With a proposal in the U.S. Congress to require people to get a license from the government to buy a firearm, some are pointing to Illinois’ Firearm Owner Identification Card law as obsolete.

U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, proposed a national bill requiring a firearm registry and a license along with a psychological evaluation for gun owners. But there are persistent problems with a decades-old gun licensing scheme in Illinois leading some to say citizen’s rights are being denied by months-long delays.

Illinois State Police Director Brendan Kelly said they need authority from the Illinois state legislature to “untangle and integrate” Illinois’ gun owner licensing laws. There are competing proposals expected at the statehouse dealing with Illinois laws in different ways.

“While progress has been made, the Henry Pratt shooting (from two years ago) revealed clearly the need to use less of our resources on an outdated, inefficient renewal process that’s similar to that of a fishing license and more on enforcement against real threats to public safety,” ISP Director Brendan Kelly said. “We will need authority from the legislature to untangle and integrate this decades-old patchwork of FOID, concealed carry, firearms transactions, and records checks if we are going to strengthen our ability to protect the public.”

On Feb. 15, 2019, a man shot and killed five co-workers at the Henry Pratt warehouse in Aurora before he was killed by police. Illinois State Police said the shooter, Gary Martin, bought a gun in 2014 with a valid Firearm Owners Identification card. Martin had a prior conviction in another state that made him ineligible to qualify for a FOID card, but he lied about that conviction when he applied to the Illinois State Police for a FOID card. The agency did a background check for Martin in Illinois. Illinois State Police later revoked Martin’s FOID card after he submitted fingerprints to speed up the processing of his application for a concealed carry license. Those prints alerted officials to his conviction in Mississippi, ISP officials said at the time.

One proposal that failed to advance last legislative term is expected to be filed again at the Illinois statehouse. Among other things, that would require fingerprints to apply for a Firearm Owner Identification Card. State Sen. Ram Villivalam, D-Chicago, told The Beacon-News he’ll file the bill again this year.

State Rep. Andrew Chesney, R-Freeport, Tuesday filed House Bill 1770 that repeals Illinois’ FOID Card Act. With persistent delays in FOID applications, Chesney said people’s rights are being denied.

“With a backlog of, often, over 100,000 Illinoisans waiting in line for a bureaucrat to approve this Constitutional right after already requiring payment for this right, it is past time we get real about the lack of need for this bureaucracy,” Chesney said, equating the delays to blocking someone from speaking for over 100 days while they wait for a permit.

“People would be rightfully outraged,” he said. “That’s what’s happening with FOID Cards.”

ISP reported the average wait for a FOID application to be processed is around 122 days when by law certain applications are to be processed within a month. Of 353,714 FOID card applications between January 2020 and January 2021, ISP reported it processed 203,051, leaving a backlog of 150,663.

Illinois State Rifle Association Executive Director Richard Pearson said they’re willing to work with the legislators on fixing the state’s problems with persistent backlogs of FOID applications and Concealed Carry Licenses.

“The system just isn’t working right and I’m sure there are things that can be done to streamline the system instead of slow it down,” Pearson said.

The Illinois FOID card was implemented before national background check standards were modernized, he said.

“And so maybe the FOID card at this point might be obsolete as it stands now,” he said. “If they ended the FOID card that would suit us just fine. Other states don’t have FOID cards and they don’t have this problem either.”

Pearson and others are suing the state over the persistent FOID backlogs.

Illinois is one of four states that require residents to get some sort of permission from state regulators in advance of owning firearms.

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