Illinois' new gun law may or may not help

February 18, 2008 4:05:20 PM PST
Some lawmakers and gun control advocates hope a new law that takes effect in June will help keep guns out of the hands of potentially dangerous people.The law calls on mental health workers to report persons who may be a threat to themselves or others so they cannot legally purchase guns.

Sponsors of the new bill say had the law been in place last week, in theory, it may have prevented the Northern Illinois University shooter from buying a gun. Mental health experts, on the other hand, disagree with that.

The information given to state police about someone's mental state would be confidential and would only be used for firearms ID card purposes.

Steve Kazmierczak, the NIU shooter, and Sueng-hui Cho, the Virginia Tech shooter, both men had a history of mental illness, yet they were able to purchase guns legally. A new state law may prevent that from happening in future.

"What we are trying to do is have common-sense gun safety measure," said Sen. John Millner, who represents Bloomingdale.

Following the Virginia Tech massacre, Illinois state senators John Millner and Dan Katowski sponsored a bill that would require mental health professionals to report patients who are a danger to themselves and others to state police. In turn, police would either revoke or prevent a person from getting a Firearms Owner ID card (FOID), which is necessary to purchase a gun in Illinois.

"The bottom line with this piece of legislation is getting guns out of the hands of people who should not have them," said Dr. Ron Davidson of the UIC Dept. of Psychiatry.

Some mental health experts say the bill is useless and could prevent people from actually seeking the help they need.

"The real problem is most people who seek mental health treatment are not violent. Those who are violent, don't seek mental health treatment. So, I fail to see the point of this misleading legislation," Davidson said.

It is not known whether Steve Kazmierzcak was ever deemed violent by a mental health professional.

Dr. Davidson said the bill is a way to place the blame on the mentally ill and the burden on the mental health professionals.

"You are far more likely to get killed by your husband or spouse or neighbor with a firearm than you are to be killed by a firearm from someone who has been diagnosed as mentally ill," he said.

Gun control advocates say lawmakers should be targeting guns and gunmakers instead.

Currently, the only screening for mental illness on a FOID application is a question that asks the applicant if he or she has been a patient in a mental facility in the past five years.

To get the gun card, Steven Kazmierczak had to answer 'no,' and he might have answered it correctly.