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EYE ON ILLINOIS: FOID backlog raises question of state’s ability to administer its own contested regulations

All drivers know traffic laws are ultimately worthless if no one ever gets a ticket.

Likewise, policy laws require the government to meet its obligations to carry out necessary administrative functions.

Tens of thousands of Illinoisans are painfully aware the state remains unable to adequately operate the firearm owner’s identification program. Capitol News Illinois reports a dozen pending lawsuits mounting some form of argument that application backlogs are violating Second Amendment rights, and the longer it takes to solve the issue, the more valid that position appears.

The outcry would be deafening if the state couldn’t process voter registration requests in time for people to cast valid ballots. Yet there are more than 142,000 Illinoisans with pending FOID card applications, many of whom are ready for duck and deer hunting season, and another 26,000 people trying to get a concealed carry license.

These figures come from last week’s Joint Committee on Administrative Rules meeting, where state Sen. Paul Schimpf, R-Waterloo, explained that even though the Illinois State Police extended the expiration date for active FOID cards by 18 months – similar to what the Secretary of State did for driver’s licenses – gun and ammunition dealers aren’t willing to sell to customers whose printed cards appear to be invalid.

The law dictates an FOID application be approved or denied within 30 days. Illinois State Rifle Association Executive Director Richard Pearson reported one member has been waiting three years without an explanation.

Even folks just trying to get a renewal are in a pinch. While they may feel confident hunting because they know conservation officers are aware of the extension, they can only go out if they’ve been able to buy ammunition, which is impossible online when your FOID card is outdated.

The ISP, which has routinely struggled with such logjams, sent CNI an email saying it’s been hiring people to process applications all year, but noted new hires go through a six-month training program. That’s great from the standpoint of making sure only the right people get guns, but a backlog in fixing a backlog goes back to the question of whether the state can uphold its end of the law.

FOID lawsuits aren’t uncommon, whether challenges to the entire law or specific provisions, such as a unanimous Illinois Supreme Court opinion issued in January regarding a woman who successfully argued her 2001 misdemeanor battery conviction shouldn’t keep her from buying a handgun.

Can administrative shortcomings jeopardize a legitimate safety procedure? As more people wait for application processing, Illinois will be harder pressed to convince judges its gun ownership protocols are legal. Lawyers won’t miss the chance to challenge.

Incompetence has consequences. Law-abiding gun owners have every right to be furious with their state.

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

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