Politics & Government

Owners of revoked Illinois FOID cards must give up their guns. Fewer than half do.

In Illinois, when people have their firearms owners identification cards revoked, they’re supposed to turn them in to law enforcement and surrender their guns. But that happened less than half of the time in the metro-east and statewide during the last four years.

In St. Clair County, FOID cards were returned just under 36 percent of the time after they were revoked from 2015-18, according to Illinois State Police data obtained by the Belleville News-Democrat.

Madison County was a little better, at 42 percent, while statewide cards were turned in 37 percent of the time during the four-year period.

When the Madison County Sheriff’s Department is notified by the State Police that someone has had their FOID card revoked, the department sends a letter to the cardholder to surrender their card and weapons within 48 hours.

Lt. Jeff Briddick, who handles FOID card notices for the sheriff’s office, said sometimes he gets a “return to sender” notice, saying the person has moved with no forwarding address.

“I think that’s what happens with a lot of them,” Briddick said.

Under state law, if a FOID card is revoked, the person must surrender the card to local law enforcement where they live, and file a Firearm Disposition Record disclosing the make, model and serial number of each firearm owned by or under the control or custody of the revoked cardholder and its disposition during the prohibited term, according to State Police.

“So far as the cards being turned in, there needs to be a better way of tracking movement and change of address. You’re required to do it with the secretary of state for your driver’s license, why not your FOID card?” Briddick said.

The percentage of guns transferred to police or a person with a valid FOID card is even lower. According to the data, all but one county had a lower number of disposition forms filed during the four years than the number of revoked FOID cards that were returned.

The Madison County Sheriff’s Department makes a note in its computer system when a FOID card is revoked so deputies are aware if they have to go to the former cardholder’s home. But the Sheriff’s Department doesn’t retrieve weapons.

“I’m going to be honest with you, we don’t have time to do that,” Briddick said.

FOID cards can be revoked for a variety of reasons, such as when a person is convicted of a felony, or has domestic or mental health issues, St. Clair County Sheriff Rick Watson said.

Watson said sometimes FOID cards are revoked in error.

“You have to remember, they revoked those FOID cards for all kinds of different reasons,” Watson said. “The other thing is, they (State Police) make a lot of mistakes with FOID cards” during data entry.

“People bring their paperwork in here and say, ‘Here it all is, they revoked my FOID card.’” Watson said his office tries to help people who have mistakenly had their cards revoked, or get them to the right people to get their cards back.

He estimated about 25% of revocations are in error.

Watson said his department does not retrieve revoked FOID cards because it is a state program, and because the sheriff’s office doesn’t have the manpower.

“I wish I had somebody that could just go out and do revocations everyday, but I don’t have that luxury,” he said. “We do it when it’s a necessity or a public safety issue. If we know somebody is getting their FOID card revoked, and it’s a case we handle, we will definitely do it ourselves.”

A valid FOID card is required in Illinois not only to purchase and possess guns but also to buy ammunition. But if someone with a revoked card tries to buy ammo at a store, the retail clerk has no way to determine whether the card is still valid, other than by checking the expiration date.

After the Aurora shooting

Whether weapons are properly turned in became a hot-button issue after a mass shooting in Aurora earlier this year.

Gary Montez Martin, who police said killed five people at the Henry Pratt Company in Aurora in February before being killed in the crossfire, had his FOID card revoked after he applied for a conceal carry license, which involves a more in-depth background check.

The FOID card application does not require fingerprints, and he had answered ‘no’ on a question about whether he had a previous felony conviction.

When he applied for a conceal carry license, Martin provided fingerprints to move his application more quickly. That revealed a previous conviction in Mississippi for aggravated assault, which would have prevented him from obtaining a concealed carry license and would require him to relinquish his FOID card and any weapons he had.

But that didn’t happen.

If a revoked FOID cardholder doesn’t turn in his card and transfer his weapons, the county sheriff or law enforcement agency where the individual resides may petition the court to issue a search warrant for the FOID card and any firearms in their possession, but Illinois law does not require them to do so.

Democratic state legislators responded to the Aurora shooting during the spring session with a proposal called “Fix the FOID.”

Under the proposal, current FOID cardholders would have a fingerprint background check at their next renewal. New applicants would have fingerprints taken when they apply.

The House passed the legislation, even though every metro-east state representative voted ‘no’ on the bill. But the Senate did not bring up the bill before the end of the spring session.

“There were aspects of it I thought were overreaching and went too far. I don’t think the name ‘Fix the FOID’ was accurate. I don’t think it fixed anything,” said state Rep. Katie Stuart, D-Edwardsville. “I had a lot of concerns about the fingerprinting.”

Whether the legislation comes up again remains is unknown.

Phone messages left for bill sponsors — state Rep. Kathleen Willis, D-Addison, and state Sen. Julie Morrison, D-Deerfield — were not returned.

Stuart and state Sen. Rachelle Aud Crowe, D-Glen Carbon, said if the bill comes up during the fall veto session, or again during the regular session in January, they expect changes.

“I think whatever we see will be a different version. I think there’s going to be compromises made before there’s ever a vote. I wouldn’t want to speculate on what I do with that,” said Crowe who added she hasn’t made a decision on how she would vote on the legislation. “I think if there’s a version without the fingerprints, it’s more likely to be successful.”

Under the Fix the FOID proposal, both new applications for FOID cards and five-year card renewals would cost $20. The current cost for FOID applications and card renewals is $10. Originally the bill proposed a fee of $50.

FOID cards would last just five years instead of 10 years.

The process of buying a gun

When a prospective gun buyer comes to Ron and Jo’s Firearms and Sporting Supplies in O’Fallon, he or she has to show a FOID card just to look and handle the weapon.

Employees check to make sure the card isn’t expired and check the age of the customer to see if they’re old enough to handle the weapon, said Ron Gompers, president of Ron and Jo’s.

If the customer wants to buy the weapon, he or she must fill out a national background check form, which asks whether the person has any mentally defective, if the person uses drugs and if the person has been convicted of a felony, or is under an indictment, among other questions, Gompers said.

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When a prospective gun buyer comes to Ron and Jo’s Firearms and Sporting Supplies in O’Fallon, he or she has to show a FOID card to handle the weapon. Joseph Bustos jbustos@bnd.com

“I’ve had three instances where someone will lie on it, and they’ll come in and pick you up the day you come to pick up your gun,” Gompers said. “Usually O’Fallon (police) will come in here and give you some shiny steel handcuffs.”

He also runs every person through a state online instant check to see whether the person is allowed to purchase a gun and whether their FOID card is in good standing.

To buy ammunition, however, the customer only needs to show his FOID card and it can’t be expired.

It take anywhere from 15 seconds to a day for the system to run a check.

“The system works, because if you have an invalid FOID, you won’t get approved,” Gompers said.

Tom Petrevich, manager of Curt Smith’s Outdoors in Belleville, said prospective gun purchases could get tripped up if an address on the FOID card doesn’t match the address on the driver’s license. In that case, it gets denied,

Petrevich said he is against the fingerprinting proposed in the Fix the FOID bill.

“I personally don’t like it, because by saying I’m going to be fingerprinted, I’m going to be a suspected criminal in the future because I own a gun. Personally i think it’s a money-making institution for the government,” he said.

“It’s another early form of registration, I believe. We’re kind of lax on some laws, but the FOID cards puts teeth back in it,” Petrevich said.

Efforts by the State Police

Acting Illinois State Police Director Brendan Kelly said fingerprinting would help ISP’s 53-person Firearms Services Bureau process FOID applications as it searches for information through available databases to determine whether someone poses a threat.

The bureau processes more than 25,000 FOID applications and 11,000 conceal carry licenses applications a month and receives about 15,000 calls a week.

Kelly said the agency is working to increase the amount of personnel who process and review FOID applications. Budgeted increases in agency headcounts were used to handle new gun dealer licensing duties, but people who are filling those positions are being cross-trained to also handle FOID and firearms background checks.

“There are 7 million firearm prohibiting offenses that are not in databases across the country,” said Kelly, the former St. Clair County state’s attorney. “So the more information you can get to identify someone who is Joe Smith plus their birth date, plus an address, plus relevant identifying information, then you’ll be able to do an accurate firearms analysis through all the various background check systems that exist throughout the United States at the federal level, at the state level, within military records, or within various corrections departments or jails across the country.”

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Illinois State Police Acting Director Brendan Kelly. Zia Nizami News-Democrat

Kelly said he recognizes there is debate over whether fingerprinting infringes on individual rights.

“The issues of what that means in terms of privacy and individual rights, that is something the Legislature and the courts will have to debate,” he said. “All (the ISP) can do is provide good facts and good information about the challenges that are facing law enforcement, and that are facing people who are involved in trying to improve public safety.”

Fix the FOID includes using some of the increased fees to provide additional manpower for the State Police.

Kelly said there is a concern about the low percentage of revoked FOID cards being returned. He said the ISP launched an online portal in the spring to help facilitate information to local enforcement of who has had their FOID card revoked, and why.

“The key thing is not necessarily to get back a piece of plastic, a FOID card,” Kelly said. “The key thing is that individuals who have felonies in their background, or domestic violence, or have a mental health prohibitor, or pose some other type of clear and present danger don’t have access to firearms. That is a huge enforcement task.

There are many reasons someone’s firearm would be revoked, or be in a status where it’s not valid. Someone may move out of the state, someone may have an old offense from 1985 where they had a felony amount of cannabis and have not had any crimes since then. Those are not the individuals that local law enforcement, sheriffs or state police would necessarily devote a lot of resources to. We have to triage and prioritize those folks who have a more clear and present danger based on a variety of factors.”

BEHIND OUR REPORTING

How did we get the data for this story?

The Belleville News-Democrat reviewed FOID card data as well as firearm disposition record data from 2015 to 2018. We obtained these records from the Illinois State Police through public records requests.

Why did we report this story?

There has been an ongoing national debate about background checks for people who want access to a firearm and whether proposals to increase gun control for public safety infringes on Second Amendment rights. Illinois legislators have been working to find ways to make sure people who should not have firearms don’t get access to them.

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Joseph Bustos is the state affairs and politics reporter for the Belleville News-Democrat, where he strives to hold elected officials accountable and provide context to decisions they make. He has won multiple awards from the Illinois Press Association for coverage of sales tax referenda.
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