Police want more access to gun permit data

Last of three parts

Suburban police say it's a frequent scenario: They're called to respond to a tense situation at a house and don't know if anyone inside is licensed to own a gun.

That information is held by the Illinois State Police, but the list of the state's 1.6 million Firearm Owner Identification cardholders isn't shared with local police.

Police often don't have that clue to whether a gun might be in the house until the encounter is nearly over. Only after they've got a person's name can they check it against the state's list.

Some police officials say that's a key shortcoming of the state law. They would prefer to have that information available ahead of traffic stops and calls to quell domestic disputes.

“If I know I'm going to a domestic dispute, I'd want to know if that residence is home to a FOID holder,” said Campton Hills Police Chief Dan Hoffman. “The way it is now I wouldn't know that unless we've been there before.”

Some would like to see information about FOID permits — along with impending permits to carry concealed weapons — included on driver's licenses. Illinois, the last state to approve concealed carry, will begin taking applications Jan. 5.

Yet, critics of gun laws say gun ownership is none of the government's business and that issuing permits violates constitutional freedoms.

“This infringes on gun owners' rights,” said Richard Pearson, executive director of the Illinois State Rifle Association. “It suppresses gun ownership among law-abiding citizens.”

Less than 1 percent of residents hold FOID cards in Campton Hills, population 10,920. It's the lowest cardholder rate in the suburbs, partly because the village is so newly incorporated that FOID cardholders might have other towns listed on their permits, a Daily Herald analysis of state firearm owner licensing records shows. But as in other police departments throughout the suburbs, officers in Campton Hills have devised a way to keep track of FOID cardholders in lieu of full access to the state's records.

Hoffman and other area police chiefs said they routinely have dispatchers “flag” the address of FOID cardholders their officers come into contact with so officers responding in the future will know there is a likelihood of firearms in the house.

“They'll red-line it,” said Maple Park Police Chief Mike Acosta. “Dispatch will advise us of past contacts we've had, but we should always approach a house with our eye on safety in that house.”

Over the past decade, an average of more than 270,000 firearm owner licenses a year have been approved or renewed by Illinois, according to state police records.

Other top law enforcement authorities caution that knowing whether someone has a FOID card gives little information to a responding officer. Having a FOID card does not mean someone is violent, and lacking a FOID card does not necessarily mean an absence of guns, they say.

“You have to be careful with that,” said St. Charles Police Chief Jim Lamkin. “I don't want us to get into the mindset that every call we go on to someplace that has a FOID card is going to be a threat. Just because you have a FOID doesn't necessarily mean you have a gun.”

The state's FOID law, on the books since 1968, has been modified throughout the years. Most recent are the requirements that private gun sellers check a buyer's FOID status before completing the purchase and that anyone with an order of protection against him or her must surrender a FOID card.

Some police officials believe there is even more room for improvement.

With the looming implementation of the state's concealed weapon law, there has been talk of modifying the state's law again to include FOID and concealed carry status on Illinois driver's licenses, something that has been bandied about the state legislature.

The way the current concealed weapons law is written, cardholders won't have to volunteer to police that they're carrying a gun, but they do have to respond if asked.

“The more information law enforcement has, it's an added tool and benefit for that officer,” said Bloomingdale Police Chief Frank Giammarese. “I'd like to know as much as we could as soon as we could.”

“It would be ideal for us to have one-stop shopping,” Round Lake Park Police Chief George Filenko said of the driver's license idea. “That would certainly cut the time of the stop. And the longer a stop goes on, there's more issues that can come from that. Obviously, you don't want to needlessly detain a person.”

Federal law prohibits the creation of any type of gun registry, but it has allowed states to license gun owners and purchasers. Illinois is one of just three, along with Massachusetts and New Jersey, to require a license to both own and buy guns.

Critics argue issuing any kind of gun permit imposes limitations on people's rights.

An 18-year-old Illinois woman who lives east of St. Louis is suing the state in federal court arguing her civil rights are being violated because the state requires anyone younger than 21 to receive parental permission to buy a gun.

“My client could literally move across the river and buy any rifle or shotgun she wanted,” said Thomas Maag, the attorney representing Tempest Horsley.

Horsley has an ally in Woodstock Democratic state Rep. Jack Franks, who was unaware of the lawsuit and called a bill he is sponsoring to lower the age to 18 “common sense.”

“If you're 18, you're able to vote and join the military and do just about everything anyone else can do,” Franks said, “but you can't exercise your Second Amendment right? I just want to make it fair for everybody.”

• Daily Herald staff writer Bob Susnjara contributed to this report.

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