Chicago — Owning firearms is supposed to make you safe. Except when it doesn’t.
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s ruling last week that the names of the 1.3 million people with Firearm Owners Identification cards (FOID) in the state is public information has gun owners up in arms, pun intended.
The same groups that declare no one would put a sign in front of their home saying NO GUN now fear the opposite. They’re no longer worried about their right to bear arms, they’re worried about their right to bear arms anonymously. Their right to privacy.
1,000 to 1,500 gun owners converged on the Statehouse this week in Springfield to oppose the decision and push for conceal and carry laws. In Peoria, Circuit Judge Scott Shore halted disclosure with a temporary restraining order. And in a related privacy concern, Amish Illinois residents lobbied their state representatives and law enforcement officers to keep their photos off their FOID cards after former Illinois State Police Director Jonathon Monken said the policy would be reversed.
The Illinois State Police’s Firearms Services Bureau conducts background checks and updates FBI databases on the 230,000 gun owner applications it receives a year. That amount rose to 326,000 in 2009 says bureau chief Lt. John Coffman which he attributes to last year’s Supreme Court decision that overturned Chicago’s handgun ban and extension of the card’s validity to 10 years, reports the State Journal-Register.
In 2005 Illinois State Police procedures were also under scrutiny when an employee with guns in his truck at the agency’s training academy shot his girlfriend and himself says the Chicago Tribune. A state police firearms official said the agency could have confiscated the man’s weapons but didn’t in a different court case.
Two years ago a similar name disclosure flap occurred when the Memphis Commercial Appeal decided to publish a searchable base of state firearm permit holders, despite gun owner identity protection laws in states like Florida, Ohio and South Dakota that sealed names. The Appeal found that 70 of 154 state permit holders had criminal records including Bernard Avery (arrested 25 times with a murder charge dismissed on mental competency) and Reginald Miller (a felon with 11 arrests). Oops!
Chris Cox, then executive director of Illinois’ NRA, wrote the Appeal after the disclosures and called the decision “dangerous” — as if gun safety advocates and employers were armed instead of gun-owners. Hello?
Even though 25 other states call gun owner information public or do not specifically call it private, pro-gun Illinois politicians say the public has no right to the information and have introduced counter legislation to Madigan’s ruling. The Illinois State Police has also refused to release the information, which it has held confidential for forty years, in defiance of Madigan’s ruling and a Freedom of Information Act request from the Associated Press.
Pro-disclosure and gun safety activists, on the other hand, say knowing whether a neighbor, daycare worker or the kid sitting next to your son or daughter at community college is armed is very much their business. Especially since 10,222 firearm applications the Illinois State Police received in 2009 were denied and 5,952 were outright revoked.
Though the firearm owner information which Madigan wants to release would not include addresses, phone numbers or photos, gun activists worry they will be harassed in their community, by gun control activists or by anti-gun employers. They also worry that criminals will break into their houses and steal their weapons.
In fact, gun activists are so worried about others knowing they’re armed, you have to wonder if the weapons make them safe — or unsafe. And if they need to buy more weapons to defend their weapons.