Raise the state’s minimum age to buy a long gun? What northern Illinois sheriffs, sheriff candidates say

Police walk near Robb Elementary School following a shooting, Tuesday, May 24, 2022, in Uvalde, Texas. (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills)

Better protection for schools. Improved training. Additional mental health support and a crack down on illegal guns.

Those were some of the ideas northern Illinois sheriffs and county sheriff hopefuls had in response to Shaw Local News Network reporters who this week asked about the state’s gun laws after an 18-year-old gunman killed 21 people – mostly children – at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, this week.

SLNN reporters asked whether the law enforcement officials and hopefuls thought Illinois’ current age requirements for buying long guns were sufficient or needed to be stricter.

Under state law, Illinois residents need a valid Firearm Owner’s Identification card to buy or possess guns or ammunition. Generally, FOID cardholders must be 21 in order to get one, but can be younger if they’re sponsored by a parent or guardian.

Here’s what they had to say:

Bureau County Sheriff Jim Reed:

“My position on this subject is if an 18-year-old can serve in the Armed Forces or go to war, he or she should be able to legally own a firearm.

“A firearm is nothing more than a tool. The problem is these tools end up in the hands of criminals who use them for selfish acts of injustice. We can go on and on about this subject, but the real issue is keeping these tools out of the hands of people who would do harm onto others for their own selfish reasons. We should not penalize the lawful person who utilizes these tools for hunting, sport shooting or personal protection. It is our constitutional right to bear arms and be able to protect ourselves, if need be. If our legislators wanted to do something to prevent gun violence, they should write better legislation to keep these tools out of the hands of criminals, not penalize the person who accepts the legal responsibilities of owning one. I am opposed to any law restricting a lawful person from possessing a firearm.”

La Salle County Sheriff Adam Diss:

“As Sheriff, I do not believe in taking firearms away from law-abiding citizens. Illinois already has some of the most restrictive firearms laws in the nation. Mental illness seems to always play a role with the individuals that commit these atrocities. Often times the people involved were already not authorized to possess firearms.

“We need better protection for our schools. We have politicians suggesting that we remove school resource officers from our campuses that is absurd. We seem to find money whenever it is politically expedient for other projects. I feel it is important that we fund increased security measures in our schools, for our school resource officers, and better and earlier mental health intervention. Often times there were many warning signs that could’ve been identified sooner had someone spoken up. I encourage parents, faculty and students if you feel there’s an issue to report it to law enforcement.”

McHenry County Sheriff Bill Prim:

“No, it should not. What happened ... in Uvalde, Texas, is a tragedy. Raising the minimum age to purchase a gun, be it a rifle or a handgun, is simply a way to circumvent the true issue, which has yet to be positively identified.”

Robb Tadelman, Republican candidate for McHenry County sheriff

“No, it should not. [Tuesday’s] event was tragic, but to use it to advance an agenda is wrong. We should not jump to conclusions until we have had a thorough investigation to determine what happened and why.”

Tony Colatorti, Republican candidate for McHenry County sheriff

“No, it shouldn’t. Our hearts go out to the victim’s families.”

DeKalb County Sheriff Andrew Sullivan, a Republican running for reelection:

“Not just mine but all of our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims of that horrific incident,” Sullivan said. “I support everybody’s legal right of going through the legal process and a law abiding citizen’s right to possess a firearm. But I also want to say that we need to focus on mental health issues and give support to those folks that need that, because obviously we want to prevent these types of tragedies from ever happening.”

Jim Reilly, Republican candidate for Will County sheriff:

“I think we need to start with the mental health crisis. For too long, I think we’ve turned our back on mental health and the potential early signs we could see. I’m often hesitant to respond to political rhetoric and new laws. We have gun laws. We don’t follow them. Unfortunately, I don’t think more political rhetoric is going to solve the problem.”

Lee County Sheriff John Simonton, a Republican who’s not running in November:

“No, and the logic to my answer would be these three points:

“Firearms do not commit crimes – people do.

“What is the minimum age a person can enter the military and fight for our freedom, using a variety of weaponry?

“We could raise the age to 50, but those wishing to do harm to another will still find a way to get a firearm to commit a crime.

“I do feel that more training is being offered to those new to firearms. Public ranges in our area [Rock Falls and Forreston to name two] are advertising for training with capable instructors.

“Specific to school shootings, I am a strong advocate for ALICE training, ‘run, hide, fight,’ or similar training being offered to the schools. School resource officers are certainly a wonderful resource. This needs to be a funded program, so that more agencies can offer this position to the schools.

“Additionally, crisis planning for the schools [like we do in Lee County annually] needs to continue and reinforce the procedures for limiting access during school hours, video cameras that have the ability to be connected to law enforcement, mandated training for staff, etc.

“We constantly train our deputies for active shooter scenarios, whether it is in a school or business setting, so that we are as prepared as possible to intervene quickly and effectively.”

Dixon Police Lt. Clay Whelan, Republican candidate for Lee County sheriff:

“In response to [the] tragic event in Uvalde, my feeling is that the laws governing mental illness and red flag warnings need to be enhanced and stricter in nature.

“In this day and age, social media should have some metrics in place to identify and report violent speech and tendencies to the proper authorities for investigation. Schools need to be locked down with limited access points and school resource officers in place for the safety of students and staff.

“If a person needs to be 21 to consume alcohol or use tobacco products to augment their mental maturity, then I see no reason for them to have a handgun along that same rationale.”

Whiteside County Sheriff John Booker, Democratic candidate:

“There is really no short answer to this. In Illinois right now, if you are 18 years old you can purchase a shotgun or rifle [both are considered long guns]. You must be 21 years old to purchase a handgun. We really need to start addressing the mental health Issues, and start paying attention to signs of someone with mental health issues.”

Tampico Police Chief Mike Lewis, Republican candidate for Whiteside County sheriff:

“Those who argue raising the legal age when people can purchase certain firearms are mistaken in thinking that will solve the problem of mass shootings in our schools and elsewhere in our country. And it seems wrong to say at 18 a person can hold a rifle in defense of your country in a combat situation, but not a rifle in defense of your family or in practicing your hobby of sport shooting in your community.

“Further, the average age of mass shooters is 33 and the majority of mass shootings take place in the shooter’s workplace. A rifle- or longgun-specific ban misses the point when 74% of mass shooters use handguns, according to the Rockefeller Institute of Government.

“What we need are common-sense solutions. I support increased training for police and first responders on how to respond to active shootings. I support reasonable background checks for all gun owners. I support increased availability and access to mental health resources for all people.

“This will go a long way to solving not only mass shootings, but other related individual and social problems as well.

“How many times have we heard these tragic stories and everyone says, ‘In hindsight, we should’ve known this could have happened?’ Common sense and caring about neighbors and classmates in our community goes a long way.”

Kane County Sheriff Ron Hain:

“I believe purchasing age restrictions has very little to do with gun violence prevention. What would work is proper and widely available mental health support, public awareness of warning signs for individuals and supporting proactive law enforcement in the removal of illegal firearms.”

Jeffrey Bodin, Republican candidate for Kane County Sheriff:

“That’s up for the legislators and ultimately the Supreme Court of the United States to decide, in my opinion.”

Kendall County Sheriff Dwight Baird:

“I get tired of hearing that everything is about the guns. It’s the humans. I have no problem with background checks. It boils down to the person using that weapon. People need to be held accountable for their actions. Humans weaponize anything. We should not tie it to age or the type of weapon.”

Shaw Local News Network

Shaw Local News Network

Shaw Local News Network provides local news throughout northern Illinois