A group of state lawmakers studying ways to curb the flow of illegal guns into Illinois held its first meeting Wednesday, and St. Clair County State's Attorney Brendan Kelly was among those offering testimony to the committee.
The Illinois Gun Trafficking Task Force was formed by a House resolution this year. Group members heard testimony Wednesday from Kelly, Illinois State Police, Chicago officials and the Cook County state's attorney's office, among others.
Kelly spoke to the panel for about an hour. He said it's a difficult phenomenon to prosecute because those charged with crimes have little incentive to say where they got the illegal guns.
"The case of where the guns are coming from dies very early on in the process," Kelly said. "It's very difficult to make those cases."
He added: "Many illegal gun possession offenses are still eligible for probation. Without the threat of incarceration, there is little incentive for defendants to cooperate with prosecutors and police to provide information about who sold the gun or about the identity of the straw purchaser. Therefore, too often, gun-related investigations end with the initial one arrest, and fail to get the bigger fish."
Democratic Rep. Christian Mitchell of Chicago called for the group.
"The biggest public health problem we have is gun violence," Mitchell said. "We've got to cut off this flow of guns."
The task force will present a report with its findings to the Illinois House, Senate and governor's office as early as November.
The group's focus will be the Chicago area and southwest Illinois, including St. Clair County.
Kelly says the weapon used in 90 percent of the homicides in St. Clair County is a gun that was illegally possessed. Both the perpetrators and the victims are often criminals with guns, not law-abiding gun owners exercising their Second Amendment rights, Kelly said.
Kelly said resources and attention need to be shifted.
"Since criminals with guns are those most likely to shoot or be shot, criminals with a gun-related history should be the focus of both probation and parole monitoring and efforts to reduce recidivism," he said. "The state should expand or divert manpower resources to probation and parole compliance to focus on those individuals likely to shoot or be shot, to prevent them from re-offending and to collect information about illegal gun trafficking and straw purchasing."
Kelly said there are strong gun laws in place, "but law enforcement manpower levels and funding continue to be well below where they were in the 1990s, when crime began to drop nationwide. Existing laws are not being utilized to their maximum potential because there are insufficient officers to enforce these laws."
Should the legislature pass more gun laws?
"Passing new laws to create new offenses is most likely not necessary, but increasing the consequences for specific offenses and focusing police, correctional and recidivism resources on those most likely to shoot or be shot could be helpful," Kelly said.