Crime

Hodgkinson had rifle and handgun, purchased legally, FBI says

Target practice? Neighbor in March called cops on Congress shooter

On March 24, William Schaumleffel called the St. Clair County Sheriff because he heard about 50 shots near his home. A deputy found James T. Hodgkinson and asked him to stop shooting near the houses.
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On March 24, William Schaumleffel called the St. Clair County Sheriff because he heard about 50 shots near his home. A deputy found James T. Hodgkinson and asked him to stop shooting near the houses.

The FBI reported on Thursday that James T. Hodgkinson, who shot five people, including a high-ranking Republican congressman, at a baseball practice used a 7.62-caliber rifle and a 9-mm handgun.

The guns were purchased legally, according to the FBI.

“ATF has conducted traces on these weapons and has determined that both were purchased by the shooter from federal firearms licensees,” the FBI said in a statement.

The FBI did declined to say where the guns were purchased.

Since the shooting Wednesday, gun stores in the metro-east have been busy with phone calls from news organizations, all of them trying to find whether Hodgkinson purchased the weapons involved in the shooting at their stores.

A couple larger stores, including Gander Mountain and Academy Sports + Outdoors, were unable to retrieve records and put the News-Democrat in touch with media representatives. Personnel at a few smaller shops declined to speak on the record, but a couple stores said he hadn’t been a customer.

“I show no sign that this guy was in our store,” said Amy King, vice president at Belleville-based Metro Shooting Supplies. She added that their system showed no receipts or scans of Hodgkinson’s gun permit, which he would have had to produce to purchase a gun at a store.

Tom Martindale of 4 Pines Firearms, also in Belleville, said Hodgkinson wasn’t in his business records.

“As a gun shop owner, we feel for the families and the first-responders,” Martindale said. “You never want to hear of anything like this happening.”

The shoting has drawn attention to Illinois gun laws.

Illinois’ gun laws are “moderately strong,” said Lindsay Nichols, the federal policy director at Americans for Responsible Solutions. “Certainly not the strongest in the country, but they’re certainly not the weakest, either.”

Among the more stringent laws is the Firearm Owners’ Identification, or FOID, card. Required to purchase a gun, it is an uncommon layer of oversight, with only Hawaii and Massachusetts requiring a similar type of barrier to getting a gun, Nichols said.

There are more than 20 disqualifying factors that would prohibit someone from obtaining a FOID card in Illinois. They include being younger than 21, renouncing one’s citizenship, or being dishonorably discharged from the military.

Others, though, focus on applicants’ criminal histories. Hodgkinson had an arrest record, but his only two convictions in St. Clair County were for failure to obtain an electrical permit, in 2011, and for a handful of other violations, mostly traffic issues, dating most recently to 1991. They are not considered disqualifying offenses.

An April 2006 police report noted that Hodgkinson struck a man in the face with the stock of a shotgun, but a charge of battery was dismissed, so it wouldn’t have shown up as a red flag when the Illinois State Police reviewed his criminal record for FOID approval. Even if he had been convicted of battery, ISP looks only at the previous five years of battery and similar convictions, so Hodgkinson still would have been able to receive a FOID card as recently as 2011.

It’s actions like these that Nichols said made her think that the FOID law should be strengthened.

“We need to look beyond just criminal history,” she said, adding that threats of violence and violent behavior should also be considered for FOID approval.

In February, State Rep. Jerry Costello II, D-Smithon, called for the elimination of FOID cards, saying they presented a burden to “responsible” Illinoisans. He submitted legislation to abolish the FOID cards.

“It would be the same thing as buying a gun in any of the bordering states,” Costello told the News-Democrat at the time. “None of them require the extra burden of getting a FOID card.”

Valinda Rowe of IllinoisCarry, a right-to-carry group, agreed with Costello, saying that the FOID card is a step that only law-abiding citizens take. Rowe said it’s also important that concealed-carry permits be recognized across state lines, like driver’s licenses.

As for the Alexandria shooting itself, Rowe said: “We see this as another case where individuals need to be able to carry a firearm on their person.”

The bill did not go far in the General Assembly, but Nichols thought the FOID law had already been severely weakened years ago.

In 2007, for example, the General Assembly passed a bill that doubled the amount of time that a FOID card is valid, from five to 10 years. It went into effect in June 2008.

“It’s obviously a horrible idea,” Nichols said. With longer periods between renewing one’s FOID license, State Police have fewer opportunities to review, and therefore deny, FOID applications, Nichols said.

One of the factors that State Police can use to deny someone a FOID card is if their “mental condition is of such a nature that it poses a clear and present danger to the applicant, or any other person or the community,” but it’s a high standard to meet.

Clear and present danger is defined in two ways. The first way is when someone “communicates a serious threat of physical violence” against someone or themselves, and the second way is when someone “demonstrates threatening physical or verbal behavior” as defined by psychologists, law enforcement or others.

Nichols pointed to a March episode with Hodgkinson as an example of something that could have been reported to the State Police gun-permit division.

In March, a neighbor of Hodgkinson reported him to law enforcement for firing an estimated 50 bullets on his property.

Capt. Bruce Fleshren of the St. Clair County Sheriff’s Department noted, however, that Hodgskinson wasn’t doing anything illegal at the time, and that it didn’t present a “clear and present danger.”

“That’s a pretty high level to meet,” Fleshren said.

Deputies noted in a report from that day that Hodgkinson had a valid FOID card.

He left for Alexandria that month.

St. Clair County Sheriff Rick Watson explains to reporters why Alexandria shooter James T. Hodgkinson was not arrested for shooting ammo in the woods in March.

Casey Bischel: 618-239-2655, @CaseyBischel

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