James Hodgkinson, the man suspected of spraying a Virginia baseball field with bullets, critically wounding Rep. Steve Scalise and four others on Tuesday, had a history of violence and run-ins with police. And yet he still carried a licensed firearm in the state of Illinois, which has some of the toughest gun laws in the nation.
The FBI said in a statement that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms was running a trace on two weapons connected to the shooting — a rifle and a handgun. While authorities have not yet revealed if the weapon Hodgkinson used Tuesday, thought to be an AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle, was licensed, we do know the 66-year-old had a valid firearms identification card issued by the state of Illinois earlier this year.
Hodgkinson, who was killed in the shootout with Capitol Police Tuesday, had an encounter with local law enforcement in St. Clair County on a gun complaint just a few months ago.
A couple called the police on Hodgkinson in March after hearing about 50 gunshots in the woods near their residence. Deputies from the St. Clair County Sheriff Department responded to the scene and found Hodgkinson with a hunting rifle and his valid firearms identification card.
In St. Clair County, possessing a gun and shooting it safely is not illegal. “Since there was no illegal activity, the deputies left at that time,” Capt. Bruce W. Fleshren, Chief of Investigations at St. Clair County Sheriff’s Department, told VICE News.
“Illinois has some of the stronger gun laws in the country, but there are a lot of large loopholes,” said Lindsay Nichols, federal policy director at the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. “Illinois gives law enforcement the authority to prevent access to guns to dangerous people, but there are questions about whether those laws are strong enough.”
Illinois is one of the few states that requires aspiring gun-owners to obtain a firearm license for both handguns and rifles. Applying for those licenses entails criminal and mental health background checks. Fleshren could not say how long Hodgkinson had owned a firearm license.
Colleen Daley, executive director of the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence, says she thinks Illinois’ current gun law system is working — the problem is the surrounding states that don’t have the same stringent requirements.
“In Illinois, if you go to buy a gun in the gun store, you have to present your gun card,” Daley said. “If you’re going to sell me a gun, you’d have to take my FOID card and call the state police to make sure it’s valid.”
But, Daley said, that doesn’t mean people don’t slip through the system from time to time.
Even before the March incident, Hodgkinson had a history of violent behavior.
In 2006, he barged into a neighbor’s home looking for his daughter, who had received permission to stay there while the neighbor was abroad, according to police reports. Hodgkinson used “bodily force to damage” a door upstairs.
When his daughter refused to leave, he “became violent” and grabbed her by the hair, according to police records. When his daughter and the neighbor tried to escape in a car, Hodgkinson opened the passenger door and cut his daughter’s seat belt with a pocketknife. He also reportedly punched the neighbor, who was in the driver’s seat, in the face.
Hodgkinson’s also wife joined him in his efforts to pull their daughter out of the car.
Later on, Joel Fernandez, the neighbor’s boyfriend, went to Hodgkinson’s home to confront him about the incident. He told police that when he arrived on his property, Hodgkinson “walked outside with a shotgun and aimed it at Fernandez face.” Fernandez said he tried to run away, at which point Hodgkinson hit him on the side of the face with the wooden stock of the firearm. Fernandez said that, as he was leaving, Hodgkinson fired one round.
Hodgkinson and his wife were later arrested and charged with aggravated discharge of a firearm and domestic battery, according to records obtained by VICE News. Online records indicate that the charges were ultimately dropped.