FOID Backlog Has Some Looking For Solutions

Steve Helber

Illinois has its FOID system and proponents of gun control admire it. In their mind, it’s fantastic since it requires yet another background check. Further, since people have to maintain the permit for as long as they own their firearms, in means they keep having to go through background checks.

Of course, that doesn’t stop some people from slipping right through the system.

Despite its failures, Illinois isn’t likely to scrap its FOID system if lawmakers have their way. Yet the system is strained beyond the breaking point, and that has some looking at what they can do to fix it.

State lawmakers returning to Springfield this week could take up measures some say will help streamline the process for firearms owners to secure licenses required to stay within the law.

Persistent delays in issuing Firearm Owner’s Identification cards in Illinois have doubled in the last year and a half, and are likely to continue after a federal judge shot down a motion last week seeking to force the state to issue backlogged cards.

Illinoisans who want to legally buy or own firearms and ammunition must have a card issued by Illinois State Police. Penalties for not having one when owning a firearm depend on the circumstances, but can range from a misdemeanor to a felony charge with up to three years in prison.

It’s approaching two years of reports of backlogs in card applications. Some people have been waiting for months, if not more than a year. In January 2020, Illinois State Police posted an update on the agency’s Facebook page that said it has about “62,000 FOID applications under review which includes new, renewals and changes.”

The backlog problem has more than doubled since, compounded by increased applications during the pandemic, increased urban crime and civil unrest over the past 18 months.

From April 2020 through April of this year, Illinois State Police data shows there were a total of 160,452 firearm owner card renewal applications. Of that, 103,551 were approved and 271 denied, leaving nearly 57,000 renewals backlogged.

See, the problem with any licensing scheme beyond any constitutional considerations is the fact that the bureaucracy created to support it isn’t scalable. It’s built to handle a certain degree of demand. Yet if demand increases, it lacks the flexibility to scale up to meet that increased demand.

This results in delays beyond state mandates. It’s easy for lawmakers to say they have X number of days to issue a permit, but if the bureaucracy can’t, then what?

I get why licensing proponents like licensing. The problem is that it’s an idea that is doomed to fail every single time. That is unless you ascribe to the idea that the delays are intentional. If that’s the case, well, what can I say? Hell, the only reason I don’t ascribe to it is that I don’t think the government is competent enough to create delays on purpose.

Now, people are turning to lawmakers and the courts to address the problem.

Lawmakers could, in theory, make adjustments to the FOID system by increasing funding and mandating that it go to expanding services, but I’m skeptical. I’d see them just removing any requirements that FOIDs be issued within a set timeframe.

The courts, on the other hand, could well find the FOID system unconstitutional and scrap licensing for good. While I’d see Illinois officials trying to take this to the Supreme Court, that would ultimately be a win for our side since there’s every reason to believe the Court would side with gun rights.

Assuming, of course, this was in federal court. Illinois state courts would generally side with gun control and any ruling they made would be less than ideal for gun owners, to say the least.

Either way, something needs to be done.