Chicago Tribune. June 15, 2021.

Editorial: Pass it: A gun safety bill even gun-rights groups support

More than two years ago, Gary Martin walked into a disciplinary meeting with his supervisors at an Aurora valve manufacturing plant. They told him he was being let go. “Yeah, it’s over,” a survivor remembered him saying. Martin pulled out a .40-caliber handgun and killed four of the people in the room. He killed another co-worker elsewhere in the plant, and shot and wounded another co-worker and five police officers before dying in a shootout with police.

As a convicted felon, Martin should never have been allowed to have a gun. His firearm owner’s identification card had been revoked. But there was no follow-up from law enforcement to ensure he had surrendered his handgun. “Some disgruntled person walked in and had access to a firearm that he shouldn’t have had access to,” Aurora police Chief Kristen Ziman said after that terrible Feb. 15, 2019, afternoon.

Pledges to make sure someone like Martin would never again have access to guns followed. Two years later, nothing has changed. The spring legislative session in Springfield ended without movement on House Bill 3245 that would have addressed the problems exposed by the Aurora mass shooting.

Fortunately, a second bill that addresses revoked FOID cards tentatively is on the agenda this week for a quick, two-day session of staggered House and Senate meetings. Lawmakers should pass it before they leave town again, and Gov. J.B. Pritzker should sign it into law.

For the last two years, we, along with gun safety advocates, have called for raising the FOID card application fee from $10 to $20 so that a portion of that increase could fund a task force that would follow up with gun owners who’ve had their FOID revoked — but have yet to relinquish their guns. The law requires felons to lose access to firearms, but lax enforcement allows many of those individuals to keep them.

A bill proposed by Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Swansea, would set up that task force, which would “conduct enforcement operations against persons whose Firearm Owner’s Identification Cards have been revoked or suspended...” Hoffman’s bill also would create for law enforcement agencies a database of people who have had their FOID cards revoked or suspended, and would broaden background checks to include person-to-person gun purchases.

Last year, the Tribune reported that 80% of people who had their FOID cards revoked had failed to document that they had gotten rid of their guns, as the law requires. State records showed that, as of February 2020, 36,600 guns belonging to people who were ineligible to possess them had remained unaccounted for in Illinois.

Gary Martin wasn’t the only revoked cardholder who kept his gun and later killed with it. In the case of Christopher Miller, the victim was his 18-month-old son. In September 2019, Miller appeared at the Joliet home of his estranged wife, choked her until she fell unconscious and then fatally shot their toddler, Colton, before killing himself.

Like Martin, Miller had his FOID card revoked. He also had been arrested in Cook County and released on bond without anyone checking to see if his guns had been seized. His wife had told officials in DuPage County that he still had guns — and no one followed up.

Lawmakers worried about the erosion of gun rights are missing the point on this one. No one is taking away guns from people who lawfully can possess them. This is about keeping guns out of the hands of people who’ve had their FOID cards revoked.

The law that bans people with revoked FOIDs from having guns is already on the books; what has been missing is the means to facilitate enforcement of that law.

If lawmakers again fail to act, we’d like to see them explain themselves to the families of the people Martin killed — Russell Beyer, Vicente Juarez, Clayton Parks, Josh Pinkard and Trevor Wehner — and the mother of Colton Miller. If a task force is the best way forward to supplement law enforcement in removing guns, it needs to get off the ground — now.


Chicago Sun-Times. June 16, 2021.

Editorial: How to better protect against environmental nightmares like the Rockton plant fire

We don’t yet know what caused the blaze in Winnebago County, but we do know state and federal environmental oversight is weak.

We don’t know yet what caused the horrifying fire that still is smoldering at a chemical plant north of Rockford, but we do know the risk of such events has grown since the state and federal government cut back on inspections and enforcement.

Both the state and the federal government need to get their environmental oversight back on track. Everyone’s health depends upon it.

Environmental regulations governing industrial sites currently are not strong enough, and they are not sufficiently enforced. If nothing else, the blaze at Chemtool in Winnebago County, which started Monday and was so large it could be seen from Kankakee, dramatically illustrated the enormous costs when something goes wrong, whatever the cause.

On Wednesday, health officials lifted mask recommendations for three miles around the Rockton plant after air-quality measurements remained stable, although the evacuation order for about 1,000 people within a one-mile radius of the plant remained in effect. But we don’t know what the final environmental effects will be. Neighbors said they heard multiple explosions at the plant.

The total cost of health-damaging pollutants and particulates released into the air, toxins that might make their way into the groundwater or the nearby Rock River — although none had been found as of Wednesday — and financial losses to the company could be immense. The evacuation order also imposes a cost on residents who cannot return to their homes.

Moreover, first responders were put in harm’s way, and we don’t know whether they used fire-suppressing foam containing PFAS, a toxic substance that will be banned in Illinois if Gov. J.B. Pritzker signs a bill that was passed by the Legislature on May 27.

The industrial plant, which made industrial lubricants, grease products and other fluids, stored lead, antifreeze, nitrogen sulfuric acid and other chemicals on its site. Chemtool is a federally designated Tier II site, requiring that an annual report be produced about its hazardous materials. The report is used by both state and federal environmental authorities.

What happened at Chemtool might turn out to be something that could not have been prevented by inspections, but we long ago should have learned that cutting corners on environmental enforcement can cost exponentially more than the cost of “burdensome” regulations and oversight.

That, however, didn’t stop the Trump administration from cutting back on oversight. As Brett Chase reported in Wednesday’s Sun-Times, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under President Donald Trump worked to undo safeguards, at the urging of the chemicals industry. When President Joe Biden took office, he signed an executive order to strengthen chemical plant oversight. Now, EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan wants to hire 1,200 more inspectors.

The staffs at both the regional U.S. EPA office and the Illinois EPA have been hollowed out over the years, and for the most part inspections were not done during the pandemic. That puts everyone at risk.

The need for more aggressive inspections and greater transparency was illustrated in Illinois in the last decade by dangerous chemical releases at Sterigenics in Willowbrook and Medline Industries in Lake County. Both plants failed to notify the EPA of emissions of toxic ethylene oxide. Sterigenics’ Willowbrook facility now is closed, but the emissions were allowed for years without nearby residents being told.

The Illinois EPA has asked Attorney General Kwame Raoul to “pursue legal action and require Chemtool to immediately stop the release (of pollutants).” But an after-the-fact investigation is only part of what should be done. Stronger environmental oversight is needed to prevent future ecological calamities.


Champaign News-Gazette. June 20, 2021.

Editorial: Pritzker ups the vaccine ante with get-rich-quick pitch

You could be a winner, but don’t hold your breath.

The state of Illinois last week joined a parade of other states offering the possibility of financial rewards to its citizens who have been or will be vaccinated for COVID-19.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine brags that creating a lottery to reward vaccination recipients has led to a 45% increase in vaccination rate. New York, Maryland, California and, soon, others are joining Illinois in emulating the Ohio model.

Statistics, of course, can be misleading. So it would be ill-advised to draw a one-to-one correlation between the lottery and increased vaccination rates. But, like consuming grandma’s chicken soup to cure a cold, the lotteries can’t hurt.

Ohio recently announced its fourth round of winners, and it won’t be long before Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker is making similar announcements here.

The idea is that offering rewards and subsequent news stories about ordinary people claiming those rewards will generate the kind of publicity that will boost vaccination turnout.

There’s no question that the rewards are substantial. Illinois is offering $7 million in prizes and another $3 million in college scholarships in a lottery open to residents who have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. The weekly drawings begin July 8 and will run through most of August.

As for the odds against winning, don’t ask. The state is selling a dream, however elusive it may be.

The money to pay for the winnings comes from federal bailout funds, and why not? Manna from heaven is roughly equivalent to cold hard cash from Washington, D.C. But there’s an earnestness about lotteries like these that raises questions.

The benefits of getting vaccinated are well-known. The vaccines have led to steep declines in case counts, positivity rates and hospitalizations. That’s why life has returned pretty much to normal in Illinois after 15 months of restrictions.

But the risk/reward involving cost still applies. That’s why Ohio’s DeWine spoke foolishly when he defended the expense of his state’s lottery.

“The true waste at this point in the pandemic is for someone to die from COVID,” he said, repeating the vacuous mantra that “if it saves just one life, it’s worth it.”

Actually, costs do matter. Dollars spent on one marginally effective program are dollars that can’t be spent on another program that might produce better results for greater numbers of people. All issues of this nature involve tradeoffs.

Nonetheless, the lottery is on. Maybe it will work as intended. Unfortunately, too many people seem to be avoiding the vaccination for a specific reason. It’s not that they’re not aware of the vaccine option, it’s that they seem to be — for whatever reason — purposely avoiding it.

State statistics show that more than 6.3 million Illinoisans have received at least one dose and 5.9 million are fully vaccinated. But that still leaves millions unvaccinated in Illinois, which has a population of roughly 12.5 million.

Part of the reluctance stems from the notion that some people believe they don’t need to be vaccinated because the pandemic is on the wane in the U.S. The latter’s true, but the virus is still here, and it’s the unvaccinated among us who are ending up in the hospital.

Illinois reported an additional 16 fatalities on Thursday and 13 more on Friday. The state’s coronavirus death total is more than 23,000.

While it may well be that continuing deaths are occurring primarily among older people already in failing health when they contracted the virus or younger people with comorbidities, it remains an issue that ought not be ignored.

The News-Gazette has said it before and, doubtless, will say it again.

Do the smart and relatively simple thing — get the vaccine. Do it for your own sake, not for the sake of a minuscule chance to hit it big.