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Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives


Illinois is No. 1 source for guns used in Illinois crimes

by Tim Taliaferro
March 11, 2009

Far more of the guns seized from in-state crime scenes come from Illinois than any other state.

Of the 11,986 firearms recovered in 2007 – the most recent year for which the data is available – 3,380 or 28 percent originated in Illinois, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

“We are our own worst enemies as a dealer state,” said special agent Thomas Ahern, a spokesman for the bureau’s Chicago field division, which oversees all of Illinois.

Indiana ranks a distant second as a source state. In 2007, 822 guns or 6.9 percent came from Illinois’ neighbor to the east.

Another 370 – or 3.1 percent – were traced to Mississippi, the third leading supplier state.

“What the numbers tell you is that we need to look first and foremost to within our own state for how to address this problem,” said Thomas Mennard, executive director of the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence.

“There’s still a need to do what we can to tighten laws for gun sales in Illinois,” Mennard said.

Several bills currently before the Illinois General Assembly would further regulate gun sales.

One mandates that private gun sellers check buyers’ backgrounds before a sale and makes it much harder for gun owners to lend handguns to each other.

The Illinois State Rifle Association opposes the measure, HB48, in part on the ground that it creates more red tape.

The organization’s leadership was in Springfield Wednesday for Illinois Gun Owner’s Lobby Day and could not be reached for comment.

But according to information on its Web site, the association contends that the additional background checks are redundant.

“All firearms owners must have a [firearm owner’s identification] card in order to own, buy or possess a firearm,” its legislative fact sheet reads. “The State Police check FOID cards daily against new convictions and other disqualifying factors, and revoke FOID cards immediately. HB48 is designed to cause more red tape, increase waiting periods, and make private legal sale of handguns more difficult.”

Another bill requires gun dealers who sell handguns to be licensed by the state – in addition to the license they already must obtain from the federal government.

A third bill limits gun purchases to one a month.

The state rifle association opposes all three, according to its Web site.

Handguns represent the majority of firearms used in crimes in Illinois.

While the city of Chicago bans handguns, the state of Illinois does not. The city ban is facing a legal challenge in federal court. Illinois law requires residents to apply for a firearm owner’s identification card to buy or own a gun.

Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley has made stopping the flow of illegal guns a priority, proposing to state legislators that they create a task force on trafficking.

In a speech outlining state legislation he supports, Daley blamed lax regulation of gun dealers and the ease of buying large numbers of guns at one time for the proliferation of trafficking.

Between October 1998 and October 2008, 12,742 guns were trafficked into Chicago, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Bennie Currie, a spokesman for the mayor’s office of criminal justice, listed creating the task force among what the mayor calls “common-sense gun laws.”

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives declined to comment on any of the pending state legislation, but spokesman Ahern said tracking guns is an essential part of stopping the flow of illegal guns.

“All guns start out legal,” Ahern said. “It’s somewhere down the road where they become illegal.”