CHICAGO -- The last state in the nation to allow people to carry concealed handguns started mailing the coveted licenses to thousands of Illinois gun owners Friday, with supporters praising the Illinois State Police for getting the screening process off the ground quickly.
The red, white and blue permits are the size of a driver's license and include a photo of the license holder. They cost $150 and are good for five years.
So far, 5,000 license applications have been approved and are in the process of being printed and mailed, Illinois State Police Col. Marc Maton said at a press conference in Chicago.
The first licenses likely will go to the earliest applicants: firearms instructors and others who submitted electronic fingerprints ahead of the official Jan. 5 launch of the online application process. The early applicants were part of a program to "beta test" the capacity of the system, Maton said.
About 46,000 applications have been received so far, Maton said, putting the state on track to receive nearly 300,000 applications this year -- about 100,000 fewer than the agency's original projections. But Maton speculated the pace could pick up when warmer weather arrives and people more easily can get to gun ranges for the required 16 hours of training.
Illinois gun owners began applying online for the permits after a federal court struck down the state's prior ban on concealed carry and a new state law was passed.
The speed of the first licenses being issued just two months later drew praise from two sponsors of the concealed carry legislation.
"We thought it'd be three months," said state Sen. Gary Forby, a Benton Democrat.
Rep. Brandon Phelps, a Harrisburg Democrat, said the law's license approval process is one of the strictest in the country and will prevent "mentally unstable people" from obtaining a concealed carry license. "We believe it's going to work," Phelps said.
The law broadened the scope of the Firearm Owner Identification mental health reporting system, which is administered by the Illinois Department of Human Services. The online system collects information on people who've been declared in court to be mentally disabled; admitted to an inpatient mental health facility within the last five years; determined to be a "clear and present danger" to themselves or others; or determined to be developmentally disabled.
The Illinois State Police can revoke a FOID card and reject a concealed carry license application based on the information. Other grounds for rejecting a concealed carry application include conviction of using or threatening violence within the past five years and two or more violations for driving while intoxicated.
So far, the Illinois State Police has denied 300 applications and received additional objections from local law enforcement agencies on 800 applicants. Local agency objections go before a seven-member board, which has 30 days to review them and recommend denial. Decisions are subject to judicial review.
"We believe that law enforcement objections provide for enhanced public safety," Maton said. Local law enforcement agencies are aware of ordinance violations and reports on incidents, such as domestic violence, that are available only in local databases.
A model policy for local police departments directs officers to ask anyone they pull over whether they have a concealed weapon and where it is, said John Kennedy, executive director of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police.
Even with a license, concealed handguns are prohibited in a long list of buildings, parking lots and properties, including schools, child care facilities, courthouses, government buildings, hospitals, nursing homes and public transportation facilities, buses and trains.
Carrying a concealed handgun in a prohibited area is a misdemeanor. Repeated violations could result in revocation of the license.