Chicago/ Politics & Govt
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Published on February 28, 2024
Cook County Sheriff's Billboard Campaign Highlights Underused 'Red Flag' Gun Law to Prevent ViolenceSource: Unsplash/Frankie Lu

In an effort to combat gun violence and enhance public safety, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart has taken to the billboards to inform residents about a relatively unknown Illinois gun law. More than 50 billboards are going up across Cook County with a message highlighting the underutilized Firearm Restraining Order law (FRO), also referred to as the "red flag law." The FRO allows individuals to petition a court to temporarily remove firearms from someone whom they believe poses a threat to themselves or others.

Despite the potential of this law to prevent violence, Sheriff Dart sees its power as not fully realized. "We’re doing everything we can to get the word out to people to say this tool is out there, you can use this," Dart said in a statement obtained by NBC Chicago. With the relatively scant use since the law's passage in 2019, Dart is intensifying efforts to promote awareness of its presence. During 2022, only 112 FROs were filed, an uptick from previous years but still a drop in the ocean considering the scale of gun-related issues facing communities.

The campaign features 30 digital billboards spearheaded by Dart's office with a dual intent: to educate the public on the legal avenues available and to amplify law enforcement's ability to act when danger signals flash red in households across Cook County. According to CBS News, more than a dozen firearm restraining orders have led to the seizure of nearly 100 firearms since 2022 alone.

While the FRO is versatile, domestic violence survivor advocates suggest caution in its application. Amanda Pyron, executive director of The Network Advocating Against Domestic Violence, recommends the use of a one-step method for survivors seeking gun safety. "We recommend they request gun safety and removal through an order of protection," Pyron told NBC Chicago. She highlighted the heightened risks with a gun in domestic violence situations and pointed to pending legislation—Karina's Bill—awaiting a Senate vote that seeks to streamline the process of gun removal in these scenarios.

As Dart's billboard campaign unfurls across the skyline, the intended message is clear: tools exist to avert tragedy before it unfolds, and the Sheriff's office implores the citizenry to be vigilant and proactive. It's an awareness campaign, borne out of frustration but propelled by the belief that even if the law is underused, its impactful potential must not be overlooked or forgotten.