Oak Park, La Grange police vetting gun permits

Police chiefs in Oak Park and La Grange said their departments have carefully vetted dozens of local concealed-carry permit applications, as the first round of state permits hits mailboxes this week.

Eighty-nine Oak Park residents and 75 La Grange residents applied for concealed carry permits as of Feb. 25, according to Illinois State Police. Statewide, about 50,000 people have applied since January. About 5,000 security guards, firearms trainers and others who paid extra to get permits early are expected to start receiving them this week, Illinois State Police officials said.

Under the new law, the state checks applicants’ backgrounds before approving permits. The law also gives local police departments discretion to file objections to individual applications up to 30 days after they are filed. Neither the Oak Park nor the La Grange departments have objected to any applications so far, police chiefs said.

The state bars anyone with three gang-related arrests or five other arrests in the last 7 years from getting permits. Applicants also must meet certain requirements regarding past drug and alcohol convictions, and must meet the criteria to obtain a Firearm Owners Identification Card. Applicants are fingerprinted and are required to take a 16-hour training course.

The objection process for local departments allows police to screen applicants based on behavior that might have raised concerns but did not rise to the level of criminal charges, Oak Park Police Chief Rick Tanksley said in an email.

“Generally, we are screening for applicants that have demonstrated a pattern of behavior that indicates that they may be a danger to themselves or others,” Tanksley said.

Police investigators in La Grange have been looking for familiar names among the applicant list, including people who have made gun-related threats in the past, La Grange Police Chief Michael Holub said.

So far, no such names have appeared on the list, Holub said. He said he doesn’t expect the new law to increase any gun-related confrontations, adding he is more concerned about people carrying weapons illegally.

“Quite frankly, I don’t anticipate those kinds of issues because the people who have concealed carry are probably not the ones who will be causing us trouble,” he said.

Both the Oak Park and La Grange police departments have been training officers for the new law, and have been advising local businesses, schools and other institutions of its specifics, police officials said. The law allows concealed weapons in some public spaces and in businesses that don’t post signs banning them. Concealed guns are banned in government buildings, schools, public parks, hospitals and some other places outlined in the law.

Procedures for transporting armed people to hospitals will not change much with the new law, La Grange Fire Department Chief Bill Bryzgalski said. The fire department oversees emergency medical services.

“In reality, we’ve been working with this for many years,” Bryzgalski said. “We have to be cautious, but it’s the same as pulling up on any other scene. We have to make sure the scene is secure.”

Ambulances are gun-free zones under the law in the same way most public buildings are, he said. When police are present at the scene of an emergency, they will take custody of weapons, Bryzgalski said. If police are not on the scene, the ambulances have been outfitted with lockboxes to hold the weapons until police can take them, he said.

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Illinois’ 1st concealed carry permits go in the mail

If you’re out at dinner next week, the person at the table next to you just might have a gun tucked under his or her coat. And it would be perfectly legal.

On Friday, Illinois State Police officials said they had approved 5,000 concealed carry applications. The new licenses are expected to arrive in mailboxes next week and upon receipt will allow bearers to carry guns in public.

The first round of licenses was approved weeks ahead of schedule, but those licenses represent only a fraction of the 50,000 applications state police have received since opening the process to the public in January. Officials had 90 days to process the applications, so many didn’t expect the licenses to start going out until April.

“A lot of people thought the state police was dragging their feet, but they really did a great job rolling this program out,” said state Rep. Brandon Phelps, D-Harrisburg, one of the sponsors of the concealed carry law approved by the General Assembly last summer.

The first round of licenses is being sent to security guards, firearms trainers and other residents who paid extra to be fingerprinted so they could move to the head of the line.

Valinda Rowe, spokeswoman for IllinoisCarry.com, a plaintiff in the lawsuit that forced Illinois to join all other states in allowing residents to carry firearms in public, said once people who are apprehensive about the new law get over their initial fears, life will go on as usual.

People with licenses to carry guns figure to be the ones whose lives change more, Rowe said.

“At first people will be excited,” she said of those getting licenses. “And the next moment, they will think, ‘What a responsibility.’ The excitement that we finally got it done will wane, and people will be taking their responsibility very seriously. You have to keep your mind on making sure you’re following the law and being sure you’re being safe.”

Gun carriers might initially feel a little “self-conscious,” but likely no one will know they are carrying a concealed firearm, Rowe said.

On the other side of the issue, Mark Walsh, campaign director for the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence, said he is not sure people will ever be comfortable with the idea of concealed carry.

“This is going to be a strange situation for people in Illinois because guns will be legal in public places, and we always thought that was bad public policy,” Walsh said. “Illinois has some of the strongest training requirements in the country, so hopefully we won’t see incidents of accidental shootings, guns being used in anger and other problems we have seen in other places.”

Of the 50,000 applications received, 300 were denied, said state police Col. Marc Maton, who heads the administrative process for the agency. An additional 800 were opposed by law enforcement officials and are still under review by an advisory board Gov. Pat Quinn appointed to review all rejected applications before making a final decision.

The approval process has been criticized by some law enforcement officials who say it will allow some violent people, including domestic abusers and those involved in gang crimes, to end up with a license to carry.

But Robinzina Bryant, chairwoman of the Concealed Carry Licensing Review Board, said the board considers each case individually.

“The board investigates those cases. We request additional information and look at the circumstances as a whole,” she said.

State police spokeswoman Monique Bond said the agency is confident that the approval process works as it should.

“We feel confident that the ISP has implemented the process with multiple layers of review that thoroughly review an applicant’s criminal history for the (prohibited violations) listed within the act,” Bond said in an email. “It is exactly how the legislature envisioned the process to work, collective law enforcement input with multiple reviews.”

She said the agency is still sorting out the logistics for applicants who are unable to apply for a license online. She said police are on track for taking paper applications by July 1.

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Five things you should know about Concealed Carry Act

The signs are everywhere.

The Firearms Concealed Carry Act is making its presence felt, meaning people with special permts are allowed to carry a concealed weapon in specially-designated areas.

But what does this mean for Illinois residents as a whole?

1. Permit application numbers are high

What has higher numbers: concealed-carry permits or healthcare enrollment?

According to the Chicago Tribune, about 61,000 people in Illinois signed up for new healthcare insurance plans since enrollment started in October through December. While the Illinois State police released that 23,000 people have signed up for a concealed-carry license within the first week applications became available. The number of carry permits has outpaced the number of people seeking health insurance.

Also, concealed-carry class enrollment remains strong, said Kemp Smith, a concealed-carry permit holder in 47 states, soon to be 48, and certified instructor. Smith said many instructors have full classes and are opening more and expect the numbers to stay high through the summer.

2. There are places people cannot carry

Walking through schools lately, someone might start humming the chorus from the 1970s hit “Signs” by Five Man Electrical Band. Throughout schools and other public areas “guns prohibited” signs are hanging from doors and windows.

La Salle–Peru Township High School’s board made a statement last week by adopting school policy which denied permission to carry a concealed weapon on school property. This means only an exempt group, like law enforcement, would be able to remove and carry a gun out of their vehicle. The motion is only a formality since this exemption is already in the law itself.

“There are a lot of restrictions on where people can carry guns,” Smith said.

Permit holders will not be able to carry their weapon into several public locations, including schools, government buildings, healthcare facilities, airports, sports stadiums, playgrounds andplaces which serve alcoholic beverages.

Local businesses and residents also retain the right to prohibit the carrying of a concealed weapon on private property through the use of the same sign. The free signs can be downloaded off the Illinois State Police website, ccl4illinois.com/ccw, and clicking on the sign information tab on the left. Many police stations also offer the signs.

Smith also suggested permit holders go to the state police website and print off the list of where they cannot carry a gun and keep it with them at all times. He added that just by putting a “guns prohibited” sign up will not keep a store free from gun violence since criminals will not care about the sign.

“I’m not a bad guy,” Smith said. “If I carry a gun into your store, I’m not going to do anything bad with it anyway.”

He added criminals would not be allowed to purchase a gun or apply for a permit.

Peru police chief Doug Bernabei said some local and corporate stores will place the signs f­or liability and company policy reasons, but some might do it out of “fear of the unknown.”

“Over time I feel that fear will be alleviated,” said Bernabei adding that restrictions should continue to remain at public areas like schools and government buildings.

3. Permit holders are limited

Don’t worry. The Illinois streets will not revert to the “old west.”

“It’s not the OK Corral and there aren’t going to be gun fights in the streets,” Smith said.

Smith said a concealed-carry permit holder cannot do much with their gun.

“The joke is they can only carry a gun standing in the middle of a cornfield 20 miles away from the nearest town,” said Smith. “And that’s not far from the truth.”­

The truth is that even though there are thousands of new permit holders, seeing a gun will be a rare thing. Why? The answer is in the name of the act: concealed. The weapon cannot be in the open and if it is the gun wearer will be picked up by the police for violating the law, said Bernabei. He added not to approach a person in violation of the law, but to report it and let law enforcement handle the situation.

However, in some cases a person wearing a gun underneath a jacket could be seen briefly by residents which is not a violation of the law. Smith added that in most cases people will just keep the gun in their car. Smith said personal security is the number one reason someone wants a concealed-carry permit and will use it as a deterrent to violent crimes and robberies.

Permit holders are still not allowed to draw their gun or fire it unless it can be proven it was done in self defense. After a gun is fired, a permit holder will still be arrested and charged.

“People really need to know the law at first because the state is not going to be messing around with it,” he said.

4. People getting permits go through background checks

Besides the background check already required to own a gun, a permit holder will go through another check to be approved for a concealed-carry permit.

Before receiving a five-year permit, applicants must submit a state driver’s license, Firearm Owner’s Identification card and fingerprints to the state police. A FOID card deems a person eligible to purchase firearms and ammunition. The bulk of the approval process will be handled by the state police, but other organizations will be able to help out with the process.

Illinois Department of Human Services has added new requirements to its Mental Health Reporting System to allow people to obtain a FOID card.

“The new concealed carry law broadens the scope of the Illinois FOID Mental Health Reporting System, both in terms of who must report and what information they must report,” IDHS Secretary Michelle R.B. Saddler said in a press release.

Information is collected on people who have been declared mentally disabled in court, pose a “clear and present danger” to themselves or others, have been admitted to an inpatient mental health facility within the last five years or determined to be developmentally disabled. These people can be reported by social workers, registered nurses, clinical professional counselors and marriage and family therapists.

Local police also can assist with looking at permit applicants. Bernabei said the Peru police department has an account with state police and can see who applied locally. The department can object to a permit being approved if it felt the person might cause trouble or be a danger. He said they will be offering information that the state police might not have.

“It is obviously going to be labor intense for the state police, but they did a good job of making it easy for local police,” Bernabei added.

5. Local police are trained
Bernabei said the department attended classes and training for both an overview of the law and its impact on local law enforcement.

He said the process should be seamless and not cause much trouble for local departments. Since Illinois is the last of all 50 states to pass a concealed-carry law and he has seen rollouts in other states which did not have any trouble, Bernabei feels the law will not add extra stress to the department.

“The people applying for the permits are law-abiding people. They are not a threat to law enforcement,” he added.

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Some Chicago-Area Police Worry Gang Members may Get Concealed Carry Permits

Some law enforcement officials in Cook County, Ill. – home of Chicago, America’s reigning murder capital – believe dangerous and mentally unstable people may soon acquire legal permission to carry guns in public.

Illinois is the last of the 50 states to extend concealed carry rights to gun owners and on Sunday residents can begin applying for permits online.

After an application is submitted, local law enforcement agencies have 30 days to flag it for further review by the seven-member Concealed Carry Licensing Review Board. Permit decisions must be made within 90 days.

Ahead of the influx of applications, leaders of the Cook County Sheriff’s Office says they are powerless to thoroughly vet applicants and flag individuals who may be dangerous.

The Illinois law allowing concealed carry has several safeguards. Applicants must certify they were not convicted of a felony or of certain misdemeanors in the past five years, such as threatening violence or driving more than twice under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Additionally, Illinois State Police must automatically flag applicants arrested five times in the past seven years, or three times for gang-related offenses.

Applicants must also surrender access to their mental health records, possess a valid Firearm Owner Identification (FOID) card – required for gun ownership in Illinois – and complete firearms training.

Despite those requirements, Cara Smith, executive director of jails and former policy chief at the Cook County Sheriff’s Office, says the 7,000-member force cannot effectively screen the applicant pool, largely because Illinois State Police denied them authorization to use the state’s LEADS database.

LEADS, Smith explains, is the “mothership of criminal history information” in Illinois.

Local law enforcement can flag any applicant for further review, even if they have not received a disqualifying conviction. Smith and her boss, Sheriff Tom Dart, believe doing so may weed out dangerous needles in the haystack of applicants.

Smith says her office is particularly interested in objecting to applicants who faced domestic violence, gun or gang-related charges that did not yield disqualifying convictions.

Illinois State Police rebuffed a request from the Cook County Sheriff’s Office to automatically flag individuals meeting this criteria.

Monique Bond, a spokeswoman for the Illinois State Police, says the request was denied because those categories weren’t specified in the law.

“The statute does not provide nor will the [Illinois State Police] have a mechanism for entering ‘blanket objections,’” Bond says. “Therefore, they will need to file such objections individually through the law enforcement objection process.”

Smith also says her department’s lack of access of mental health concerns reported to state agencies may also allow a few loose cannons to slip through, despite the mental health waiver applicants agree to.

The licensing review board, which reviews flagged applications, is charged with denying permits for applicants it deems a threat to themselves or public safety.

Illinois Carry spokeswoman Valinda Rowe brushes off the concerns of the Cook County Sheriff’s Office as alarmist hogwash that is “entirely without basis.”

Rowe points to the law’s safeguards, including the requirement in Illinois that gun owners have a valid FOID card. If a cardholder is charged with domestic violence, she says, that card is revoked until charges are resolved.

Rowe says the sheriff’s office would like access to the LEADS database to conduct fishing expeditions that would enable them to object to as many applicants as possible.

“The Cook County Sheriff’s Office wants to object to everyone and anyone they can because they oppose concealed carry,” Rowe says. “They are trying to undermine the law that was passed.”

Rowe says she opposes disqualifying citizens charged – but not convicted – of crimes.

“That’s just ridiculous,” she says. “If they are determined to be not guilty, why would you object to someone following their constitutional rights?”

The Illinois law specifies that permits be awarded on a “shall issue” basis – meaning anyone who qualifies must be given a license – as opposed to laws in some states that feature the more discretionary “may issue” standard.

“They want this to be ‘may issue’ and that’s not what the law is,” Rowe says. “Tom Dart is the only sheriff I know who is speaking out in opposition [to the law].”

Smith, however, says the law’s added level of bureaucracy distinguishes it from other “shall issue” states.

The Illinois law was approved by the state legislature July 9. Legislators voted decisively to overturn Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn’s veto. In a December 2012 ruling the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit decreed the state must pass legislation allowing concealed carry.

In lieu of access to the LEADS database, Smith says the Cook County Sheriff’s Office is engaging in a less-thorough and more time-consuming work-around.

Staff typically assigned to jails, policing and intelligence-gathering are being enlisted to help search the records they do have access to – including protective order listings, jail records and a database used by Chicago police.

Around 400 applications for gun training instructors were submitted in December, Smith says, and her department found some applicants faced charges they found concerning.

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Illinois lawmakers try to change new concealed carry law

SPRINGFIELD — Just more than a week into the process of licensing Illinois residents to carry concealed weapons, lawmakers already have attempted to tinker with the new law.

The (Arlington Heights) Daily Herald reported Monday reported Monday that legislators have introduced bills to increase penalties for carrying guns where they’re not allowed, including schools; punish instructors who don’t carry out training properly; and lower the legal age for carrying.

State Rep. Deborah Conroy, a Villa Park Democrat, said officials from the Elgin School District, the state’s second-largest, were amazed to learn the law had changed the penalty for carrying a gun in school from a felony the first time to a misdemeanor the first two times.

Conroy also wants to hike fines for people carrying guns in other places where they’re not allowed by the law, such as libraries, parks, and mass transit buses and trains.

Gun-rights advocates want to make the new measure less restrictive, pointing out that laws are only as good as the people who decide to follow them.

“You can limit it for the good guys, but for the bad guys, there’s no limit,” Pearson said. “We want to make this thing work. We want to make it right.

If we do, it could save a lot of lives, and save a lot of money.”

Rep. Ed Sullivan, a Mundelein Republican who helped write the concealed carry legislation, agrees. He wants to see how the new law works before changing it. Even he, however, is working on legislation to punish gun-safety instructors who falsify training records in the state with the strictest requirement — 16 hours of instruction. They would serve jail time and lose their carry licenses.

“We have found some instances where people paid for the training, but the instructor just signed off on it,” Sullivan said.

“Obviously, that’s fraud.”

Other proposed changes include lowering from 21 to 18 the age at which someone can apply for a license to 18, from 21.

And Democratic state Sen. Dan Kotowski of Park Ridge has introduced a measure to prohibit carrying guns in houses of worship and is planning stricter rules related to guns and mental health issues.

“A vast majority of my district was opposed to it (concealed carry),” Kotowski said. “Now … they are asking what I am doing to make sure people with mental illness aren’t getting access to these weapons.”

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Cook County sheriff objects to 240 concealed carry applicants

First month sees 8,722 online permit requests from Cook County, 36,630 from state.

In a review of the first month of concealed carry applications, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart objected to granting firearms permits to 240 people because of criminal histories that include domestic violence and gun crimes.

As of Wednesday, state police had received 36,630 applications, 8,722 of them from Cook County.

Of the Cook County applicants Dart objected to, five had already been denied by the state police. Of the remainder, 88 had records for domestic violence, 77 for gun crimes, 52 for battery/assault and 27 for aggravated battery/assault.

Twenty-nine had orders of protection filed against them. Some of the applicants had records in more than one category.

Dart also objected to applicants with records for gang activity, burglary, theft, sex crimes and drug crimes. Many applicants had more than one violation — one had been arrested 20 times, with two convictions, the sheriff’s office said.

Fourteen of the applicants Dart objected to are certified concealed carry trainers, the sheriff’s office said.

A new law allowing concealed guns to be carried in public was cobbled together after an appellate court struck down the state’s concealed carry ban in December 2012. An online system for applying for permits was launched last month.

State police also are working on a paper application process that they hope to have completed by July.

As part of the application process, county sheriffs, state’s attorneys, local police and the attorney general’s offices are allowed to review applications that have been initially approved by the Illinois State Police.

When objections are made, the Concealed Carry Licensing Review Board must review the applications and make the final decision.

Dart has been critical of the approval process, calling it “fraught with problems and holes.”

While the law requires state police to file an objection if an applicant has five or more arrests in the past seven years or three or more arrests on gang-related charges, Dart has vowed to be more stringent.

He has said he wants to bar permits to those arrested even once in the past seven years for domestic violence, gun possession or gang crimes.

According to the sheriff’s office, 118 of the applicants who Dart wants to deny live in Chicago and 97 reside in suburban Cook County.

Of those, 54 are from the south suburbs, 24 from the central suburbs and 19 from the northern suburbs.

An additional 25 people live outside Cook County but fall under the sheriff’s office’s jurisdiction because they lived in the county at some point in the past 10 years.

Nearly 360,000 Cook County residents are licensed to own a gun.

Dart has said he believes perhaps half of them will apply for a concealed carry permit.

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Concealed carry permits higher in Orland Park

Residents in Orland Park, Orland Hills and Homer Glen applied in January for concealed carry permits at rates higher than most of their neighbors in Cook and Will counties, according to data obtained from the Illinois State Police.

As of the last week of January, 7,843 Cook County residents had applied for permission to carry a concealed weapon, as allowed under the state law that took effect this year. That’s a rate of about 15 people per 10,000. Orland Park, by contrast, had about 40 people per 10,000 apply for a permit, and Orland Hills had 32 applications per 10,000 residents, state police data showed.

Interest by residents in Homer Glen was even higher, with 51 concealed carry applications per 10,000 residents. The rate in Will County is about 35 per 10,000, or 2,431 applications overall.

Illinois is about one month into its new law that allows residents to carry concealed guns on a permit-only basis. Illinois was the only state that still banned concealed carry until a 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the state’s ban unconstitutional in December 2012.

The new law requires 16 hours of training before residents can apply for a permit.

Interest in Homer Glen may have been buoyed by local leaders.

Will County Board member Steve Balich, R-Homer Glen, said he wrote a resolution that urged Illinois lawmakers to create a concealed carry law before they were forced to do so. Illinois lawmakers passed the new law in July 2013.

The Will County resolution, which passed on a 15-6 vote in May, was a message to state lawmakers: “We in Will County want Second Amendment rights,” Balich said.

Balich has since helped put together two concealed carry classes to help residents who want to obtain a state permit. He said about 120 people signed up for those two safety classes.

“There are a lot of people that are waiting to see what’s gonna happen,” Balich said. “I think there’s a lot of groups” putting classes together.

Balich said he applied for his concealed carry license. “I didn’t get it yet, but I applied,” he said. He plans to put together a third class in Homer Glen in late February or early March.

County Board member Ragan Freitag, R-Wilmington, attended one of the classes Balich helped assemble. She said the course focused mostly on handling the weapons and safety, and not so much on when and where to appropriately use firearms.

“They’re not promoting to go out and be offensive with this license,” Freitag said, “but to be defensive.”

Freitag, an attorney who doesn’t own a gun but says she’s looking at picking up either a 38-special or a .357 if her application is approved, said she’s looking to bring residents from her district together for a safety class similar to Balich’s.

Colleen Daley, executive director of the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence, said the group conducted statewide polls in April and the results showed “across the board people are typically in our corner.” She said Illinois residents support the idea of measures such as universal background checks and that “the majority of people (polled) were opposed to concealed carry.”

Daley doesn’t describe the group as anti-guns, but she says she works to educate people about the potential danger and violence associated with firearms.

Four weeks after the state’s new law took effect, data showed residents had lower interest in obtaining permits in Chicago and the collar counties than in the more conservative southern counties of Illinois, which didn’t surprise Daley.

“Cook County isn’t a huge gun culture,” Daley said. “Individuals in northern Illinois have very different views than people in southern Illinois.”

Daley said her group is pushing legislators for a statewide database that would log details of every shooting.

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Newcomerstown school district to let some employees carry guns

NEWCOMERSTOWN — An eastern Ohio school district will allow some employees to carry guns on school property beginning this fall.

The Newcomerstown Exempted Village School District board las month approved a policy authorizing employees designated by the board and superintendent to carry guns.

The district released few details of the plan that will go into effect in the coming school year. Board President Jerry Lahmers says it would be counterproductive if the general public knew how many people were authorized to carry weapons or in which buildings they worked.

But he tells Channel 3 News that could include principals, teachers or other employees.

Lahmers says the change is a reaction to the mass killing at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown Connecticut.

The Newcomerstown District has about 1,100 students in 4 buildings with 130 employees.

Only recently it adopted measures that are standard in many other schools.

Those include a buzz-in security system and requiring visitors to sign in at the door of school buildings.

The policy is being crafted with input from the Tuscarawas County Sheriff’s Office, Newcomerstown’s Police Department and the Buckeye Firearms Association.

That group offered offered free firearms training to Ohio teachers and school personnel.

Those carrying guns must get tactical training and be recertified by the Tuscarawas County Sheriff’s Department annually. They also must have a permit to carry a concealed handgun.

Schools officials say the policy should help keep students safe.

Lahmers said a parents’ group recommended the new gun policy.

But some students expressed reservations about the dangers of guns in schools to Channel 3 News.

At least one other school system in Ohio has adopted a policy of giving employees access to guns.

Sidney Schools, north of Dayton, are forming a response team of employees who will have be able to get to to handguns stored in safes in school buildings.

The Newcomerstown plan raises possible questions about insurance coverage.

Insurance providers in the state of Kansas have balked at covering school systems that arm employees.

Lahmers says discussion are continuing with Newcomerstown Schools’ insurance company.

He believes the firm is interested in and favorably views additional steps that increase security.

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