HIGHLAND PARK, Illinois – On Monday morning, Illinois state senator Julie Morrison sat in the back of a convertible and waved to Fourth of July parade-goers as her grandchildren walked beside the car. Ms. Morrison, a Democrat, had made fighting gun violence a priority in her legislative career and was the main sponsor of the state’s “red flag” law, which established a system under which guns could be taken from someone found to be he dangerous.
Then gunfire broke out.
Ms. Morrison found herself fleeing to safety and later wondered how a mass shooting had taken place in a place with some of the strictest gun regulations in the country. “Are there any loopholes in the law?” asked Mrs. Morrison on Wednesday. “Unfortunately, we now have a chance to look at that.”
The suspect in the shooting, Robert E. Crimo III, 21, had caught the attention of police on more than one occasion and, despite warnings about his disturbing behavior, had obtained a firearms license and purchased several weapons.
How a young man who sent disturbing signals managed to end up with a semiautomatic rifle in Illinois is a question that haunts not only survivors of Monday’s deadly massacre in suburban Chicago’s Highland Park. It’s also a matter of federal concern, just days after President Biden signed the most important gun law in decades.
While details of Mr. Crimo came to the fore, and a judge ordered him without bail for murder on Wednesday, it remained unclear whether the horrific episode revealed weaknesses in the state’s restrictions on weapons, or in the limits of even strong guarantees in a system that ultimately relies on of the judgments of people – the authorities, families, observers.
Ms Morrison acknowledged that the effectiveness of certain gun laws was often limited by how people responded to them, including whether people notified authorities of friends or family members who engaged in alarming behavior. “I don’t know to what extent we can impose human reactions; we can only provide the tools,” she said.
“It’s personal,” she said. “I’m angry. And this has to change.”
In a first court appearance on Wednesday, where Mr Crimo appeared on video, Ben Dillon, a prosecutor, described in great detail how officials say Monday’s attack unfolded.
Mr Dillon said Mr Crimo used a fire escape to climb onto a roof in the center of town during the holiday parade. There, Mr. Dillon said, he opened fire – he emptied a magazine of 30 bullets, fired from another and placed a third magazine in it. Officials recovered 83 shell casings, Dillon said.
Hours after the shooting, which left seven people dead, authorities were looking for the suspect. Lake County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Chief Christopher Covelli said investigators believed he fled to Madison, Wisconsin after the attack, but then returned to Illinois, where he was arrested. Chief Covelli said police believed Mr. Seeing a public holiday in Madison, Crimo considered using a second rifle he was carrying in the car to carry out another shooting there, but decided against it.
In an Illinois state police press conference on Wednesday, officials defended how they handled Mr. Crimo’s gun license application, and released records showing that he told Highland Park officers in 2019 that he was depressed and on drugs. used.
Under Illinois law, there are several options for authorities to intervene if a gun owner is deemed to pose a dangerous risk. This begins with the application process for a firearms license, known in Illinois as a Firearm Owner’s Identification card.
The application contains a long list of questions about previous criminal convictions, failed drug tests or recent hospitalizations for mental illness. It is filed with the State Police, where it goes through dozens of steps, including electronic and manual checks of national and state databases. At any point in that process, the state can determine that a person is ineligible. However, a vast majority is approved; less than 4 percent of nearly 600,000 applications were rejected in 2018 and 2019, according to a 2021 report from the Illinois Auditor General.
Brendan Kelly, the director of the Illinois state police, said on Wednesday that he believed his agency acted correctly in processing information about Mr. Crimo. It had no information that would have enabled the agency to deny him the license to possess a weapon, Mr Kelly said.
The licensing law allows local authorities, such as the police or school officials, to file a report with the Illinois state police stating that a person could pose a “clear and present danger.” The state police can then decide whether the report meets the burden of revocation of that person’s card.
Highland Park Police had filed a “clear and present danger” report in September 2019 against Mr Crimo after he seized 16 knives, a dagger and a sword from his home while responding to reports of threats . According to state police, his father told officers he had the knives, and they were all returned the same day. It was the second time that year that police responded to reports of Mr Crimo’s behaviour; the first involved a report of a suicide attempt.
But Mr Kelly, the state police chief, said the Highland Park report did not cross the legal threshold to establish that Mr Crimo, who denied to officers that he intended to hurt himself or others, presented a clear and present danger. formed.
Kelly said how well gun laws work depends not only on law enforcement, but also on the vigilance and follow-up of family members and friends.
“This is so dependent on the people closest to the person involved, the person who can pose a threat to themselves or the person who poses a threat to others,” said Mr Kelly.
Under current policy at the time, Mr. Kelly said the state still wouldn’t have had a copy of that report from the Highland Park Police Department when Mr. Three months later, with his father’s sponsorship, Crimo requested a firearm owner’s ID card. He had no disqualifying convictions, no restraining order, no psychiatric admissions, no “clear and present danger” markings when he asked permission to possess weapons. He was approved.
By the end of 2020, he had purchased several weapons, including the Smith & Wesson semi-automatic rifle police say was used in Monday’s attack and another rifle found in his car when he was arrested.
Officials didn’t say what they thought could have motivated the attack, but said they had no reason to believe it was driven by racial or religious hatred.
Some in Highland Park’s large Jewish community said they recognized the accused man. Martin Blumenthal, who is responsible for security at the Lubavitch Chabad synagogue in the northern suburbs of the city, said he recalled the man from a Passover service this year.
Mr Blumenthal thought his appearance was suspicious and said that at one point during the shift he secretly knelt and reached under the man’s seat to knock down his small backpack. It appeared to contain no weapons, Mr Blumenthal said.
He said he was now convinced the man was going to the synagogue to study it as a potential target. “He was definitely wrapping things up,” Mr. Blumenthal said.
Prosecutors declined to say Wednesday whether they were considering charges against relatives of the suspect. Steven Greenberg, a lawyer representing the father, acknowledged that his client sponsored his son’s gun license application, but said the father did not believe there was a problem, and may not fully understand what happened during the police visit in 2019 when officers confiscated knives from his son.
Filing a “clear and present danger” report was not the only point in the past three years where the suspect’s intention to buy and carry a weapon may have been thwarted.
In 2019, the state’s Firearms Restraining Order Act, legislation sponsored by Ms. Morrison and often referred to as a red flag law, went into effect that allows police to seize firearms if a judge determines that the owner of the weapons has “an immediate and present danger of causing personal injury to self, self or another.” Speaking for Safety Illinois, an advocacy group, found that only 53 firearms bans had been filed in the first two years of the law, nearly half of them in a single Chicago suburb.
There is no indication that a firearms ban was ever requested in the case of Mr. Crimo, despite his disturbing behavior. This presents one of the difficult realities of public safety legislation: Red flag laws only come into play when someone close to a potentially dangerous gun owner asks for a warrant.
“This was a textbook example of a red flag law that wasn’t used,” said John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety, which has called for tougher gun laws. “The tool to invoke a red flag law existed and no one took the tool out of the box.”
Reporting contributed by: Robert Chiarito† Adam Goldman† Michael Levenson† Glenn Thrush and Luke Vander Ploeg†