What it takes to obtain a gun license in Illinois

Illinois' requirement that anyone owning or buying a firearm be licensed by the state is meant to ensure guns stay out of the hands of dangerous criminals and those with significant mental health issues.

But critics argue it's an unnecessary hindrance to a person's constitutional right to own firearms and drives Illinois gun buyers to neighboring states with less restrictive laws.

Illinois is one of only three states with such a stringent licensing requirement, and the application process includes an array of criminal and mental health checks. It does not require gun safety training.

Still, gun-control advocates say the firearm owner identification program serves its purpose.

“Individuals that should not be getting guns are not getting them,” said Colleen Daley, executive director of the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence. “The problem isn't Illinois' gun laws, it's the states around us that don't have the same requirements.”

Even gun lobbyists seem resigned to the apparent permanence of a law that's been on the books since 1968.

“We're not really happy with the FOID law, but it's not going anywhere. It's entrenched,” said Richard Pearson, executive director of the Illinois State Rifle Association. “The original point of the Second Amendment was you shouldn't have to have an ID because it's your right to own a gun.”

The FOID application — available on the Illinois State Police website, — is one page for adults and two pages for anyone younger than 21. There are more than 1.6 million FOID cardholders in the state.

Prospective gun owners are asked to provide particulars like name, address, gender, race, height, weight, eye and hair color as well as driver's license and Social Security numbers. Then there are 11 questions generally related to criminal and mental health history, most of which if answered “yes” will significantly endanger the chances of being licensed. The form asks applicants for their citizenship status but does not prevent legally documented foreign residents from owning or buying guns. The application does not state a minimum age.

Then, submit a picture along with a $10 check and wait.

The application process is supposed to take 30 business days or fewer but is often longer, state police acknowledge. The applicant's information is submitted for three background checks. A federal criminal history check is done through the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background System. A state criminal background check is also done. And finally, a database maintained by the Illinois Department of Human Services is mined. The agency's database is a legislatively mandated repository for information on any person “adjudicated” as mentally defective or having been institutionalized for mental illness within the past five years. The application asks for mental health history dating back five years for the most part, but notes applicants don't have to report “alcohol abuse disorder.”

These background checks can be time consuming, said Illinois State Police spokeswoman Monique Bond. Some background checks require state police to follow up with local law enforcement about arrests and convictions, she said.

“We've never wanted to rush these,” she said. “Some applications require a manual review.”

However, Bond noted the agency has added staff.

“We've hired more people to make the process more efficient and handle the increased workload as we're also preparing for the new concealed carry unit,” she said. People can begin applying for concealed carry permits Jan. 5.

Of the $10 received for the FOID application, state police keep $4, or $1.3 million from more than 330,000 applicants in 2012. The remaining funds — about $2 million last year — go the state's Department of Natural Resources, which is responsible for hunting licenses.

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