In January, a law called the Firearm Restraining Order (FRO) was passed in Illinois that offers family members and law enforcement a tool for temporarily preventing loved ones in crisis from having access to firearms if they pose a significant risk of harm to themselves or others.
In many high-profile shootings, and many incidents of interpersonal violence and suicides throughout the country, loved ones saw shooters engage in dangerous behaviors and grew concerned about their risk of harming themselves or others– even before any violence occurred.
Why is a FRO needed?
Some individuals in crisis and at risk of harming themselves or others may not be prohibited from purchasing or possessing firearms because:
They haven’t been convicted of a prohibitory crime;
They aren’t subject to a domestic violence restraining order; or
They don’t meet the criteria for an involuntary hospitalization civil commitment for mental health treatment, or, if they do, family members are hesitant to commit their loved ones.
A FRO offers family members and law enforcement a judicial pathway for temporarily removing firearms and prohibiting future gun purchases. While a FRO is in effect, an individual in crisis can safely access help and care that could stop a violent situation from occurring.
Yesterday I spoke to Peter Contos, outreach coordinator at the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence (ICHV), who runs the educational campaign to inform Illinois residents about the new law and empower them to use it.
Peter, who was born and raised in Detroit, moved to Chicago in 2018 and graduated from college last year. He is responsible for creating the new website, "Speak for Safety Illinois," which explains how the law works and how you can use it to protect a loved one and others (bit.ly/2ItUZh4) and a series of materials to help spread the word.
DE: What’s your role at ICHV?
PC: I was brought on to ICHV to lead this campaign. Anything related to FRO lands on me.
DE: How are you/ICHV involved in getting the word out about FRO?
PC: Now that the website, bi-lingual one-pagers, and a template presentation about FRO are available, we're encouraging everyone to share them throughout their personal and professional networks.
I'm focusing on hosting community trainings and discussions about the law. We're partnering with all kinds of community-based organizations throughout the state to talk about the process of obtaining an FRO, and holding open, honest community dialogue about the law and gun violence prevention efforts in our communities. We're encouraging anyone and everyone to host these events.
DE: How did you get involved in gun legislation?
PC: I've been an advocate for many causes throughout my life, primarily in drug policy reform and disability advocacy. My high school was shut down on a number of occasions for active shooter threats, and I've lost friends and neighbors to gun violence, so I was wanted to understand the culture of guns in the U.S.
The first four years I was in Chicago, I worked at a YMCA on the West Side, in a community that is forced to deal with every-day gun violence. Once I developed relationships with students and staff at the Y, I felt I had no choice but to advocate for this cause. It's not just about changing legislation concerning guns, but about investing in schools, small businesses, comprehensive health care services, and other resources that are crucial to the prosperity of communities, and to ensure that everyone is provided an opportunity to succeed throughout their lives.
DE: The FRO law began in January of this year. How many family’s and law enforcement officials have made use of it? Do you think it’s prevented a gun violence incident since it was passed?
PC: The state has yet to publish any data about these orders being issued. The State of Illinois has published ZERO pieces of information about the law since its passage, so ICHV has taken on the heavy lifting of implementing that.
We encourage everyone to call their elected officials, Circuit Courts, and local law enforcement, to ask what about their plans regarding FRO. I have no doubt that if we can spread the word, lives will be saved.
DE: Anything else you’d like to say about who you are, what you do, and your hope for reducing gun violence in our cities, our state, our nation?
PC: At my core, I am someone who strives for change. As someone representing a generation of young people who will be inheriting a world in political, social, environmental, and economic dysfunction, I recognize the challenges that lie in front of us. The status quo doesn't work for us. Regardless of background, we must fight for equity and justice, and to create a planet that will support the prosperity of all life.
We must recognize the intersection of our causes, and work together to bring change.
I know that FRO won't end the every-day gun violence that we experience here in Chicago, but it's an important step towards encouraging proactive gun reform in Illinois, and in the U.S.
If it's implemented effectively, we can become a model for the rest of the country to follow. Implementing FRO well would then also require us to address more systemic issues, including community/police relations, and our legal system's failure to support people who are survivors of domestic violence.
We are in a moment where change is on the horizon, and by recognizing the intersection of gun violence with other issues, we can come together as a nation to change our laws, and our culture.
Learn more about the law.
To organize a presentation or discussion, email Peter.