Illinois State Police next week will begin taking applications from residents who want to carry concealed weapons, and as many as 400,000 are expected to be submitted in the first year, officials said Monday.
Residents may apply through the ISP website beginning Sunday, six months after Illinois became the last state in the nation to approve a law allowing the public possession of a concealed firearm. A federal judge ordered the state to enact the law, and state police had 180 days to begin accepting applications.
Col. Marc Maton, who has overseen the process of building the system "from the ground up," said he's confident it will be ready to go on Sunday but expects the agency will find ways to improve it.
State police have been testing the website by allowing certified firearm instructors to apply for concealed-carry permits, and have received 900 applications so far from among the 2,100 instructors. On Thursday, citizens who have completed the required 16-hour training and have submitted electronic fingerprints will be permitted to begin applying to help test the website's capacity, Maton said.
The application process will require some preparation. Applicants must obtain a digital "identification," a unique password of sorts that will allow them to digitally sign their application. They also will be asked for a valid driver's license or state identification number, a firearm owner's identification card, a digital photo, addresses of every place they've lived for 10 years and proof they've undergone firearms training with a licensed instructor.
They also must answer criminal history questions and undergo a background check that will include records relating to crimes and mental health. Fingerprints may be submitted electronically to expedite the process, though they're not required.
Officials said that 10,000 people have already obtained digital IDs. Maton said state police expected to process 300,000 to 400,000 applications next year, based on the almost 330,000 applications the agency has received for firearm owner identification cards.
Local law enforcement officials have been gearing up, too, with some offering electronic fingerprinting or technical help with the application process. They also will be able to object to individual applications.
Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart has said he's worried that his office does not have the resources to adequately investigate thousands of applications to prevent permits from being issued to people with arrests for crimes such as domestic abuse or to those with gang ties.
Maton said his agency will conduct the background checks, but encourages local officials to submit information that might not show up, such as domestic violence or drug encounters that did not result in an arrest but could raise concerns about an applicant's fitness to carry a concealed weapon.
Gov. Pat Quinn has named seven people to a panel that will review applications for permits to carry concealed firearms. The Concealed Carry Licensing Review Board will consider any objections of an applicant's eligibility.
Officials are encouraging people to apply for permits online, though the state police have agreed to set up a system to begin taking paper applications by July 1.
Those who obtain permits will be able to carry them or keep them in a vehicle, although some places are off limits, including schools, child-care facilities, courthouses, casinos and businesses that post state-issued signs forbidding concealed weapons.
Sangamon County Sheriff Neil Williamson, who is setting up a computer in his department's lobby to help residents apply for permits, said he has "zero" concerns about the law.
"People who are going to carry them are going to be law-abiding citizens ... it' the crooks that I'm worried about," he said.