Eye On Illinois: FOID, CCL reform proposals represent sensible progress

Ask and ye shall receive, right?

Thursday’s column explored the administrative inefficiencies plaguing the state’s Firearm Owner Identification and Concealed Carry License programs to the point where lawsuits threaten their very existence.

I filed that piece Tuesday evening, then took notice Wednesday when a bipartisan group of lawmakers spoke to support House Bill 745 and Senate Bill 1165, which together would functionally merge the programs, create a pathway for automatic renewals and task the Illinois State Police with developing an internal system allowing multiple law enforcement agencies to access data on revoked or suspended FOID cards.

“We need the support of the General Assembly to push this over the edge,” said ISP Director Brendan Kelly, according to Capitol News Illinois. “We need the support of the General Assembly to implement these measures that will help us finally turn the corner and bring this system into the 21st century.”

These reforms are so logical it raises questions about the process of creating the programs in the first place. Why would anyone have a CCL without an FOID? So long as we can preserve a simpler process and lower cost for those who only need the FOID card, what’s the disadvantage in rolling both together for those who want concealed carry privileges?

Backlogs aren’t a minor administrative hiccup. In March, ISP took in 14,847 renewal applications, approved 67,847 outstanding requests and still has thousands upon thousands more. The law says ISP must process renewals within 30 days, yet lawmakers around Illinois have constituents waiting 18 months or longer without any status updates.

We can forgive the lawmakers who enacted the first FOID program in the mid-1960s for not seeing the need to digitize cards, but we’re long past the point where lawmakers should’ve demanded an online portal for police agencies to be able to check program details.

Predictably, there is opposition on both sides. Gun rights advocates who don’t like the FOID program in any format surely won’t warm to anything that might make it more modern and less susceptible to legal challenges. Countering that is the control movement, such as a Gun Violence Prevention PAC statement arguing the proposed reforms fall short because unlicensed dealers can still sell guns to anyone with a valid FOID card without running an independent background check.

As other states such as Iowa and Tennessee loosen gun control measures, FOID backers should take heart in attempts to improve Illinois’ approach. Kelly himself noted that in 2020 alone, the ISP revoked more than 15,000 FOID cards and said the system stopped more than 5,100 illegal purchase attempts.

Lawmakers realized the problem and proposed practical solutions. This may be imperfect, but it’s progress, and we shouldn’t take that for granted.

• Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Local News Network. Follow him on Twitter @sth749. He can be reached at sholland@shawmedia.com.