Illinois debates keeping gun owners' identities secret

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan wants to make public all registered firearm owners through the state’s Freedom of Information Act. Opponents say public disclosure could increase crime.

Seth Perlman/AP
Gun owners and supporters show their support during Gun Owners' Lobby Day at the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield, Ill., Thursday, March 10, 2011. They were angry over Attorney General Lisa Madigan's effort to make public the names and other personal information belonging to registered gun owners.

It’s highly likely that the identity of Illinois gun owners will continue to be protected from public disclosure.

Legislation passed in the state House of Representatives Friday circumvents the efforts of Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, who is fighting to make the names and expiration dates of all state-issued firearm owner identification cards available through the state’s Freedom of Information Act.

Attorney General Madigan contends that citizens deserved to know who owns guns in their communities while gun rights advocates said the measure would lead to increased crime.

Illinois Rep. Richard Morthland (R), the bill’s sponsor, says “there is a pressing need to keep this information private.”

Revealing the names and locations of gun owners “would create a situation where there’d be increased possibility for gun violence,” he says.

The bill passed with bipartisan support by a vote of 98-12. Although Republicans cast the majority of supporting votes, some Democrats joined their ranks in passing the measure. The bill now awaits a vote in the Illinois Senate.

Some Democrats who voted no said their opposition came from the inconsistency in state licensing. They contend that firearms licenses are the only licenses in the state that are exempt from state open-records laws.

Another showdown involving gun rights is expected to take place this coming week when lawmakers consider legislation that would allow handgun owners to conceal and carry their weaponry in public. Illinois and Wisconsin are the only two states in the nation that ban legal gun owners from carrying concealed weapons.

The bill would allow county sheriffs to issue conceal carry permits to firearm identification card holders if they undergo an FBI background check and pass classroom training on handguns.

While similar measures have failed in previous attempts in Illinois and Wisconsin, advocates say the political climate has changed following the US Supreme Court’s decision last summer allowing handguns in the home for self-protection.

That ruling forced Chicago to revise its handgun ordinance so it could stand up to scrutiny in federal court. The revised ordinance established a multi-tier process for gun owners to own their weapons in the city, which includes registering their firearms with local authorities and obtaining a special city permit in addition to the state license. Each handgun needs to be reregistered every year.

The proposed conceal carry law was criticized by Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley last week. In a letter sent to state representatives that was co-signed by Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel, Daley urged lawmakers to strike down the bill, saying its passage would increase crime and threaten law enforcement and public safety.

“This bill must be defeated,” Daley told reporters last week. “Allowing concealed handguns in Illinois can turn the simplest everyday activities into dangerous situations.”

The Chicago Sun-Times reported last week that it is common for Illinois handgun owners to travel to Utah and Florida to apply for concealed carry permits since those states have reciprocal agreements with dozens of other states.

Although statistics are not available on how many Illinois handgun owners take advantage of the out-of-state permitting, Illinois State Rifle Association Director Richard Pearson said the trend is “at least six or seven times more popular” than it was two years ago.

The practice is widespread enough that it has led to a cottage industry involving out-of-state experts on state laws who provide classes on gun safety and legal issues in Illinois, then take permit applications back to their home state for filing. Gun owners in Illinois are also invited to apply for the out-of-state permits online or by conventional mail.

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