The head of the Illinois State Rifle Association said it's likely Congress will take some action to restrict gun access in the wake of two more mass shootings in the United States, and he’s concerned lawmakers will go too far.
ISRA Executive Director Richard Pearson said he understands there's going to be fervor in this country to do something following the killings of at least 29 people in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio over the weekend. He said the backdrop of a presidential election will only up the rhetoric to enact gun control.
“You’ve got an election coming up and you’ve got a bunch of political candidates wanting to make political hay and about half of them are (U.S.) senators,” Pearson said. “You’ve got a situation that could go bad very quickly.”
President Donald Trump has called for stronger background checks and "red flag" laws that could identity someone who might be more likely to turn to gun violence.
Pearson said Illinois' background checks already go far enough.
“Illinois is really ahead of the game as far as what the president is asking for,” he said. “There are many states that don’t do mental health background checks, a couple of them being Texas and Ohio.”
Those states actually do mental health background checks, but Illinois does not recognize concealed carry permits from Ohio and most other states because of differing standards. Ohio is one of several states that doesn't report its mental health records to a national database.
Illinois does accept concealed carry licenses from Texas and three other states: Arkansas, Mississippi and Virginia.
Pearson said he accepts the need for mental health checks for buying a firearm. He worries about the gray area that the government or an adversary could exploit to keep someone from getting a gun by falsely claiming someone was unfit to have a weapon.
“You always have somebody, some bureaucrat someplace that wants to overreach. They are always doing that,” he said. “I’m not sure you can ever cure them, but that’s one of the problems and that’s one of the things firearm owners fear.”
Pearson said states should be more proactive in addressing the mental health problem, rather than making it a gun issue.
“Mental health funding has suffered in Illinois for 20 years and in most other states because it’s an easy thing to sweep under the rug,” Pearson said. “So you wind up with people sleeping out on the streets, many of these homeless people are really mental health patients.”
The Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence gives Illinois a B+ on gun laws,noting Illinois has one of the highest rates of crime guns coming from other states.