ST. CLAIR COUNTY, Ill. (KSDK) - A recent law in Illinois requires prosecutors and judges to report mentally ill people to the State Police Gun Bureau so they can't get a gun license.
The St. Clair County State's Attorney said a new process is in the works in Illinois to do mandatory checks on people declared mentally ill by the courts. None of that was on the books when the State's Attorney and his team had an idea to look for people who could be considered ticking time bombs in their corner of Illinois.
They thought about what they could do as they watched young children and their parents hug and cry outside of Sandy Hook Elementary. A mentally ill shooter killed 20 children and 6 teachers this past December.
The prosecutors decided to go back through thousands of old cases, going back to 2000, of people who were declared "mentally defective" by the courts.
"Those people should not have a weapon for legal reasons, "State's Attorney Brendan Kelly said.
Kelly found several Saint Louis University students to look through the old cases. They found at least 100 people who were legally mentally ill, but some of them had legal licenses to own guns. He reported them to the State Police Firearm Services Bureau.
"It had been optional so many of them had not been reported," he said.
Kelly asked his chief judge to sign off on the project, then he got his county sheriff involved. He gave the addresses of mentally ill people to deputies and asked them to knock on their doors. They were looking for their guns.
"They have found people who don't have a FOID (firearm owner's identification) card didn't have the authority to own a weapon, but they did have weapons and those weapons were retrieved," Kelly said.
Deputies also found five mentally ill people who did have a valid license to have a gun. Deputies took those guns.
The law in Illinois didn't require Kelly or the sheriff to do the gun checks. Kelly believes the mass shootings could happen anywhere.
"We ask ourselves, what did we miss? What did we miss? And there's always something that was missed," he said.
He and his team didn't want to miss a Sandy Hook, an Aurora, Colo., a Columbine or a Navy Yard mass shooting.
"We have some potential time bombs in our community. We have mentally ill people coming through the court system all the time so we have some ability to intervene," he said.
He knows he can't stop mentally ill people from getting guns illegally online, but he may have stopped a criminal in one of his old cases from becoming a mass shooter in this community.
He's not done looking through old cases. He's hoping to go back even further than 2000 to look for more mentally ill people who may still have guns.