Increase in statewide gun ownership likely reflected in Evanston, police say

Rishika Dugyala, Reporter

A recent spike in registered gun ownership throughout Illinois is likely present in Evanston, Evanston police chief Richard Eddington said.

There are no locations in Evanston where people can buy guns, but Eddington said there were more than 418,000 background checks for gun purchases statewide in 2015 — a more than 150 percent increase from a decade ago. As a result, Eddington said it would make sense that more guns were purchased in Cook County by Evanston residents than in previous years.

The Illinois State Police tracks the total number of firearm transaction requests statewide from month to month, ISP Master Sgt. Jason Bradley said in an email to The Daily. He said through the Firearm Transfer Inquiry Program, federally licensed gun dealers are able to perform automated background checks on potential buyers prior to a purchase. The ISP saw a record number of FTIP transactions for a single month with more than 60,000 in December alone, Bradley said.

Since 2013, Illinois dealers have consistently performed more than 400,000 checks each year, according to information provided by Bradley. The increase in transactions within that time frame appears to indicate a national trend, he said.

Eddington said the uptick in gun sales was noticeable over the last 18 to 24 months, but recent instances of mass gun violence worldwide have exacerbated the upward trend.

“A lot of people are concerned about personal safety,” Eddington said. “The events in Paris, in San Bernardino, had an impact on people and have caused a concern there that may have resulted in this uptick in firearm sales.”

Bradley said an FTIP transaction does not necessarily mean a firearm purchase was made. However, the number of guns bought could also be much higher, as each purchase could have involved more than one weapon, he said.

The state police also does its best to track the number of Firearm Owner’s Identification cards and concealed carry applications it receives from various counties, said Abdon Pallasch (Medill ‘87), spokesman for the Cook County Sheriff’s Office.

Pallasch said Illinois residents tend to apply for FOID cards more than concealed carry permits; the former simply lets individuals own a gun, while the latter deals with an individual’s ability to carry the weapon in public.

Two years ago, Illinois transitioned from banning carrying of firearms in public to a concealed-carry law. As a result, there was a large number of applicants for these permits: In 2014, there were nearly 25,000 concealed carry permit requests from Cook County, Pallasch said.

Although the number of these permit requests decreased in 2015, the number of active FOID cards increased by about 30,000, reaching a total of over 460,000 cards statewide, according to information provided by Bradley.

Eddington said it’s important to make a distinction between the legal and illegal possession of firearms, and the Evanston Police Department is focused on the latter.

From September 5 to the end of last year, EPD discovered 43 illegal guns, cases in which none of the owners had concealed carry permits or FOID cards, Eddington said.

“It’s tough to measure what we haven’t taken action on before, so we’re focused on those illegal guns that’s driving the seizure number up,” Eddington said. “My sense is that it’s more, but I don’t have any real data to base that on.”

In the entirety of Cook County, Pallasch said the Sheriff’s Police confiscated around 600 illegal guns in 2015, twice as many as the number confiscated the year before.

“Are there legal gun owners that do illegal things with them?” Eddington said. “Yes. But that’s a small percentage as compared to people who are clearly restricted from owning guns that still acquire them and use them for illegal purposes.”

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