Gun licensing overhaul moves forward despite constitutional concerns
SPRINGFIELD -- A bill that would strengthen the state's Firearm Owner's Identification Act passed the Illinois House in a 62-52 vote Wednesday.
Senate Bill 1966 would mandate fingerprinting and background checks for card holders, a measure that led opponents to call the bill's constitutionality into question.
Others said added fees in the bill are unduly burdensome. The measure would raise card application and renewal fees from $10 every 10 years to $20 every five years. The fingerprinting requirement would add up to $30 more to the application cost.
Additional costs associated with the bill include a $10-per-firearm fee for any transfer conducted through a licensed dealer, with exemptions for a transfer to relatives, inheritance or active military and law enforcement during the course of their official duties.
"When we are dealing with nearly 10,000 FOID cards annually being revoked for a number of reasons, we need to be sure we're giving the state police the resources and ability to do their job appropriately," said Rep. Kathleen Willis, an Addison Democrat and the bill's House chief sponsor.
Willis took questions for more than three hours in the House chamber about ways the law would fix "deficiencies" in the state's gun revocation process and prevent circumstances similar to those that led to the Henry Pratt Co. shooting in Aurora.
Willis said some people simply lie about their identity on FOID applications, a problem she said could be countered by the fingerprint requirement because "fingerprints cannot lie."
"We have some work to do in Illinois to make sure that firearms are only owned by law-abiding citizens," Willis said.
Rep. Terri Bryant, a Republican from Murphysboro, said Willis' bill is a "delay" that doesn't get the heart of the shooting in Aurora. Additionally, she said, SB1966 determines who can and cannot afford to own firearms and stands a high chance overturned by the courts.
"This bill does absolutely nothing to address the very real issues identified in the tragedy of Aurora," Bryant said. "The driving force behind this was to fix what happened in Aurora so that we could all get beyond what those problems were."
Rep. Keith Wheeler, a Republican from Oswego, is the sponsor of a different bill to address FOID revocations -- House Bill 3839 -- that does not include a mandate on fingerprinting.
He said he agreed with some of the provisions Willis placed in her bill, but he questioned if the cost to run a task force to recover revoked firearms and cards could far exceed what's in the State Firearm Revocation Fund.
Recovering firearms is a matter of public safety, he said, adding that he believes revocation efforts should receive more dependable state appropriations.
"There has to be some kind of understanding of what a program is going to cost as we try to implement it," Wheeler said. "I don't see how what we're taking in this bill and moving into that recovery fund is actually going to be enough to do that in year one or two or three."
Rep. Kambium Buckner, a Chicago Democrat, said he supports the intent of the bill but has concerns about the licensing costs.
He said he is worried the added fees would turn "right of self-defense" into a "luxury" for those who are "economically depressed" and unable to afford the cost of gun ownership.
"I don't want to see fees adjusted to a point where they become so steep that they may drive a person -- who would normally follow a legal process -- in a different direction, because they can't come up with the money we're now demanding they come up with," Buckner said.
The measure now heads back to the Senate for that chamber to sign off on House revisions.