Illinois State Police Claims FOID Backlog Nearly Eliminated

AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

Color me skeptical about these claims, but if true this would be major progress in the state of Illinois, where tens of thousands of residents have been forced to wait for months (and in some cases, more than a year) before they receive their state-mandated permission slip to own a gun. Here’s what the Illinois State Police says in a new press release.

Because the Illinois State Police is rebuilding the Firearms Services Bureau – focusing on public safety and streamlining bureaucracy – the agency has reduced backlogs by 89% for renewals and 75% for new applicants. The agency has also significantly increased its revocation efforts in the wake of the murders in Aurora in 2019. With a surge in applications in 2020, the FSB began a multi-faceted approach to increase efficiencies to reduce processing times, delete redundancies and streamline the process to eliminate future backlogs. The improvements have been three-fold: technology and process, hiring and legislation. The combination of these efforts is already producing results with the FOID renewal backlog being reduced by 89% and the new FOID card backlog being reduced by 75%.

As of last month, the Illinois State Police reported that new FOID card applications were still taking an average of 197 days to process, with renewals taking more than 258 days on average, so I find it very hard to believe that in just a few weeks the state police have managed to clear out the vast majority of the backlog. If that’s the case, then I’d love for the agency to reveal exactly how long, on average, it’s now taking to process FOID card applications. Strangely though, the ISP isn’t touting that number, or even revealing it at all.

The press release from the state police has also managed to confuse some local media outlets. Check out this bit from the state police:

The combination of these efforts is already producing results with the FOID renewal backlog being reduced by 89% and the new FOID card backlog being reduced by 75%. Despite the high number of Firearm Transaction Inquiries – a number has remained consistent high for the past 18 months, the FSB is currently processing within the mandated 72 hours. 

Firearm Transaction Inquiries are different than processing FOID card applications. The FTIs refer to background checks conducted on gun transfers across the state, not FOID applications. Yet here’s how the ABC affiliate in Chicago reported on that figure:

Illinois State Police said they’ve made major progress on a backlog of FOID card applications.

The ISP said its Firearms Services Bureau is now processing applications within 72 hours of when they’re received.

Nope. Not even close.

Now part of the problem is that most reporters have no idea how gun laws actually work in practice, so they couldn’t tell you the difference between an FTI and a UTI, much less an FTI and a FOID application. But the Illinois State Police was also a little unclear in its press release by including the time to conduct FTIs in the same paragraph that highlighted the reduction in the backlog of FOID applications.

In order to make things crystal clear for would-be gun owners and interested media, the Illinois State Police should release the following information instead of cherry picking data for the purposes of public relations.

  • How many new FOID applications are currently waiting for review
  • How many FOID renewals are currently pending review
  • The average processing time for new and renewed FOID applications, as of September 28th
  • The number of new and renewed FOID card applications processed in June, July, August, and September

That information would tell us much more about the current state of the FOID fiasco than simply reporting that most of the backlog has been cleared out, but I doubt we’ll learn many of those details. If we’re lucky the Illinois State Police will update the average processing times for September in the next couple of weeks, but the agency has been rather slow with those providing those updates to the public over the past few months. I’ve also not been able to figure out a way to access past reports from the ISP’s FOID data portal, which makes it difficult to determine if there has been any significant improvement to the backlog.

There are several cases challenging the constitutionality of the FOID card itself that could come before the Illinois State Supreme Court in the next few months, and my concern is that the ISP is trying to show the court that even if people have been forced to wait for six months or more before they get permission to keep a gun in their home (which would be a clear infringement on their Second Amendment rights, in my opinion), they’re now addressing the issue and there’s no reason to scrap the law entirely. The state has both the motive and means to massage the data in order to present a rosy picture of the failed FOID system, and until the ISP releases the information outlined above, I don’t see any reason to blindly believe the boasts about the backlog fading away.