Civil rights

Does lax enforcement of gun laws violate the civil rights of victims?

As Illinois Democrats continue to call for a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines after the July 4 Highland Park massacre, critics of gun safety laws voice a familiar rebuttal :

Why pass new gun laws, argue opponents, when so many existing laws are not enforced?

That’s a good question, but it dodges another, even more obvious one: Why are existing laws not enforced?

That’s the issue properly raised in a lawsuit brought by parents including Shanice Mathews, a West Side mother of four. She is the named plaintiff in Mathews v. State of Illinois, a lawsuit filed by her and other parents on behalf of their children and others in a proposed class of black children who parents say have been traumatized by living in neighborhoods plagued by heavy armed violence. .

The defendants are the State of Illinois, Governor JB Pritzker and the Illinois State Police.

The lawsuit does not seek any monetary compensation. Instead, it seeks to have predominantly black populations in 10 high-crime neighborhoods recognized as a lawful class and demands that defendants properly enforce state law on gun dealer licenses, the Illinois Gun Owners Identification Card Act and Firearms Trafficking Information Act.

The state has been widely criticized politically in the past for lax enforcement of state gun safety laws and regulations, especially in communities that need it most. A 2019 Tribune investigation found, for example, that up to 30,000 firearms may still be in the possession of Illinois residents deemed too dangerous to have them.

As we’ve said before, lax FOID enforcement tragically reappeared after mass killer Robert “Bobby” Crimo III was charged with fatally shooting seven people and wounding more than 30 during the 4th of July Parade in Highland Park.

Crimo, it turned out, had been deemed a “clear and present danger” in 2019 by Highland Park Police after he threatened others, had more than a dozen knives in his bedroom closet and would have tried to commit suicide. Yet this summer his earlier issues were erased from state records, resulting in him receiving a FOID card — which he used to purchase the semi-automatic rifle prosecutors say he used in the sting. Independence Day attack.

The shooting has reopened a nest of questions about Illinois gun laws and their enforcement rules which continue to be overly complicated, full of loopholes and bloated with bureaucratic detail.

Mathew’s lawsuit essentially asks the governor and police to do their duty and close loopholes in gun law enforcement that have cost some communities a particularly high price.

Suing the state for providing uneven enforcement of gun law may seem like a far-fetched idea. But given the state’s dismal record of enforcing regulations on gun owners, the attention is hardly undeserved.

Does lax law enforcement in high-crime neighborhoods violate the civil rights of victims of gun crime?

This question, a central issue in the civil rights lawsuit, may seem a bit exaggerated. Indeed, a similar approach by a group led by Reverend Michael Pfleger of Chicago in 2015 notoriously failed in its attempt to use an Illinois civil rights law to force three Chicago suburbs – Lincolnwood, Lyons and Riverdale – to adopt stricter rules for the gun. stores in their jurisdictions that had become major sources of weapons used in Chicago crimes. Months later, a Cook County judge dismissed the suit.

But the Mathews lawsuit, originally filed in 2018, survived a crucial test the following year when U.S. District Judge Joan B. Gottschall allowed the case to proceed over objections from defendants.

Among other allegations, the plaintiffs allege that the state violates their children’s rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act by allowing gun violence-induced trauma to prevent equal access to educational success. .

Noting the city’s horrific spike in violence that has exceeded 2,000 shootings a year in recent years, Tom Geoghegan, one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs, told us that “the epidemic of violence is also destroying children surviving emotionally, psychologically, in the deepest ways.

This is understandable, considering the large number of children and adults who had to go to bed with constant bursts of nightly gunfire in less fortunate neighborhoods.

Illinois is known for having some of the strictest gun laws and regulations allowed by the Constitution. But if FOID files are not kept up to date and related regulations are not rigorously enforced, the citizens of the state are not sufficiently protected.

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