Improve Sentencing and Policy Integrity
Promote Compliance with Gun Laws
Illinois’ two distinct gun permits are unusual, complex, and difficult for the average person to understand. Many Illinoisans cannot draw upon long-standing family and community resources to educate them about state gun laws or gun safety. This is particularly true for individuals and communities that have been targeted and criminalized on the basis of race, including via the war on drugs, whose possession of weapons has long been treated as inherently more dangerous and presumptively criminal.
When public gun carrying expands, gun violence increases, and our state and country appear to be feeling those effects today. However, those of us who want to reduce gun carrying must be clear-eyed: handguns have already proliferated around the state – an estimated 2.8 million handguns have been sold to Illinoisans since 2014. No wonder some Illinois courts face a tidal wave of gun possession cases.
As long as Illinois requires the Firearms Ownership Identification (FOID) and Concealed Carry License (CCL), all levels of government should focus primarily on bringing residents into compliance with these unique gun laws, not punishing violations. This will require educating, training, and licensing many thousands of Illinoisans who already have access to weapons but have had insufficient exposure to safe gun practices and to the legal framework around guns in Illinois.
- Develop robust gun safety education programs
- Communicate clearly about how to comply with gun laws and penalties for violation
- Safely reduce barriers to licensure
- Emphasize compliance-focused approaches to violations
Illinoisans are even inaccurately characterized as “violent” for
behavior that some neighboring states do not criminalize at all.
Align Illinois Gun Laws with Constitutional and Practical Meaning
Illinois’ gun license violations have violent-sounding names, a relic of a time when ordinary people were never allowed to carry a handgun and even keeping one locked up at home was banned in some parts of the state. Now that possessing a gun is constitutionally-protected and increasingly common behavior, Illinois must stop characterizing possession-oriented and licensing violations as “gun crimes” indistinguishable from gun violence.
Mislabeling our laws negatively impacts safety and accuracy. A landlord or employer who sees a conviction for “armed violence” or “aggravated unlawful use of a weapon” is likely to incorrectly assume an applicant was convicted of a violent crime.
Illinoisans are even inaccurately characterized as “violent” for behavior that some neighboring states do not criminalize at all. Individuals, families, and entire communities are destabilized when additional barriers to housing, education, employment, and reform are erected due to misunderstandings and outsized concerns borne of the current highly-politicized, non-intuitive statutory scheme.
- Distinguish between possession and violence.
- Stop characterizing possession as violence.
- Repeal “armed violence” statute.
- Repeal “armed habitual criminal” statute.
Focusing attention and penalties on the use of a gun to commit violence diverts sentencing focus away from the causes, circumstances and nature of the harm itself, as well as the healing process of the people and community involved.
Adjust Criminal Penalties to Better Reflect Risk and Harm while Enabling Best Practices
Illinois’ laws criminalizing, felonizing, and mandating incarceration for gun possession were all passed prior to the implementation of public concealed carry in 2014. Illinois criminal penalties are among the harshest in the country; ours is one of the only states imposing lifelong felony convictions and mandatory prison time for first-time unlicensed possession of a loaded gun in public. In states where unlicensed gun possession is penalized at all, it is ordinarily an administrative, municipal, or misdemeanor violation.
The flaws in Illinois’ reliance on sentencing as a deterrence mechanism to reduce violence are even more pronounced when it comes to armed robbery, battery, homicide, and other violent gun crimes. Focusing attention and penalties on the use of a gun to commit violence diverts sentencing focus away from the causes, circumstances and nature of the harm itself, as well as the healing process of the people and community involved. The impact is that Illinois adds years of additional prison time, wasting lives and resources without measurably reducing violence or increasing justice.
Mandatory minimums transfer sentencing power from judges to prosecutors, decreasing public oversight, increasing racial disparities, and removing the ability of judges to take important circumstances revealed during the trial process and sentencing hearing into account. Mandatory minimums were marketed as tools to increase transparency, racial justice, and deter crime. Decades later, the evidence is in: they have failed on every count.
- Expand alternatives to prosecution and conviction
- Reduce penalty for first-time gun possession violations to a misdemeanor
- End mandatory minimum prison sentences
- Match probation length to length of effective programming
- Eliminate gun enhancements for violent crime
- End the transfer youth to adult court without a hearing, primarily for gun-related offenses
- Disband post-conviction registries and other surveillance practices that jeopardize secure housing and successful reentry without any proof of effectiveness in reducing future gun violence
This page is a brief summary. For more detail on these recommendations, please download the full report.