Can administrative shortcomings jeopardize a legitimate safety program?
I posed that question in October 2020 regarding the beleaguered Firearm Owner Identification program, and warned last April that “eventually a judge will rule the FOID program violates Second Amendment rights by depriving people of their right to bear arms.”
Then the prevailing issue was an inexcusable backlog in processing FOID applications and renewals. The delays hampered those looking to buy their first guns as well as those who legally owned weapons but couldn’t obtain ammunition because their printed cards were outdated, despite the Illinois State Police extending expiration dates.
But the constitutionality of the program itself came before the Illinois Supreme Court at oral arguments Wednesday. The panel must wrangle with a ruling from White County Judge T. Scott Webb, who agreed with Vivian Brown’s challenge to her conviction of illegal possession of a gun.
Brown had a rifle in her home but not an FOID card, although she was eligible to obtain the document. Webb said “any fee associated with exercising the core fundamental Constitutional right of armed self-defense within the confines of one’s home violates the Second Amendment,” a decision the state appealed.
Although the legal mechanics at play are complex – presumably owing to the ramifications of striking down something as well established as the state’s FOID program – the more the issue percolates the more it seems someone somewhere will have to answer the big picture question: Can the state justify the program?
Assistant Attorney General Garson Fischer argued FOID imposes only a minimal burden while serving a legitimate state interest of keeping guns away from felons and people with mental illness, according to Capitol News Illinois. Defense attorney David Sigale countered, noting other state and federal laws have the same purpose, adding the possibility of criminal penalties for FOID violations for those otherwise legally able to own a gun is more than a minimal burden.
It’s worth noting the arguments came a week after Illinois State Police Director Brendan Kelly, speaking to a state violence prevention task force, said ISP used criminal records to identify people who shouldn’t have guns, revoking some 17,000 FOID cards and preventing about 25,000 attempts to illegally buy guns in 2021 alone. Kelly also wants lawmakers to update the stolen firearm statute to reflect a recent requirement that ISP create a public database of reportedly stolen gun, essentially meaning no one could claim they didn’t know a gun in their possession was stolen. FOID is not without successes.
Suggesting any adult can have a gun is an extreme position, as is trying to outlaw private gun ownership. FOID is lawmakers’ attempt to position Illinois in the middle, but that compromise may be unsustainable.