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Highland Park Shooting Highlights Faults in Illinois 'Red Flag' System

The suspect in Monday's mass shooting in Highland Park, IL had drawn police attention more than once before, and despite warnings about his troubling behavior, had gotten a firearm license and bought several guns in a state with relatively strict gun laws, the New York Times reports. As details of Robert E. Crimo III's, 21, past continued to emerge, it remained unclear whether the horrific episode revealed weaknesses in state restrictions on guns, or in the limits of even potent safeguards in a system that ultimately relies on the judgments of people — the authorities, families, observers. The state's 2019 "red flag" law set up a system in which guns can be taken from someone found to be dangerous to themselves or others - something Crimo has been found to be on multiple occasions. On Wednesday, Illinois State Police defended how they handled Crimo’s application for a gun license, and released records showing that he had told Highland Park officers in 2019 that he had been depressed and used drugs. The process to obtain a gun license in Illinois consists of questions about one's past where, at any point in the process, the state could determine that a person is not eligible. Brendan Kelly, the State Police director, said he believed that his agency acted correctly when handling information about Crimo.


The law governing licenses empowers local authorities to file a report to the Illinois State Police indicating that a person might present a “clear and present danger.” The State Police can then decide whether the report meets the burden to revoke that person’s card. Police had filed a “clear and present danger” report about Crimo in Sept. 2019 after seizing 16 knives, a dagger and a sword from his home while responding to reports that he had been making threats. According to the State Police, his father told officers that he owned the knives. It was the second time that year the police responded to reports about Crimo’s behavior; the first involved a report of an attempted suicide. But Kelly said the Highland Park report did not clear the legal threshold to determine that Crimo, who denied to officers that he wanted to hurt himself or others, was a clear and present danger. In 2019, the state’s Firearms Restraining Order Act, the legislation, often referred to as a "red flag" law, went into effect, allowing the police to seize firearms if a judge determines that the owner of the guns “poses an immediate and present danger of causing personal injury to himself, herself or another.” There is no indication that a firearm restraining order was ever sought in Crimo’s case, despite his troubling behavior. This presents one of the difficult realities of legislating for public safety: Red flag laws only come into play when someone who is close to a potentially dangerous gun owner seeks an order.