Why Illinois Has a Seven Month Waiting Period For First-Time Gun Buyers

AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

It’s not because the legislature’s imposed a seven-month wait for those wanting to exercise their right to keep arms. In fact, according to the state legislature, those applying for a Firearms Owner ID card (which is required in order to possess a firearm in your own home) must have their application approved or denied within 30 days. At least, that’s the law on the books at the moment.

Despite that, the Illinois State Police, which is the agency responsible for processing both FOID and concealed carry applications, has a huge backlog of applications, and they’re either unable or unwilling to comply with the state’s own mandate.

Illinois State Police administers the credentials. According to their latest data as of May 2021, the state is looking at a backlog of 159,678 applications for FOID cards, that includes new applications and renewals.

That’s down considerably about 35% from the more than 243,000 applications back in March

For concealed carry license applications, the backlog for new applicants and renewals right now is 45,364. That’s down about 8% from March.

… The average wait time for a FOID card is about seven months. The average wait time for a concealed carry license is about five-and-a=half-months.

While Illinois Democrats have been patting themselves on the backs for “expanding access to voting”, they’ve done jack squat about ensuring that residents can exercise their right to keep and bear arms in a timely manner. Remember, it’s a crime to possess a gun in your home without a FOID card (though a state judge in Illinois recently ruled that to be a violation of the Second Amendment), and it’s also against the law to carry a gun in public without a concealed carry license. Of course criminals in Chicago and cities like Joliet don’t seem too bothered by the law, but it has a chilling effect on otherwise responsible gun owners, some of whom are likely to decide to get a gun (and perhaps) carry it illegally; not because they have any violent intent, but because they want to protect themselves and aren’t willing to wait for months before the state gets around to issuing a permission slip. If I lived in a high-crime neighborhood in Chicago, I can’t say that I wouldn’t do the same thing, to be honest.

The unconscionable FOID delays (as well as the FOID requirement itself) are being challenged in court, but a couple of weeks ago a federal judge declined to issue an injunction that would have forced the Illinois State Police to comply with the state law requiring the agency process applications within 30 days. Goldwater Institute attorney Jacob Huebert, part of the coalition suing over the FOID delays (which also includes the Illinois State Rifle Association and the Second Amendment Foundation), rejected the judge’s argument that the delays are not a severe enough burden to put a halt to the FOID regime or to force compliance with state law.

“This is a total deprivation of Second Amendment rights until the state gets around to acting on your FOID card application, and to some people that can be the difference between life and death,” Huebert said.

The case is still alive at the trial level but it’s likely going to go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Huebert said the state is supposed to process applications within 30 days.

“If they can’t do that then they should scrap the whole scheme, and the courts should enjoin the whole FOID card act,” Huebert said. “If these people can’t process these cards within 30 days then they shouldn’t being doing this at all and they should respect people’s second amendment rights in the first place.”

The only silver lining about what’s happening with the FOID and concealed carry delays in Illinois right now is that it’s the perfect argument against gun licensing and registration schemes. We’ve now seen firsthand how the state can use these laws to chill the exercise of a constitutionally protected civil right by requiring licenses and then failing to process them in a timely manner. If the Illinois State Police don’t have the resources necessary to process these applications within 30 days and the state of Illinois won’t appropriate the funds to ensure compliance with the law, then why should citizens be the ones to suffer the consequences? If the state can violate its own obligations under the law, why should citizens not be able to do the same?

There are hundreds of thousands of Illinois residents who’ve been directly impacted by these delays and the continued enforcement of the FOID and concealed carry laws, and the legislature responded with a bill that supporters claim will end the backlog in another twelve months.

I’ll believe it when I see it. Even if things are back to “normal” a year from now, however, the fundamental problem with the FOID system itself has been exposed, and no amount of legislation can fix it. The Firearm Owner ID card is an unconstitutional infringement on the right to keep and bear arms because it can and has been used to deny by months-long delays the fundamental right to acquire and possess a gun. If the licensing process can be used to delay approvals for a year or more, then why not two? Three? Five? Indefinitely?

I’m glad to see that the FOID backlog isn’t as big as it once was, but the only true sign of progress will be when the FOID law itself is struck down by the courts. Thankfully, with about a dozen lawsuits currently underway, there are plenty of opportunities for the courts to do so.