Illinois Lawmakers Divert Millions From State FOID Card Fund

Illinois Lawmakers Divert Millions From State FOID Card Fund

Illinois’ Firearms Owner ID card is already the subject of lawsuits that are currently before the Illinois Supreme Court, and the latest news about the licensing program for gun owners may lead to more litigation.

Almost $30-million in fees paid by the state’s legal gun owners have been diverted from their intended purpose to other state programs, according to the website The Center Square.

A memo from the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability sent to state Rep. Kieth Wheeler, R-Oswego, in September showed that in fiscal years 2015 through 2019 more than $13 million was swept from the State Police Firearm Services Fund for other purposes.

State lawmakers have often used fund sweeps to shore up spending in other areas.

“The Department did not answer our questions about the effects of the fund transfers (whether they affected firearm services operations),” the November memo said.

An Illinois House Republican staff member requested the memo.

The Illinois State Rifle Association said another $15 million was swept from a different fund, the State Police Services Fund, for a total of $28.5 million in sweeps over five years.

“Clearly, there is not a problem in lack of money from these fees, but an improper allocation of how the money is being spent,” ISRA Executive Director Richard Pearson said. “It is unconscionable for the Governor and the Legislature to ask for honest gun owners to pay more money for a Constitutional Right when the money they are already paying is going to fund other programs and services.”

The state’s FOID card system is in disarray at the moment, with background checks delaying the renewal or issuance of the required cards for a number of gun owners across the state. As KMOV-TV reported last month:

Glenn Rogers is a retired police officer. He said after 10 years his FOID card was due to expire so he tried to renew it online.

“I started in October. I figured it would be a simple flow, but it hasn’t been,” Rogers said. “It’s been difficult. There’s no renewal button. It’s not even earthly possible for you to renew.”

He said he can’t get through to anyone to even ask for help.

Illinois has some of the nation’s more restrictive gun laws. The head of the Illinois Rifle Association said there are 2.3 million people across the state with FOID cards and thousands are having problems renewing them.

Officials with the Illinois State Police have promised an upgrade to the phone system that will supposedly ensure more timely checks, but it sure looks like lawmakers in Springfield were raiding the FOID card funds even while the system was in dire need of a major overhaul.

I think the FOID law is unconstitutional to begin with, but if state lawmakers can’t even be trusted to use the money paid by gun owners for its intended purpose, it’s another reason to scrap the FOID system entirely.

Richard Pearson, executive director of the Illinois State Rifle Association, calls the revelations “unacceptable.” 

“Five years of fund sweeps is unacceptable and needs to be addressed immediately. Beyond the delays and problems in the FOID and ICCL program, these fund sweeps are hampering citizens from exercising their Constitutional Right. Our office gets daily calls from people who are having difficulties navigating the FOID card process so it’s no wonder we see these problems, given a significant portion of the money intended to fund the program has been raided for other state programs,” Pearson said.

Efforts by anti-gun groups to push legislation that would more than double the FOID card fee was a call to action for ISRA to get unbiased data on how the FOID and Concealed Carry programs have been managed and how they are funded. The anti-gunners insisted the program was underfunded and therefore the FOID fee must be raised. The experienced ISRA lobby team worked with Rep. Wheeler (R-Oswego) to have the Legislative Research Unit produce an unbiased accounting of the revenues generated by the FOID card and ICCL fees.

“We pursued this investigation because we wanted honest gun owners to know the truth about what was happening to the fees that they pay for the right to own a firearm in Illinois,” Pearson said. “We worked with Rep. Wheeler to secure a report from the Legislative Research Unit on what was happening to the user fees and now we know. There is no shortage – just money being taken from these accounts to be used for other things.”

Good for the Illinois State Rifle Association and Rep. Keith Wheeler for doing some digging on this issue and exposing the raid on the FOID card funds. The ISRA’s Richard Pearson says he wants Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker to ensure that there are no future cash grabs, but so far the governor hasn’t said anything in response to the revelations.

The easiest thing to do to ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent as intended would be to simply scrap the FOID system altogether. You can’t divert money taken from gun owners if you haven’t collected it in the first place, and ending the requirement for legal gun owners to possess a Firearms Owner ID card would both end the licensing of a right as well as cut off a source of easily diverted cash for lawmakers in Springfield.