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Illinois State Police: 'clear and present danger' reports help prevent gun tragedies

Members of the Illinois State Police stand together. The agency is using “clear and present danger” reporting differently than it did a year ago.
Pat Nabong
Chicago Sun-Times
Members of the Illinois State Police stand together. The agency is using “clear and present danger” reporting differently than it did a year ago.

Alex Degman talked with State Police Director Brendan Kelly about how the agency is reporting differently than it did a year ago.

Illinois State Police say they’re using “clear and present danger” reporting differently than they were a year ago.

The tool has been around awhile, but State Police are making more of an effort to take guns away from people who could cause harm to others or to themselves — and keeping those individuals from buying more guns in the future.

Alex Degman spoke with State Police Director Brendan Kelly, who said he believes this tool is stopping major tragedies before they happen.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

What is “clear and present danger” reporting?

If a member of law enforcement, say a local police department, observes some type of conduct by someone who is homicidal or suicidal, they can then report that observation if they have a recent firearms purchase history. If the individual has a firearms identification card and they are a clear and present danger, they are revoked and that revocation is reported back to the local law enforcement agency so that any firearms that individual has are placed within the proper custody. And these are the type of circumstances in the events leading up to those tragedies. And this clear and present danger tool is showing to be a very effective means of intervention and trying to prevent those types of tragedies.

How many of these reports have you gotten so far this year?

The number of clear and present danger reports over the past year was about 10,000. About 4,000 of those are people that had Firearm Owners Identification (FOID) cards. And so a good number of the people that are coming through the clear and present danger reporting process are people that don’t even have a FOID card. So we now hold those records and when someone later comes to apply for the FOID card, we’re able to stop them from doing so. We do that revocation and then we report it back to local law enforcement and we’ll either work it up with them and go get the firearms and make sure they’re properly disposed of, or local law takes a more active role in doing that.

In all those cases, there have to be examples of a situation that could have gotten very bad very quickly. Are there any of those that you’re willing to share?

There’s plenty of examples. A young person threatening to kill his grandparents, school administrators are reporting to the Illinois State Police, a student making threats to his fellow students and then making sure that clear and present danger is filed in that person’s background so they can’t have a firearm in the future. Firearms and local law enforcement are using it more. We’d like to see medical professionals use it more. School administrators are now using it pretty routinely and it does make a difference.

Have you gotten any pushback from this? Are there any folks expressing constitutional concerns to you?

These are circumstances where people say “yes, obviously this person is dangerous.” They’re homicidal or suicidal. They should not have access to firearms and in the event that some of those reports turn out to be wrong, we have some very strong due process in place. We have a records appeal process. We have a firearms identification review board now that did not exist a couple years ago. I don’t think there’s been any time in the history of the United States where if someone was trying to kill someone or they’re gonna try to kill themselves or they’re doing something that shows that they are a clear and present danger to everyone around them that we should not be able to take those firearms and be able to properly dispose of them in a way that prevents someone from being a threat to others.

The increased use of these clear and present danger reports came around shortly after the mass shooting in Highland Park last year, as a report like that had been filed against the alleged shooter. Do you think these rules in place now would have prevented that tragedy?

I think it’s unclear and I think it’s very difficult to be able to say that that’s the case. You hope, when you look back, that maybe there’s some lesson learned there, that some sort of process could have been in place. But we know that this tool is working now; it’s having a real impact in real circumstances. I think we have an obligation to do everything we can to take every lesson we may have learned even if it’s speculative and even if it might be a bit of a reach, let’s see what we can do. Let’s try as hard as we can.

Alex Degman is a Statehouse reporter with WBEZ.