Illinois Police Admit That Oversight in a Background Check Allowed a Mass Shooter to Get a Gun

The problem isn't a lack of laws, but poor implementation of those laws.


|||STRINGER/Daily Herald/Newscom
STRINGER/Daily Herald/Newscom

Mass shootings usually generate calls for more legislation in the hopes of avoiding similar tragedies in the future. One of the more common legislative proposals is expanded background checks. While this call to action makes sense to gun control advocates, some shootings, like the days-old mass shooting in Aurora, Illinois, reveal an uncomfortable truth: poor implementation of laws is more of a concern than a lack of them.

After learning that he was to be fired, a disgruntled 15-year employee named Gary Martin allegedly took a gun and began to shoot at co-workers within the Henry Pratt Co. warehouse outside of Chicago. The shooting claimed the lives of five. The suspect was shot and killed by police after he wounded five officers. Following the tragedy, law enforcement acknowledged that current laws should have prevented Martin from legally owning a gun. So who was at least partially responsible for his possession of the weapon? The Illinois State Police.

According to the Chicago Tribune, the state police agency admitted on Monday that the suspect's background check merely looked into his criminal history in the state. Because of this, Martin's previous conviction in the state of Mississippi for felony aggravated assault and a subsequent five-year prison sentence went unnoticed twice. The agency is now investigating how the conviction, which would have disqualified Martin from owning a gun, was missed both times.

The conviction was eventually discovered after Martin submitted his fingerprints to expedite a concealed carry license application. After the Illinois State Police were made aware of an FBI record containing the felony conviction, the agency sent a letter to Martin saying that his right to own a gun was revoked. He was ordered to turn his gun over to a license firearm owner or the Aurora Police Department, which would in turn submit paperwork to say that he was no longer in possession of a gun. There is no record of the paperwork from the local police department.

This is not the first time law enforcement has failed to impose laws on the books, nor is it the first time a lack of communication between government agencies has allowed someone to fall through legal cracks. Similar failures in gun control allowed the Sutherland Springs, Texas, church shooter to own a gun despite legal prohibitions. The Air Force previously found the shooter guilty of strangling his then-wife and fracturing his stepson's skull. Despite this, the Air Force failed to report the conviction, an escape from a New Mexico mental health facility, and other behavioral issues, to the FBI as legally required. The shooter's problematic past was thus able to evade the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.