Editor’s note: This is last in a two-part series about lost and stolen guns in McLean County. Part 1, published Thursday, focused on the precise moments when a legal gun becomes an illegal gun.
Chris Cashen of Bloomington likes to hunt. Primarily pheasant, sometimes deer, duck, and goose. He’s also shot more than his fair share of tin cans for target practice.
Cashen, whose family is from far southern Illinois, is comfortable around guns. But he also respects their power and what those guns can do if they fall into the wrong hands.
“To me, a responsible gun owner is someone who sees the weapon for what it is to others. Not just himself or herself,” said Cashen.
Cashen is one of around 35,000 McLean County residents with their Firearm Owner’s Identification (FOID) card. He spoke earlier this month at a meeting of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense’s McLean County chapter. They wanted to hear from a law-abiding gun owner. That’s Cashen.
He said it’s imperative for gun owners to lock up their guns at home. That’s to keep them away from thieves, but also household members who may be suicidal.
“Guns are stolen every day. Stolen guns are used in crime every day. There are a lot of gun owners who believe that once a gun is in their house, they can pretty much deal with it as they see fit. I don’t have a problem with that in principle. But in actuality, I think people are being irresponsible if they have unsecured weapons. I just do.”
Cashen, a behavioral health professional, said there are many ways to lock up a gun at home while still having it available for self-defense.
“I feel as a responsible citizen and a healthcare professional, that there are ways to have both.”
Nationally, more than 238,000 guns were stolen in 2016, including 4,745 in Illinois, according to government data obtained by The Trace. GLT reported this week that local gun owners are often reckless with storage, making it easy for thieves to steal them from their homes and vehicles.
Illinois has very few laws requiring guns to be locked up. It’s only required if a child under age 14 is nearby.
For those that do secure their guns, experts say there are several good options. Especially for handguns.
Trigger locks are among the most affordable. You can find them for less than $20. They help prevent accidents and mishandling of firearms by locking the triggers.
It’s a good solution if you don’t fear gun theft but are worried about someone in your house—maybe a child—getting their hands on it, said Normal Police Chief Rick Bleichner.
“That doesn’t mean the gun can’t be stolen. Then again, the gun lock prevents it from being used.”
A more expensive option is a quick safe, which can run $200 to $400. Using a biometric finger swipe or a short keycode, a gun owner can access the gun in just a few seconds.
“I don’t think that the one second is going to matter,” said Bloomington Police Department spokesperson John Fermon. “It’s more likely you’re going to have your gun stolen or be injured by an unsecured firearm than the possibility of someone breaking into your home.”
Police recommend against ever leaving a gun in your vehicle when you’re not in it.
But if you do, locking it in your trunk with cables is a good idea, said Richard Pearson, president of the Illinois State Rifle Association. Pearson said he even has a mini-vault in his SUV where he stores his guns while traveling the state for training programs.
“I have safes in my house. I also have hand-safes bolted into the wall, that open when I need them, should I have a break-in of some kind. They’re not cheap but they work well,” he said.
Only 11 states have laws concerning firearm locking devices, and only Massachusetts requires all firearms be stored with a locking device in place when they’re not in use, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. There are no current federal standards for locking devices.
Safe-storage laws are useful in preventing gun theft, and also suicides and mass shootings, said Mark Jones, a former ATF agent who is now senior advisor for the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence (ICHV). He said ICHV is advocating for safe-storage legislation in Springfield next session.
“Every time you read about a kid getting shot on the south and west side (of Chicago) … I hate the thought of over-incarcerating folks. But there’s a whole big gun violence thing that we’ve got to get to. And that’s gonna be a big part of it,” Jones told GLT.
Pearson, with the Illinois State Rifle Association, said gun owners by and large responsibly store their firearms. He said ISRA would oppose any attempt to legally require guns to be locked up.
“Every time the lawmakers try and cook up some scheme, it is so complex that it doesn’t work,” Pearson said. “The law-abiding gun owner is not the problem here. It’s the non-law-abiding gun owner that’s the problem.”
Gun-rights supporters like Pearson can make a lot of noise in Springfield. Hundreds marched on the Capitol last month for the annual Illinois Gun Owner Lobby Day.
“Guns protect people,” said Jerry Ambrose, who participated in Lobby Day. “A gun is an inanimate object; it’s just a tool. You can’t stop anybody from using a tool against ya. Evil’s in the heart. So I need something to defend my family, myself against evil.”
Sheri Strohl of Heyworth thinks safe storage is one of the rare gun-related issues where all sides can find common ground. Strohl is the local leader for the Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense Be SMART initiative. It encourages safe storage to specifically protect children.
“Every child deserves a chance to grow up,” she said.
Strohl said the level of gun violence in the U.S. is unacceptable. So they’re bringing the Be SMART message to presentations and community events.
“If gun owners listen to what it is we’re trying to promote—responsible gun storage—if they understand we’re anti-gun violence, I think there’s common ground. We can work on this together.”
IPR's Jaclyn Driscoll contributed to this report.
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