Families of two Pratt shooting victims back new Illinois gun ownership law
In 2019, state and Aurora authorities had to admit that an Aurora man should not have been able to buy the gun he used to kill five of his co-workers, injure another, and hurt five police officers at Henry Pratt Co.
The shooter had received a firearm owners identification card in 2014, even though he had been convicted of felony aggravated assault in 1995 in Mississippi. And when the mistake was discovered several weeks later, state police revoked the FOID, sent him a letter telling him to turn in his gun to Aurora police, and notified Aurora police. The shooter did not turn in any weapons, and Aurora police said they had no record of being notified.
But Monday, Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed legislation he says should prevent such situations while also dealing with another issue: a backlog of FOID and concealed-carry license applications.
Pritzker called it "the most comprehensive reform (of a gun law) in over a generation."
It calls for state police to continuously check their records against state and federal databases of people who are prohibited from owning guns. It supports spending more money for new technology and more police staff for processing FOID and CCL applications. And it requires all sellers of guns -- including private individuals -- to do a federal background check on buyers.
Survivors of two of the Pratt victims said Monday that they support the new law. "It is a step in the right direction," said Thomas Wehner, father of Trevor Wehner, a Northern Illinois University student working his first day as an intern at Pratt when he was killed. Wehner and Trevor's mother, Bonnie Rich, sat in the audience of Monday's news conference at the Aurora Police Department, displaying a portrait of Trevor.
The widow of Clayton Parks, a human resources manager from Elgin, also there.
"Since Alex and I lost Clay, I have worked to keep his memory and legacy alive," Abby Parks said, referring to their son. "Part of that work includes addressing the fact that Clay and the four others taken that day could still be with us if illegal guns were not left in the hands of people with revoked FOID cards."
Pritzker and state police director Brendan Kelly noted the law was a compromise. Neither gun-rights advocates nor gun-control advocates got everything they wanted. "It is a game of inches," Kelly said.
The governor gave credit to Democratic state Rep. Marsha Hirschauer of Batavia for pushing for the changes, and to Republican state Rep. Keith Wheeler of Sugar Grove for getting Republican support.
The chief state Senate sponsor, Democratic Sen. David Koehler of Peoria, said downstate residents have a different stance on guns than Chicago-area residents. He said he owns guns, and "as a downstate legislator I have a duty to protect the rights of responsible gun owners."
The law will require a federal background check for all gun sales, including private, person-to-person sales or transfers. The seller of the firearm will be required to send the sales record to a federally licensed firearms dealer, and that dealer will have to keep the record for 20 years. The sales record will include the make, model and serial number of the gun.
The bill also contains a carrot for law-abiding gun owners: If they voluntarily submit their fingerprints, the state will prioritize their applications for FOID and CCL, and allow for automatic 10-year renewals.
The state police will also create a database of stolen guns that local agencies can check.