“We’re from the government and we’re here to help.” Those words should strike fear into the heart of Americans from coast to coast. Too often government “protects and serves” the little people – good and hard. Take the case of an American veteran, a single woman living in Springfield, IL. Last September, she called police to report a prowler. Cops didn’t find a prowler, but they did confiscate her handgun and peace of mind. For months she suffered restless nights as they refused to return it.
Here’s her story.
Meet Rena Rojas, an American veteran.
Imagine you’re a senior citizen, living as a single woman in a not-so-great neighborhood in Illinois’ capital city. You’re in the bathroom doing your business and you hear someone trying to break a kitchen window to force entry. You holler at them to go away and call 911. You ask for police to investigate a potential prowler trying to break into your home.
You’re eternally grateful when Springfield’s boys and girls in blue show up after just a few minutes. They look around and find no evidence of the potential home intruder. After chatting with the somewhat helpful officers for a few minutes, thanking them for riding to the rescue, they ask if you’ve got a gun. You answer in the affirmative, thinking you’ve got nothing to hide. After all, you’re familiar with firearms from your time serving your nation in the armed forces in your youth.
The only problem is your FOID expired recently and you didn’t know it. Those same Springfield police officers take your Smith & Wesson pistol, the loaded magazines and your holster. “Get your FOID renewed and then you can come get it back.”
Well, fast forward a couple of months. Rena Rojas now has a freshly-printed and valid Firearms Owner ID card. She tries to call Springfield PD to pick up her gun. The PD gives her the runaround and tells her to call the State’s Attorney’s office.
She does, and at first she couldn’t even get anyone to talk with her about the case. They seem utterly disinterested in helping her. Finally, after a couple of calls, someone takes a message for Sangamon County State’s Attorney Dan Wright.
But Dan doesn’t call back.
Wanting her gun returned and peace of mind restored, Ms. Rojas calls and calls. And calls. For weeks she called and left messages when nobody would return her messages about when she could get her gun back. The best she gets from staffers is that “it’s on his desk” referring to Mr. Wright.
Then, on February 22 she called Guns Save Life pleading for help. I get a lot of calls and emails from people asking for help. Some won’t provide details or their stories defy common sense. Others want us to pay for their attorneys. (As non-members, LOL!)
Rena gave us the details, sounded very humble and credible… and she provided her new FOID card which the ISP verified as valid. Given the facts of the case and supporting documentation, we were appalled.
Welcome to government at its finest: call the police on a prowler call as a senior citizen living alone and they come and take your gun (and your peace of mind) away before they go. Then they won’t give it back.
So I called the Sangamon County State’s Attorney’s office. I identified myself as the Executive Director of Guns Save Life. I gave the woman the case number and circumstances of the case and said that our organization had taken an interest in the case. Then I asked if I could have an email address for the State’s Attorney to send a formal, written query.
In fairness, the woman was caught off guard by the nature of the call. At first she resisted providing an email address while sounding about as interested in dealing with me and fulfilling my request as my four-year-olds seem eager to pick up their toys and come inside after playing outdoors. Then she put me on hold about ninety seconds, only to return and give me a “firstname.lastname@example.org” email address.
So I emailed the Sangamon County State’s Attorney’s office the following at the warrant.warrant address.
Greetings Mr. Wright & Sangamon County SA staff:My name is John Boch and I’m the Executive Director of Guns Save Life.Recently we were contacted by a Rena Rojas (DOB XX -XX-61) about a Smith & Wesson pistol seized last year by Springfield PD after she called [SPD] to a prowler call.I believe the file number was S22-85922.We’ve taken an interest in this case.She acknowledged to me that she didn’t realize at the time that her FOID was expired. She tells me that she now has a valid FOID card.Supposedly the return of her firearm is being delayed, awaiting Mr. Wright’s action on the case.At first blush, Ms. Rojas case certainly has a rich potential for mass appeal as a story of the government making matters worse for a little person. A single, female senior citizen – a veteran who served her country at that – living in a not-so-great part of town who calls police to a prowler. The police come, check out the prowler call, then take her only effective means of self-defense before they go.If this case is as it seems – and I’ll freely admit I’ve only got her half of the story but she does seem very credible – this seems like a no-brainer for you and your office to make this potential embarrassment go away by returning her gun.Heck, a few keystrokes and you could determine if she indeed does have a valid FOID card and if so, real customer service would be to have an officer deliver her firearm, magazines and holster in a box to her. They took it. They should return it. A bow on top might be a little over the top, but you get the idea.I’ve got plenty of work dealing with legal challenges to the new Illinois Firearms Ban Act and other things, so this story could fall off my desk (or simply get lost) pretty easily if Ms. Rojas got her gun back soon.Of course, you could charge her for the expired FOID but that would guarantee we would go public on it and try this in the court of public opinion both locally and nationally…Thanks in advance for your attention to this. Let’s give this woman back her peace of mind…Sincerely,John Boch
Would it surprise you that I didn’t hear anything? And neither did Rena.
Dan Wright’s probably a very busy guy. We admit that Springfield has no shortage of serious crime.
Does he have time to make things right for one of the little people in Springfield? One of the city’s law-abiding residents, a veteran who served her nation, who needs help? Apparently not.
But rest assured Dan Wright has plenty of time for go see Ben Crump, the go-to lawyer for the families of black people killed by the police (or others like Ahmaud Arbery).
So I emailed Dan Wright directly (I got his email from unrelated court filings), asking for comment. I emailed him at about 10pm on February 27th asking for a comment. In that second email, I copied the original email and asked if he would like to comment as I was writing the story. I even offered to change the tenor of the story to one of “a happy ending” by reporting that Rojas would get her gun back.
Once more, he did not respond.
So I finished the story. It looked pretty much what you’ve read above and submitted it to my editor at The Truth About Guns which is my primary “job.” (You know, a person who has a dream job that they love is a very lucky person… I have two dream jobs that I love… I know I’m a blessed.)
My editor, just like GSL’s leadership, was equally appalled. He cleared a spot and ran the story Wednesday at 3pm at The Truth About Guns.
Less than two hours later, guess who called Ms. Rena Rojas? None other than Sangamon County State’s Attorney Dan Wright.
Rena called me as soon as she hung up with Mr. Wright. She related to me that Mr. Wright didn’t apologize for slow-walking the return of her gun. He did say it was a complicated process to return her gun but that he would work to expedite the process. Rena related that Mr. Wright said to expect another call soon with a time and location where she could retrieve her gun.
Even before that though Guns Save Life leadership had planned on taking care of Ms. Rojas. If she didn’t have her gun back by this coming Monday evening (March 6th at SCHEELS in Springfield), we planned on furnishing her a loaner gun to defend her home and to give her the peace of mind Springfield PD took from her – and that same peace of mind that Dan Wright wouldn’t return to her.
As for the Truth About Guns, the story introduced Mr. Dan Wright to much of the nation. It was the second-biggest story on Thursday (behind a story about the new S&W Pistol Carbine), but given that it didn’t go live until mid-afternoon, that’s still impressive. On Friday, March 2nd, it was the top story of the day. And given that The Truth About Guns has approximately the same readership as Gun & Ammo every three or four days, a lot of people read the story.
Join us at the Monday night GSL meeting and SCHEELS to see the outcome of this case. There’s a surprise or two left. And you can meet Rena Rojas in person. We’re looking forward to it and you should too.
Early Friday afternoon, Rena Rojas picked up her pistol.
A day earlier, I got an email from Mr. Wright. He’s since not only given me permission to reprint it, but in fact asked that I do so. So here it is.
I genuinely appreciate your emails of February 27 at 10:36 p.m. and this afternoon at 4:12 p.m.
I have been in court and meetings most of the day yesterday and today in preparation for several upcoming homicide trials. In fact, I am still at the office continuing that work for the People of Sangamon County. I don’t deserve a pat on the back, it’s a job I love, and it’s an honor to serve. But in the midst of work and family obligations since 10:36 p.m. on 2/27, I wasn’t immediately able to get to your initial email. I’m no math whiz, but can’t seem to square the time period since your e-mail at 10:36 p.m. on 2/27 with the statement in your article that I haven’t responded to you for “72+ hours”. An odd fact to fabricate. Your 2/27 e-mail referred me to the general telephone number for the Sangamon County State’s Attorney’s Office as a method to reach a citizen whose firearm was taken into evidence by the Springfield Police Department due to her then invalid FOID status. I was able to locate her telephone number elsewhere and personally spoke with her earlier today. I explained that, while she will not be charged with any crime and is entitled to return of her property as soon as possible given her newly activated FOID status, the relevant police report states that her FOID privileges were on “revoked” status when the firearm was taken into evidence by the Springfield Police Department. This was not an accurate statement of her FOID status at that time (it was actually just expired, according to ISP records), but the information in the report required my office to conduct additional background investigation to gather the facts and ensure release of the firearm was appropriate. As you might imagine, there are a number of reasons possession of a firearm with a revoked FOID is unlawful and would raise legitimate public safety concerns. I took the time today to consult with my investigator, conduct further review of the original police report, and examine the relevant ISP Firearms Services Bureau Certified Abstract which was requested and received from ISP. As prosecutors, we are required to get it right in the interest of public safety, without fear or favor. Having confirmed her currently valid FOID status and that her FOID card was not in fact “revoked” at the time the firearm was taken into evidence by SPD, I thoroughly explained the process and assured her that I will do everything within my power to make sure she is reunited with her property as soon as possible.
When I read your piece published today on Thetruthaboutguns.com, I was disappointed to see that it was replete with misstatements and misinformation lacking basic due diligence to get the facts correct when writing about such an important issue. Instead, you chose to pull unrelated pictures from the internet, poke fun at the dedicated men and women of the Springfield Police Department, and engage in speculation and conjecture unsupported by the facts. Your readers, our community, and the membership of GSL deserve better. If nothing else, we can agree that the right to bear arms is sacred and you can’t always believe what you read on the internet.
Your online article states, “[a]t first blush, [this] case certainly has a rich potential for mass appeal as a story of the government making matters worse for a little person.” Your misguided zeal to write a story with the “potential for mass appeal” resulted in a product that is, at best, misinformed and misleading. You represent an organization widely known for steadfast defense of a sacred constitutional right, but your conduct here falls far short of that reputation. Despite this unfortunate and entirely avoidable lack of due diligence by an individual member of GSL, I have no less respect for the organization as a whole.
As you can imagine, I get the periodic communication from well-intentioned and passionate folks who just don’t have the facts straight about a matter related to the criminal justice system. I am usually able to reason with people who are willing to be objective and reserve judgment until they have all relevant information. We don’t always agree, but at least they know I have been a straight shooter and heard them out. I regret you didn’t give me a reasonable opportunity to have that conversation. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt you were unwilling to give me and assume you let passion for a righteous cause and thirst for an attention-grabbing headline get in the way of due diligence and professionalism. I’m sure you are not a bad guy. I hope we can put this behind us and you will invite me to a GSL meeting along with Senator Steve McClure to talk about real issues affecting public safety in the State of Illinois. Perhaps we could bring some of the men and women from the Springfield Police Department who recovered a record number of illegal guns off of the streets of Springfield last year and are well on their way again this year. They will gladly answer the question posed in your article under a picture of multiple illegal guns recovered by SPD asking “How many of these confiscated firearms were taken from FOID holders whose FOID recently expired?”. These are fiercely dedicated men and women of local law enforcement who kiss their families every night unsure of whether they will return home after their next shift. We could also discuss my own efforts to defend our Constitution against state government overreach at the expense of taxpayers and public safety. I could even take that opportunity to explain the context for the photo I was honored to take with Attorney Ben Crump at the Springfield NAACP’s annual banquet and our common efforts to seek justice following the tragic death of Earl Moore, Jr. here in Springfield. It was odd that you found it appropriate to include in your story an entirely unrelated picture of me and a prominent civil rights figure at a local community event on a Sunday afternoon, without context, to suggest I am somehow derelict in my sworn duties to serve the People of Sangamon County. I could, as you did, assume the worst without the facts.
My team and I fight every day to hold offenders accountable for violent crime and violation of existing gun laws. I believe my record in the State’s Attorney’s Office speaks for itself and remain deeply committed to serving the People of Sangamon County.
Do the right thing and post an immediate correction to your article. Give your readers the benefit of the facts and my complete response. It should, at a minimum, include a sincere apology to the honorable men and women of law enforcement you so cavalierly disparaged in a blog post detached from the facts, anchored in hyperbole, and plagued with baseless attacks upon dedicated public servants working tirelessly to keep our community safe.
Have a good evening.
Daniel K. Wright
Sangamon County State’s Attorney
I’ll freely admit that as busy as it’s been the last few weeks, I lost track of time. I thought it had been two weeks in the original story since the first email. In reality it was Feb. 22nd – about a week or so. And the second email to him wasn’t 72 hours earlier as originally written, but more like 40 – or two hours shy of two full business days before the TTAG story went live (a day sooner than I expected it to go live, in fact.) For that, I’m sorry for the temporal mistakes.
As for the tone and tenor of the story? Here’s my emailed reply to Mr. Wright send Friday morning:
I have a full plate and then some this morning, so here’s a reply from a cursory read of your email. As a courtesy, I’ve bolded the really salient points.You were given an opportunity to respond in the Feb. 22 email. I suspect your staff blew it off. Obviously it’s not fair to expect that you would read all of your warrant.warrant emails, but clearly your staff didn’t give a flying you-know-what about this “nobody.” One of your assistants could have run her FOID, found it valid once more, and ordered her property returned. I don’t know if this is an anti-gun culture in your office, laziness, or fear of taking initiative to do the right thing, but clearly your underlings aren’t performing above the barest of expectations. Unless the expectation is “we don’t return guns, period” in which case they’ve earned an “A.”
To hear Ms. Rojas explain it, she tried contacting your office for a resolution for many weeks – ahead of her calling me. And nobody called her back. If the disinterested runaround I personally received was any indicator of what she got, then I cannot imagine the feelings of despair, helplessness and frustration felt by a senior citizen stripped of her gun and peace of mind by some overzealous Springfield PD officers. You have no idea how many sleepless nights she endured because of the SPD and your office slow-walking the return of her gun and peace of mind. Thank God she wasn’t attacked during this time.I know SPD has some good cops. I have a cousin who served a career with the department and I’ve met other high-quality people there, current and retired. Heck, one of SPD’s retired detectives served as our treasurer! I also know they have some screw ups, both people and actions now and then. Thankfully those are few and far between. However, the officers on scene that day chose to take this woman’s gun. And maybe they pencil whipped that she was having some mental issues (yeah, I heard about that baseless allegation) to cover their own butts for their subpar exercise of discretion that day. Either way, they deserve to bask in the glow of publicity for their actions that day. They effed up. And then your office did nothing on this until a couple of hours after the story ran.I wrote the story as I had it. I expected the story to run today. I didn’t expect my editor to displace another post to run this yesterday afternoon. That seldom happens at TTAG outside of breaking news. Clearly it resonated with him as it did with me. Just as it has with GSL’s leadership – and membership after I discussed it to 130 people at our Decatur meeting last night. Hence the 48 hours vs. 72 hours on the email direct to you. You should hope and pray FoxNews doesn’t pick it up.Here’s what I’ll do. I’ll tweak the story before turning it live on GunsSaveLife.com later today to reflect some of the points you’ve made, along with neutral excerpts of your email. While I suppose I could publish it in its entirety as you’re a public official, to be fair that doesn’t seem right as I don’t have permission to do so. Frankly I didn’t expect a response and I owe it to our readers to report it based upon the information I have. As time permits today, I’ll make some clarifications to the TTAG story currently published and email you once those changes have been made.I’ll explain your side further in the follow up story (that my TTAG editor has asked for) I’ll write when Rena gets her gun back. Furthermore/hint: If you want to have SPD deliver it and have someone take a picture of an officer presenting her the gun (or a box with the gun inside, no need to show the gun), I’ll run it as the feature photo of the follow-up story lauding you for your action to expedite the gun’s return. And I’ll heap praise on the true customer service / protect and serve actions by SPD. This is a chance for you and SPD to help ameliorate this national PR debacle for both of you.For now at least, from talking with Rena, it sounds as though SPD and your office have made a lasting impression. I doubt she ever again calls 911 for a prowler. Or anything else except maybe a dead perp on the floor of her kitchen.And after Monday, she’ll have the best legal counsel money can buy – and for them to tell your investigators in great detail why she didn’t call 911 sooner.Yes, we would absolutely welcome you at our GSL meetings. Rena will be at our meeting Monday night. While our audience is usually very well behaved and courteous to all, I cannot guarantee you would not be gently heckled if you chose to tell your side of this saga after she speaks. If you would like to come out in April or a later “first Monday” (holiday excepted) meeting at SCHEELS, we would cordially welcome you and make time for you to talk – about this case and/or about your role as SA. If we know ahead of time, I will make sure our Regional Coordinator sets aside time for you and your officers to talk about their work to get genuine bad guy guns off the street. Obviously this case is a prime example of why officers confiscating guns is a very touchy subject, but if you brought officers and maybe some samples of bad guy confiscations and the stories behind them, those would probably go over very well. Snatching up guns from law-abiding residents (including veterans who honorably served their country) over a just-expired FOID card? Yeah, that wouldn’t go over well at all.I’ve CC’d our President, Immediate Past President and VP on this as they are my bosses. And the Sangamon County Regional Director so he’s not blindsided.I’ve got to run for now though. All the best.John
Rena did get her gun back Friday. She’s said she will be at the Sangamon County GSL meeting Monday night at SCHEELS. You can meet her and she’ll share her story, which has gone from anxiety and sleepless nights to peace-of-mind and feeling safe in her own home once more thanks to either a divine coincidence, or Mr. Wright’s feet being held to the fire. Either way, we’ll call it a win for the little gal.
We’ve already run her FOID card for a firearm transfer approval, so that’s a hint on what she might receive Monday night from the GSL family. We’ve also got something else for her that she’s really going to appreciate, but hopefully will never need to use.
Come on out to see what that might be.
Thanks for reading and thanks for being a member of GSL. Please share this story with your friends and family and on social media.