WASHINGTON — Would new gun laws passed by Congress have prevented mass shootings at a July 4 parade in Illinois this week? Probably not.
Experts and congressional aides familiar with the law say it’s unlikely it would have stopped someone with the suspect’s profile from passing a background check and being able to buy guns. But they say there is an indirect way the law could have kept the guns away from him – if a number of dominoes had fallen into place.
Although a purely hypothetical exercise, Monday’s massacre in Highland Park, which left seven people dead and scores more injured, provides one of the first opportunities to test whether federal firearms law largest fire in a generation could have kept deadly weapons out of reach. of the 21-year-old suspect — or whether, as gun violence prevention advocates argue, it would have required tougher laws.
Although the suspect had encounters with local law enforcement officials which led to the temporary confiscation of knives, he has not been charged or convicted of a crime, meaning he Most likely would have passed an FBI background check, two congressional aides said.
But experts say a key provision of the law for gun buyers under 21 requires triple checking, including contacting local law enforcement in the city where the person resides (and checking for any disqualifying criminal or juvenile mental health records). That would have been enough to alert Illinois police that the suspect was trying to buy a gun so they could use the state’s ‘red flag’ law to keep guns out of his hands. .
“It’s not clear if that would have prohibited the purchase,” said Nick Suplina, senior vice president of law and policy for Everytown for Gun Safety. “But it may have led to further actions by law enforcement – at least one flag that, hey, this young man who threatened to kill himself and his family is buying a gun .”
The suspect was known to Highland Park Police; police visited his family’s home twice in 2019.
The first visit was in April that year, when law enforcement officers followed up on a report that he had attempted suicide, authorities said. The incident was taken care of by a mental health professional.
In September 2019, police returned to the home again after a family member reported that the suspect had threatened to kill his loved ones. Sixteen knives, a sword and a dagger were confiscated, authorities said, but the suspect was not arrested because his family members refused to sign any complaints.
He successfully applied for a firearms license in December of that year, when he was 19, Illinois State Police said; his father sponsored his candidacy. After that, the suspect passed background checks and was able to purchase five firearms in 2020 and 2021, including the AR-15 style rifle that police say was used to shoot down dozens of parades and of spectators celebrating independence day.
“Under the new law, because he was under 21, local law enforcement would have been contacted as part of the enhanced background checks. This is relevant because he was known to local law enforcement, as on two occasions law enforcement visited his home. One was for attempted suicide,” said Brian Lemek, the former executive director of Brady PAC.
“These visits may have been enough to trigger” an extreme risk protection order or a red flag order allowing authorities to confiscate his weapons.
Other provisions of federal firearms law could also have affected the sequence of events, albeit indirectly. The main one is funding grants that can be used to enforce red flag laws, which the lead Democratic author says need to be better implemented to work.
Illinois passed a Red Flag law in 2019 that allows family members or law enforcement officials to petition the courts to issue “gun prohibition orders,” which prevent people from buying or owning firearms if they pose a danger to themselves or others. But an order was never sought in the suspect’s case, even though he had threatened to harm himself and others.
“Illinois has a red flag law on its books, but it’s a law that’s not used very often,” Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., author of the red flag law, said Tuesday evening. guns, on CNN. “It’s an ineffective program. The bill we just passed in Congress a week and a half ago allocates nearly $1 billion to help states like Illinois teach law enforcement and first responders how to properly use a red flag law.
“If everyone knew how to use Illinois’ red flag law, would they have used it in this case? Because it certainly looks like there was enough information on this young man for a court, for law enforcement to come in and take his guns,” Murphy said. “A well-managed red flag law might have done the trick here.”
Robin Lloyd, chief executive of gun safety group Giffords, agreed that hundreds of millions of dollars in federal grants will help states strengthen and educate states about new and existing red flag laws.
“A law like the one in Illinois is only good if it’s implemented,” Lloyd said in an interview. “If law enforcement, family members and other stakeholders don’t know about this law, it won’t be used” and “it is limited in its effectiveness.”
According to Illinois State Police data released by Governor JB Pritzker’s office, the suspect’s only criminal offense was a tobacco possession offense in January 2016, and police had not received any reports of mental health concerning him.
The governor’s office added that the September 2019 “clear and present danger report” came in response to threats he had made, but that he had told police he had no desire to stand up. hurt or hurt others. And they returned the knives to his father after he claimed they were his.
“Unfortunately, every time a mass shooting occurs, it’s a stark reminder that our gun laws often fall short of rigorous standards that sound like common sense to most Americans,” Pritzker said in a statement. communicated.
“I call on all Illinoisans to educate themselves about Illinois’ gun prohibition ordinance law and use it to alert authorities to dangerous individuals with guns. My administration will work with the General Assembly to make sure we take on the gun lobby and do everything in our power to further strengthen our gun control and red flag laws.
Pritzker further called on Congress to regulate “guns of war and high-capacity magazines that are only used for mass murder,” saying that Illinois may have strict gun laws, but that ‘it’s’ only as safe as the state with the weakest laws – many of which border Illinois.
Igor Volsky, executive director of gun violence advocacy group Guns Down America, said it was “absolutely outrageous” that gun buyers could still buy weapons like the one used to carry out the Highland Park attack. But he acknowledged that the new federal law was not intended to ban these weapons.
“We knew early on that we were talking about a fairly narrow set of reforms to get bipartisan support,” Volsky said of the legislation, which passed the Senate with all 50 Democratic senators and 15 Republicans.
“Obviously we know there are vital provisions in this law that will prevent others from causing harm, so it must not take away from it,” he said. “But I think we as a country still have a lot to do to strengthen our gun laws.”