Illinois State Police officials said Thursday that they’ve stepped up enforcement efforts in the past year to get guns out of the hands of people who shouldn't have them after a deadly workplace shooting, but they need more resources to do the job. 

The state's top law enforcement official, Illinois State Police Director Brendan Kelly, also called on state lawmakers to pass a controversial bill that would require people who want to get a Firearm Owners Identification card to submit fingerprints. In Illinois, a FOID card is required to legally buy firearms and ammunition. The bill was in response to a 2019 mass shooting.

On Feb. 15, 2019, a man shot and killed five co-workers at a warehouse in Aurora before he was killed by police. Illinois State Police said the shooter, Gary Martin, bought a gun in 2014 with a valid Firearm Owners Identification card. Martin had a prior conviction in another state that made him ineligible to qualify for a FOID card, but he lied about that conviction when he applied to the Illinois State Police for a FOID card. The agency did a background check for Martin in Illinois. Illinois State Police later revoked Martin's FOID card after he submitted fingerprints to speed up the processing of his application for a concealed carry license. Those prints alerted officials to his conviction in Mississippi, ISP officials said at the time.

ISP Director Brendan Kelly said Thursday at a news conference in Springfield that in the wake of the Aurora shooting, state police had stepped up enforcement efforts. Since May 2019, Kelly said law enforcement agencies conducted more than 200 revoked FOID card details across the state.

"It’s not easy, but you have to have the people to go out there and [say] ‘hey there sir, you lost your FOID, you were just charged with a felony,' " Kelly said.

He said state police were not going after “some old fellow who got his FOID not renewed, or some nice lady who moved to Florida and no longer has Illinois residency and is therefore revoked."

“We’re focused on the person who had a recent firearms purchase and recently was charged with a nasty violent crime in their jurisdiction, that’s who we’re focused on,” Kelly said.

Kelly also called for lawmakers to pass Senate Bill 1966, which would double FOID card fees people pay to apply for the card. It would also require applicants to submit fingerprints.

Illinois State Rifle Association Executive Director Richard Pearson said lawmakers had swept nearly $30 million from Illinois State Police funds over several years and before asking for more money from gun owners, lawmakers should return that money.

“It’s a well-funded program,” Pearson said. “They’ve probably taken in between $70 million and $80 million [since 2013], so if you can’t do it with $70 million or $80 million, I don’t think you should do it at all.”

Senate Bill 1966 passed the Senate, was amended in the House and passed, and was sent back in the Senate for concurrence. A concurrence vote could happen as early as next week.

Kelly said Thursday the provision of the bill that would require FOID applicants to submit fingerprints was “common sense.”

“As to the constitutionality, and the policy and the politics of all that, that’s not for the ISP to weigh in on,” Kelly said. “That’s an issue for citizens and policymakers and others will debate, but if you ask us the question, will that help us get the job done better, having that fingerprint? The answer is 'absolutely yes.' It’s part and parcel to law enforcement, it’s common sense that fingerprints catch bad guys.”

Opponents of the fingerprint requirement have said it would be a violation of civil liberties.

Pearson said his group would challenge the law.

“Yeah, we’re not going to do [fingerprinting],” Pearson said. “We’ll wind up in court immediately.”

The Illinois State Rifle Association has several pending lawsuits against the state, including challenging the FOID card law and suing over a FOID card processing backlog.

Staff Reporter

Greg Bishop reports on Illinois government and other issues for The Center Square. Bishop has years of award-winning broadcast experience and hosts the WMAY Morning Newsfeed out of Springfield.