Cook County sheriff reveals (another) huge problem with Illinois' FOID card system

AP Photo/Teresa Crawford

While Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth thinks that her state’s Firearm Owner ID card law should be imposed from coast-to-coast, testimony from Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart on Thursday revealed that tens of thousands of permits, which are required to possess a firearm in the state of Illinois, are still in the hands of individuals who’ve had their FOID cards revoked.

Presumably, any guns that they owned when their FOID cards were valid are still in the possession of many of these folks, but Dart says his office can’t do much about the backlog.

Arthur Jackson, first deputy chief of police for the Cook County Sheriff’s Police Department, told legislators over the years, 33,000 Cook County residents’ firearm owner’s identification cards have been revoked because of violent felony convictions, domestic violence charges or serious mental health issues.

That’s more than the entire population of Highland Park in Lake County.

Of that total, “nearly 20,000” have not turned in their cards — more than the population of Deerfield.

“They’re walking around with FOID cards, and we are trying to make it our mission to recover those FOID cards and recover the weapons that those people have,” Jackson said.

Since 2013, a team of six officers and one sergeant have gone to the homes of those whose FOID cards have been revoked, recovering 881 guns in those efforts.

“There are so many out there. We don’t have enough manpower to actually retrieve everything the way that we would like to at this time,” Jackson said, adding that sheriff’s police are working with State Police to fund extra teams to go out and retrieve the FOID cards.

The Cook County Sheriff’s office said of the nearly 20,000 with revoked cards, a little over 1,800 are subjects of “clear and present danger” reports compiled by the Illinois State Police. Those reports can bar applicants from receiving a FOID card or be used to revoke a current one.

And of the 30,000, nearly 25,000 have not accounted for their weapons, neglecting to file a disposition record that asserts they no longer possess weapons.

It means just seven law enforcement officers are tasked with entering the homes of those with revoked FOID cards in the entire county, including Chicago, in what the sheriff’s office described as a labor-intensive effort that includes heavy paperwork and research.

So, despite the FOID card and its promise of keeping guns out of the hands of prohibited persons, there are almost 20,000 of those individuals in Cook County alone. Police know who they are and where they live, but despite that fact over the past nine years the Cook County Sheriff’s Office has managed to collect only about 100 illegally-possessed firearms each year.

At the same time, law-abiding citizens hoping to exercise their right to keep a firearm in their home have been subjected to delays of a year or more before the Illinois State Police signs off on their FOID card. Those delays have thankfully largely abated over the past year, which is good, but there’s no guarantee this won’t become a problem again in the future.

The constitutionality of the FOID card has been called into question as well. In fact, lower courts have repeatedly ruled that the permit requirement is unconstitutional, at least as it applies to keeping firearms in the home, but the state Supreme Court has reversed those decisions on technical grounds and has so far refused to consider the constitutional issues on their own merits. Still, the legality of the FOID law is very much in question, and it’s clear that it’s failing to prevent prohibited persons from getting their hands on a gun. Sheriff Dart says the answer is to start requiring background checks for all purchases of ammunition, but that’s not going to thwart criminal activity.

The state needs to scrap the FOID card completely and focus its efforts on combatting violent crime, not criminalizing constitutional rights, but Democrats in Springfield are likely to double down on their anti-gun efforts instead. Lawmakers are currently pushing for a statewide ban on so-called assault weapons and large capacity magazines, and legal gun owners are still their primary target, despite the obvious and dangerous problems in the criminal justice system, from the unchecked crime on the streets to the miscarriage of justice in the courts. Criminals are having a field day in Chicago, with arrest rates for violent crimes at historic lows, but the Democrats in charge of the state are far more concerned with law-abiding citizens trying to exercise their Second Amendment rights.