Illinois State Police said Sunday they have eliminated their backlog of tens of thousands of applications for gun owner identification cards -- helping to clear their decks as they prepare for an expected influx of requests for concealed carry permits.
Just months ago, nearly 50,000 Firearm Owner Identification card applications were still awaiting approval, raising doubts that state police could handle the nearly 400,000 concealed carry applications they expect to flood in during 2014.
But as of mid-December, pending FOID card applications were down to 3,000 -- and all those were submitted within the last month, department spokeswoman Monique Bond told The Associated Press. By law, the applications are supposed to be approved or denied within 30 days.
"We have no more backlog," she said.
The addition of more than 20 new staff members to the unit that processes the applications, as well as a $4 million upgrade in technology and infrastructure, helped workers whittle down the piles of applications that had stacked up, Bond said.
The ID card applications are submitted in writing, with reviewers sifting through papers by hand. By contrast, concealed carry applications can only be submitted online -- a paperless process that should ensure faster processing, Bond said.
Lawmakers approved concealed carry last summer after a federal appeals court said Illinois' last-in-the-nation ban was unconstitutional. People will be able to submit applications to carry a concealed weapon starting on Jan. 5.
A FOID card is one of the state's prerequisites to owning a firearm, so it's also required for concealed carry permits. In a state with about 13 million people, there are around 1.6 million FOID card holders.
Applications for FOID cards reached record numbers in 2013. In January, for instance, state police received 61,000 applications -- compared with 31,000 for the same period in 2012.
That sharp uptick was another contributing factor in the applications backlog.
It isn't always clear why application numbers fluctuate or suddenly soar, but Bond said it sometimes correlates to the prominence of gun issues in the news: The more they are in the news, the more applications are submitted, she said.
Bond said state police hoped they wouldn't face similar backlogs in the future, in part because of the beefed up workforce and infrastructure. One day, they'd like to make it possible for people to apply for FOID cards online.
"We are confident," she said. "We believe that we have addressed many of the previous issues."