In a statement, Illinois State Police said that without parental cooperation and without an arrest, the “kill everyone” incident did not meet the standards to enter the information into the NICS database, which could have prevented future gun ownership.
But what if local prosecutors had stepped in? Highland Park police could have treated this life-threatening incident like a domestic violence case and prosecutors could have compelled all the suspect’s family members to testify in court. Prosecuting this case could have put the suspect in the NICS database and prevented the FOID application three months later.
The attorney for the suspect’s father says his client was in the dark with no knowledge of his son’s issues. Likely facing future litigation, the father is adamant that he sponsored his 19-year-old son’s FOID application in good conscience. Even simple communication among family members could have prevented the successful purchase of these firearms. Tragically, by 2021, the suspect had successfully cleared four firearm purchase background checks and paid for his weapons on his own.
This shouldn’t sit right with any of us. Poor communication and a lack of confidence in our criminal justice system is compounding societal problems.
Before lawmakers in any state attempt more inept gun laws, we must do a better job of building a criminal justice system that folks can have faith in to get it right and do so without collateral damage.
As a prosecutor and the brother of a violent crime survivor, I can tell you first-hand that it’s impossible to stop all crime prior to it happening. We can, however, address cascading failures without restricting law-abiding citizens’ Second Amendment rights.
While we can never rely on legislation to answer all the problems and ills facing the gun violence issue in this country, lawmakers must consider how law enforcement will implement and follow through.
That requires more openness and more communication from all branches of government for suspects already on the radar for violence. And without compromise, we must never jeopardize our communities or public safety.