Illinois gun laws, and a troubling loophole

Prosecutors say Michael Arquero was acting in self-defense when he fired back at a drive-by shooter last month outside a taco stand in Humboldt Park. He will not face charges related to the car driver's death. "I would consider him a good guy with a gun," one of his friends told the Tribune. "There's the bad guys with guns, and he's a good guy with a gun."

We don't know if Arquero is a good guy with a gun or a bad guy with a gun, but this much we know: He should not have had a gun in the first place. He is a convicted felon, and felons aren't allowed to buy or possess a gun in Illinois. So how did he get one?

The emergency medical technician has changed his identity at least twice since 2001. Born in New Jersey with the name Larry Myers, he presented himself to authorities as Michael Trivasano during a series of arrests between 2001 and 2002 — a sequence that ended with a five-year prison term for attempted murder.

Once out of prison, he legally changed his name from Larry Myers to Michael Arquero and began a new life. He married, started a family, got his EMT license — and obtained a firearm owners identification card and later a concealed carry permit, all as Michael Arquero.

Arquero is now charged with unlawful use of a weapon by a felon. A simple fingerprint check would have revealed that he was a felon — albeit one known as Michael Trivasano — and disqualified him from owning a gun. But in Illinois, fingerprinting is not part of the background check required to get a firearm owners identification card or a concealed carry permit. Someone who wants a concealed carry permit has the option of supplying fingerprints to expedite the permit process.

Fingerprint checks should be mandatory in vetting applicants for FOID cards and concealed carry permits. The reason is simple. It's too easy to skirt the law by giving a false identity.

Every state allows concealed carry, though in a handful of states, authorities have discretion to reject someone's permit application even if he or she meets all legal requirements. Many states require fingerprint checks for concealed carry permits. Illinois was the last state to put concealed carry on its books — in 2013.

Lawmakers could have incorporated fingerprint checks into the language of the concealed carry bill when it passed in Springfield, but they didn't. They reasoned that someone with a criminal background wasn't likely to apply for an FOID card or a concealed carry permit anyway. A felon will simply get a gun illegally, they shrugged.

Michael Arquero proved them wrong. It was alarmingly easy for him to defeat the supposed safeguards by misrepresenting his identity and his background. It wasn't until he was arrested again that his fingerprints were discovered to match those of the felon known to the Illinois Department of Corrections as Michael Trivasano.

His case suggests problems beyond the process of getting an FOID card or a concealed carry permit — how did authorities not detect that Trivasano was an alias? — but it also exposes a glaring loophole that can and should be closed by requiring fingerprints.

There's no way of knowing how many felons have exploited this loophole. It doesn't matter. Requiring citizens to be fingerprinted in order to own a gun doesn't strike us as onerous. Criminal background checks are far more reliable when backed up by fingerprints.

Was Arquero a "good guy with a gun," a guy who had turned his life around? That doesn't matter either. By committing a felony, he'd forfeited the right to carry a firearm under state law. The reason for that should be obvious to all.

We're all for measures that help ex-felons become productive citizens once they've done their time. That includes loosening restrictions, where appropriate, that limit where they can live or work. Or allowing them to become licensed — to work as a barber or roofer, for example — as long as their crime wasn't related to that activity. Or making it easier for them to expunge their records if a charge doesn't stand up.

But owning a gun? No.

The Tribune's story about this case does more than tell Arquero's strange tale. It signals the need for a change to FOID and concealed carry permit laws. Felons can change their identities but can't change their fingerprints. The state has those prints, and it would take only the click of a mouse to summon them.

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