Eye On Illinois: State must stop repurposing money from FOID, CCL applicants

Very few topics elicit as much reader response as anything regarding the Firearm Owner Identification program.

Pursuant to Saturday’s piece, explaining the FOID program will survive so long as the state can administer it effectively and demonstrate a public interest in regulation gun ownership, a few folks took issue with my statement that “state police didn’t have enough money to process applications expediently.”

Some correctly pointed out a lack of context.

“The first reform they should pass is stopping the governor from taking any more out of the FOID account,” wrote Edward Frayne. “Like the $5 million he took when he became governor.”

Fund sweeps have been a huge problem in Illinois for many years, tools for “balancing” the budget by simply depriving one line item to satisfy another and never fully accounting for the impact of underfunding various state agencies.

The Illinois State Rifle Association — neutral on House Bill 562, currently awaiting Gov. JB Pritzker’s signature — has been all over the fund sweeping issue, highlighting details from a Legislative Research Unit report showing the state took $28.5 million to prop up general revenue. From where? Each FOID license costs $10, with $3 earmarked for the ISP Firearm Services Fund and $1 for the ISP Services Fund, according to the ISRA. A concealed carry license costs $150, and $120 is targeted to the Firearm Services Fund.

But that ISRA release is dated December 2019, using data from a study covering fiscal 2015-2019, nearly all of which preceded Pritzker’s tenure. These sweeps and borrowing are bad government regardless of which governor or lawmakers signed off. Democrats controlled the General Assembly the entire time, but former Gov. Bruce Rauner shares in responsibility.

Most feedback on FOID is from people who want the program scrapped entirely, which aligns with the ISRA’s position. Director Richard Pearson, in memos to members, neatly summarized the reality:

“There are not enough votes to get rid of the FOID card,” Pearson wrote June 3. “If there were, we would have done it a long time ago. The only way to get rid of the FOID card is to go through the Supreme Court of the United States and have them rule that it is unconstitutional. We are working on that.”

So why acknowledge HB 562 has merits? Because other proposed reforms were worse.

“There are thousands of people waiting to get their new or renewed FOID cards,” Pearson wrote June 17. “One of the short-term goals of the ISRA is to do what we can to get these FOID cards into the hands of law-abiding citizens. To not do so would make us complicit with the anti-gun side.”

Pearson knows his audience. Here’s guessing his inbox is overflowing.

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