SPRINGFIELD – The chief justice of the Illinois Supreme Court, citing “gun-related tragedies” and the state’s debate over concealed carry, emphasized in a memo to judges throughout Illinois this week that the state must be notified when they determine a person has serious mental health concerns.
Justice Thomas Kilbride underscored the issue in a letter that points out a Jan. 1 law that requires judges to direct circuit clerks to send “immediately” to the Illinois State Police any order that determines a person to be “a mental defective.”
It comes as Illinois is still attempting to shore up serious gaps in its reporting of people with mental health issues, a discovery that led to the new law.
Only 39 counties currently are reporting to Illinois State Police, officials said, but that’s a far better number than only the three found in recent years to be reporting.
The Kilbride memorandum comes in the wake of high-profile gun tragedies from the classrooms of Newtown, Conn., to the streets of Chicago. Kilbride’s memo, which included sample forms to fill out, said judges should make sure circuit clerks send orders about people with mental problems to the State Police’s Firearm Owner’s Identification Office, which does background checks and has authority to block the issuance of a firearm permit.
“This issue has received heightened scrutiny in light of recent gun-related tragedies and the current concealed carry debate,” Kilbride wrote in the May 7 memorandum to all circuit and associate judges.
His action marked the latest development in Illinois as the state enters the final weeks of a fervent debate over how to put a concealed carry law on the books. Illinois is the last state in the nation that has a ban in place. Lawmakers are scrambling to come up with a compromise before a June 9 deadline set by a federal appeals court to fashion a new law.
The Illinois House in recent weeks failed on separate votes to pass both a restrictive New York-styled concealed weapons bill and a less-restrictive proposal backed by the National Rifle Association. The results have made both gun control and gun rights advocates recalibrate their next moves.
On the other side of the Capitol, Sen. Kwame Raoul, a South Side Democrat, and Sen. Tim Bivins, a former Lee County sheriff who is a Republican and competitive shooter, have been trying to negotiate an alternative.
Kilbride’s memorandum is topped with a notice to judges that it is regarding “Reporting Firearm Owner’s Identification (FOID) Disqualifiers Due to Mental Health Concerns.”
The chief justice told judges that his memo is to “emphasize the Illinois Supreme Court’s commitment to ensuring judicial branch compliance with recently enacted statutory directives.”
Kilbride’s move drew praise from Sen. Dan Kotowski, a Park Ridge Democrat who is among sponsors of the new law aimed at helping close reporting gaps.
Kotowski said Kilbride’s notice to more than 900 judges will help ensure key mental health records will get to the Illinois State Police on a timely basis in cases where people are determined to be “mentally defective” or have been involuntarily committed to a mental hospital.
“It’s a clear and present danger to the public’s safety that we have jurisdictions in this state that aren’t complying or providing records to law enforcement,” Kotowski said. “We can all agree that people who have been found to be a danger to themselves and others should not have guns or, even worse, be carrying loaded guns in public.”
The issue of lax reporting became part of Gov. Pat Quinn’s State of the State address in February as he told lawmakers that the state needs “reliable mental health records.”
“For years, counties across our state have not been reporting their mental health records to the Illinois State Police,” Quinn said. “This year, we need every county to step up and do its part to ensure mental health records are updated in real time.”
The Quinn administration reported today that the number of counties reporting the serious mental health concerns has risen to 39 – a little more than a third of the state’s 102 counties.
The new law followed a review last year by Auditor General William Holland, who disclosed the gaps in what is viewed as a way to protect the public by trying to keep guns out of the hands of the most dangerous in society. In 2010, only 121 court decisions finding serious mental illness were reported to the state police – all from Cook, Bureau and LaSalle counties.
By law, FOID cards should be revoked or not be issued to people found incompetent to stand trial, are a danger to themselves or others, lack the mental capacity to manage their own affairs, or have been found “not guilty by reason of insanity, mental disease or defect.”
©2013 the Chicago Tribune
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