Prompted by Highland Park shooting, state police change policies on gun seizures

A memorial to the seven people killed and others injured in Monday's Fourth of July mass shooting grows at a veterans memorial Wednesday, July 6, 2022, in Highland Park, Ill. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

Two state policies designed to keep firearms out of the hands of those who pose a significant threat have been strengthened in the wake of the July 4 mass shooting in Highland Park, Illinois State Police say.

The changes affect both “clear and present danger” reports, which could lead state police to revoke a person’s Firearm Owners Identification card, and firearms restraining orders, through which a judge can order a person’s guns temporarily removed.

A clear and present danger report was filed in 2019 against the Highland Park man accused of carrying out the mass shooting. At the time, he was accused of threatening to kill family members, and police seized 16 knives and a sword from his home.

However, the report failed to prevent him from later obtaining a FOID card and purchasing firearms. Officials said the report did not meet what was then the legal threshold to determine he was a clear and present danger.

The changes announced this week widen the definition of clear and present danger to include “physical or verbal behavior, such as violent, suicidal, or assaultive threats, actions, or other behavior,” officials said. In addition, reports that don’t meet the new criteria for clear and present danger still will be retained for five years.

“When determining whether to issue or revoke a FOID card, it is imperative ISP has as much information and evidence as possible,” state police Director Brendan F. Kelly said Monday. “Updates to this administrative rule will strengthen ISP’s ability to keep firearms out of the hands of dangerous individuals.”

The change involving firearms restraining orders -- often referred to as the red flag law -- allows police to seize firearms if a judge determines that the owner “poses an immediate and present danger of causing personal injury to himself, herself or another.”

Advocacy groups found in the two years since the red flag law was enacted in 2019, only 53 firearm restraining orders were filed, nearly half in DuPage County.

In response, state police formed a commission of law enforcement officials to collaborate on how to make the firearm restraining orders easier to use.

“It’s more important than ever have to make sure information is flowing between every agency,” said Lake County State’s Attorney Eric Rinehart, who served on the commission. “It gives law enforcement leaders the discretion they need to make sure firearms do not fall into the hands of dangerous individuals.”

Kelly said the new framework for firearms restraining orders complies with all firearms laws and respects the constitutional and due process rights of individuals.

Both policy changes were formally adopted Monday.