I call this kind of story a "head scratcher."
When you're done watching it, my hope is you'll be scratching your noggin' and wondering how the heck this stuff is allowed to happen.
Here's what we discovered...
It's a federal crime for a convicted felon to posses a firearm -- or simply hold a round of ammunition. The feds don't take this kind of thing lightly, either. Entire sections of the U.S. Attorney's office in Illinois and Missouri are dedicated to rooting out and prosecuting felons who have guns.
Yet both Illinois and Missouri sell firearm hunting permits to convicted felons.
This story began as a pretty good sized research project.
We obtained databases of firearm hunting permit sales from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and the Missouri Department of Conservation -- the agencies which regulate hunting in their respective states.
We then got a database of felony convictions from the Illinois and Missouri corrections departments.
Thanks to some fancy computer work by our friends at the National Institute for Computer Assisted Reporting, we cross-referenced the databases in search of felons who bought gun hunting permits.
In Missouri, almost 3,000 convicted felons bought 2006 firearm hunting permits. For Illinois, the number for was impossible to pin down. Illinois DNR refused to give us dates of birth for its permit purchasers, so we could not do a simple database match to determine a total. What we could do was spend hours and hours cross-checking names and addresses until we were convinced Illinois had the same problem as Missouri.
Once we had our results, a story was born.
The States React
In Illinois, the Department of Natural Resources is regulated by the general assembly and the laws it passes. So we took our research to Illinois State Senator John Jones, R-Mt. Vernon.
Jones sits on a committee which has legislative oversight of the DNR and has promised to introduce legislation to close the hunting felon loophole.
The situation in Missouri is a little more complicated.
While the conservation department is a state agency, it's not regulated by the general assembly. A four person conservation board governs the department independent from the rest of the state.
Because of this, there is no quick legislative fix to Missouri's loophole
And there's another complication.
Missouri firearm hunting permits allow felons to hunt in two legal methods -- with a bow and arrow or a black powder weapon. So not every felon who buys a firearm hunting permit is breaking the law and hunting with a rifle.
Law enforcement types admit some felons do use this loophole as an opportunity to break the law and hunt illegally, but weeding out the criminal hunters from the legal ones would require a re-working of Missouri's entire permit system.
Based on my conversation with deputy director Denise Brown, that's not something conservation is terribly interested in doing.
If this is something you think Missouri should re-consider, let them know.
You can send a message to the conservation department here.
Or you can write State Representative Bruce Darrough here.