The following is a tale of bureaucracy, red tape, governmental neglect, misappropriated funds, and a mixture of incompetence and/or apathy. Unfortunately, it is the chronicling of my now 20 months’ worth (and counting) of attempts to legally exercise my Second Amendment rights and remain a legal gun owner in the state of Illinois. Bear with me, dear reader. Part of this will read like a bad customer service story, and the other part will hopefully highlight how broken the FOID system is in Illinois.
For those not familiar with Illinois’ environment toward firearms, “To legally possess firearms or ammunition, Illinois residents must have a Firearm Owners Identification (FOID) card, which is issued by the Illinois State Police to any qualified applicant.” In fact, to even handle a firearm at most LGS or gun shows, sellers will first ask to see your FOID card. To transport a firearm, you need to have a FOID. Hell, even private transfers are now legally required to be called in to the Illinois State Police (ISP) to verify the buyer’s FOID (and the records of said transfer retained for 10 years). The FOID is basically the overarching requirement for owning, shooting, or possessing firearms, thus it is also the gateway for any activity involving firearms: hunting, competition shooting, summer trap leagues, concealed carry, and even the Single Action Shooting Society.
With such a gateway in place, one might assume that the great state of Illinois would be running a tight ship when it comes to its citizens’ Second Amendment rights. After all, a right delayed is a right denied, and to delay the rights of its constituents might invite legal actions, fines, or rulings – all actions unenviable to the ruling class in Illinois, the majority of which largely does not exhibit a pro-gun attitude unless legally thrust upon them (See McDonald v. City of Chicago). Even with those threats looming, the State of Illinois regrettably treats the Second Amendment rights of its residents as an exasperating obligation at best and an avoidable duty at worst.
The ISP website states that
“The Illinois State Police will issue your card pending verification that all information is accurate and meets state requirements. Normally, FOID renewals are processed within 60 business days (about three months). FOID new applications are processed within 30 calendar days. Please allow up to 10 additional days for printing and mailing before inquiring about your card.”
Deadlines for obtaining a Concealed Carry License (CCL) are similar.
“Normally, upon receipt of a completed application, including fee, the ISP shall issue or deny the applicant an Illinois Concealed Carry License within 90 days, provided the applicant submits a full set of fingerprints in electronic format. If fingerprints are not submitted, the ISP is granted an additional 30 days to complete a manual background check. In all cases, law enforcement agencies will have 30 days to file an objection once an application is received.”
In case you missed the timelines in those direct quotes from the ISP website FAQ, it can take up to three months (their words) to issue you a renewal FOID card, and 1.5 months so you can BEGIN to exercise your Second Amendment rights. I can only imagine the uproar if these restrictions were placed upon any other Constitutional right.
Now, I digress a bit, but it’s important to understand the intended timelines that the state of Illinois has given itself to act. My personal timeline begins in early 2020 at the beginning of a large surge in Illinois gun ownership.
I purchased a new house in late 2019 and still owned the old one into May 2020. I tried to renew both my FOID and CCL early, since I could renew and change an address at the same time. However, when attempting to do so online, the ISP website informed me that I couldn’t submit for renewal more than 90 days in advance. Fair enough. I would wait until finally inside the 90 days to renew, but would at least submit the address change now. This is in March 2020.
Excessive FOID Fees
Little did I know that applying for an address change would result in an $80 address update fee ($5 for the FOID and $75 for the CCL). You are not alone if that price strikes you as exorbitant. Since my CCL needed to be renewed soon, I elected to wait and do both the address change and renewal at the same time. Besides being convenient, this would also save me some money resulting in only the renewal fee ($10 FOID + $150 CCL = $160) instead of a renewal fee PLUS an $80 address change fee ($240).
Unfortunately, when I was finally inside the 90-day period and able to renew, the ISP website wouldn’t let me back out of the address change process I had previously initiated, thus I was unable to renew my FOID and CCL (which also would’ve let me address change simultaneously). Apparently, they really wanted their $80.
You may notice on that screen shot a line of text that reads, “Click to pay $80 (FOID and Concealed Carry license) for the name and/or address change made. You have 30 days to make payment before cancellation.”
I figured, “OK, the website is just stuck. I’ll just wait 30 days, it’ll forget about my address change, and I can move forward.” Even though it had already been 30 days, I figured maybe the site meant 30 MORE days or 30 days from your sign in. I was so naïve.
Thirty days later the website was giving me the same message (they really, really wanted their $80) and I so I reached out to the ISP. My problem: I couldn’t renew my CCL and FOID because the website wouldn’t let me back out of an address change. So I emailed the ISP with my predicament on April 10, 2020. Surprisingly, I received an email back later that same day from Sergeant Jacqueline Cepeda, informing me that I had contacted the wrong email address and directing me to the proper one. It would not be the last time Sgt. Cepeda would provide valuable assistance.
Long FOID Wait
I proceeded to email the ISP at the correct email address on April 13. And on April 16. And on April 23 and 28, all with no reply. At this point, I am earnestly trying to remain a legal gun owner in Illinois.
It was about this time that COVID-19 was roaring its ugly head, and that state was thankfully making accommodations for gun owners trying to stay on the right side of the law. They passed an April 9, 2020 emergency rules memo which granted a grace period to gun owners, part of which reads that FOID card holders and CCL licensees,
“…who submit their renewal application will remain valid during the duration of the state’s disaster proclamation and for a period of 12 months following the termination of the disaster, even if their renewal application is/was not submitted prior to expiration.”
But the website wouldn’t let me submit for renewal, and because I had no pending renewal, I feared I was not eligible for the COVID-19-forced “grace period.”
On April 28, I also emailed Sgt. Cepeda, asking if she had another possible contact since I was getting no response from ISP. Literally, 3 minutes later I had an email in my inbox stating she had already forwarded my email, asking someone to reach out to me. Just incredible and I applaud Sgt. Cepeda for her efforts. Unfortunately, I think her requests for assistance went to the same ears that mine did and by May 4 I had not heard from anyone. Another email to ISP proved fruitless, but a quick follow-up with the sergeant resulted in someone calling ME from the ISP to clear things up with the website (resetting my CCL application from “pending payment” to “active”). God bless her! I was now FINALLY granted the fantastic privilege of being able to pay the state of Illinois $150 (plus $3.38 service fee) to renew my CCL and another $10 (plus $1 service fee) to renew my FOID. I was also able to update my address on each! Thank you Illinois for allowing me to pay for my rights!
At this point, (May 4, 2020) my applications had been submitted. I hadn’t received my updated cards yet, but it mattered little. Thousands of FOID/CCL holders including myself no longer had a huge rush to receive our actual cards in the mail since we were declared legal by the state.
So I patiently waited. I was legal, so in my mind the state could take all the time it wanted to provide me the actual card. Who cares, right?
Well, there were a few inconveniences. A few FFLs did request to see proof that I submitted for renewal (and was thus covered under the emergency rules), but that was basically showing them a printout from the ISP website. After the first time, I was prepared for such events and people were largely quite accommodating.
However, time went by. And by. The “60 business days (three months)” as cited on the ISP website flew past with no word. Not great, but they were citing a lot of COVID-related delays. In fact, this was a big news story in Illinois (even bigger than the December 2019 stories of the FOID’s misappropriated funds). Already in May 2020, the delays were mainstream news. The next month, Illinois news outlets were citing waits as long as seven months. In October, ISP was facing 12 active lawsuits (according to the Illinois State Rifle Association, who had filed one themselves). November showed no signs of relief, and by December, lawmakers in the state were “voicing their complaints.” This was exacerbated by record numbers of FOID card applications, despite the ISP hiring 21 more “Firearms Eligibility Analysts” to expedite the process.
In other words, it’s a big, known, highly-publicized problem receiving a bunch of lip-service, sans anything actually being done to effectively remedy the issue.
Are You Kidding Me?
I wouldn’t hear a word from the ISP regarding my FOID or CCL until around February 2021, 10 months after I began my process. On February 18, 2021 my FOID card was issued, and I was very relieved to see that my shiny new card bore my updated address. Then I saw the expiration date. It read 05/01/2021, the same expiration date as my old card. My “renewed” card would expire in two-and-a-half months.
I immediately went to the ISP website to make sure I had not accidentally done ONLY an address change. I had not. Clear as day, the website showed (and still shows) my request for FOID renewal and the correct $10 charge. Address changes on a FOID are only $5.
So, after all this hassle, the emails, and the 9-month wait… somebody at ISP processed me for ONLY an address change, not a renewal, yet still charged me for the renewal. I was a little peeved. Incredulous, but still peeved.
Since then, I emailed the ISP on March 2, 2021. As well as March 23, June 8, June 15, July 22, September 30, and November 2nd. I have not heard a single word.
Actually, I heard once. On June 28, 2021, the ISP was kind enough to send me a form letter reminding me that my FOID was going to expire and that I should renew it. Besides this letter being salt in the wound after all my efforts, this reminder was sent over a month AFTER the “expiration” printed on my card. I wish this was a joke.
Wait, it gets better. Since they FUBAR’d the renewal application, it is marked as completed on the ISP website, thus I no longer have a “pending application for renewal” and several LGS do not recognize my FOID card as valid. I am not able to fully exercise my rights.
Now, some might say, “Well, why not just pay another $10 to renew again and be done with it?”
– First, I hate paying for a FOID on principle. It is the taxing of a constitutionally protected right.
– Second, I REALLY hate paying twice for something they should have done correctly the first time.
– Third, this also forgives the fact that if all they did for me thus far was an address change, they even overcharged me for that!
– Fourth, my confidence in the ISP being able to properly do the task asked of them is at an all-time low, and I’d probably be out another $10. Insert a comment here about the “definition of insanity.”
I could just pay again. Maybe I should. But I am absolutely fed up with the ISP and the broken, mismanaged FOID system. Even at its most optimistic and legally obligated timelines, it is far too slow and an encumbrance on law-abiding citizens who wish to legally exercise their rights. The FOID website, even undergoing an overhaul in the midst of this debacle, is still woefully inadequate. To say that the FOID program is understaffed borders on ludicrous understatement. Even people that dislike guns should be critical of the FOID, and here’s why. Many of the fees obtained from FOID and CCL holders, are intended to be used for the Mental Health Reporting Fund, the State Crime Laboratory Fund, and to fund the Firearms Services Bureau. However, as reported by numerous places, especially mom-at-arms.com, those funds remain largely unspent, instead being swept into the state’s general fund.
The funds that are earmarked to help “combat gun violence,” are not being used for that. For some reason, legal gun owners are being taxed to fund these things (a topic for another article). However, sans the purported benefit that gun owners are footing the bill for, any taxes/fees above the costs associated with implementation are solely punitive. What other purpose could they have if not going toward their intended funds and agencies?
Void the FOID
What’s my conclusion from all this? The FOID needs to go.
· It is ineffective; many states without state card requirements experience less gun violence than Illinois. Also, many experience more. It has no effect. Illinois is one of only four states with a state license requirement.
· The fees for a FOID (and CCL) are far beyond costs to maintain the program and constitute a modern day poll tax on legal gun owners.
· Even if one somehow believed the fees assessed are appropriate, the collected money is being wildly mismanaged.
· It delays the rights of Illinois gun owners, and especially those whose self-protection needs are urgent.
· Low-income communities are disproportionally effected by violent crime and do not need another fee or barrier to their right of self-defense.
· It unnecessarily duplicates steps already taken by the NICS (National Instant Criminal Background Check System).
Thankfully I am not alone in my assertions. In April 2021, a circuit court judge ruled Illinois’ FOID law unconstitutional, meaning the case could make its way to the Illinois Supreme Court. Illinois residents should pray that it does.
In fairness, during the summer of 2021 the ISP has managed to make some headway in their backlog of FOID applications and renewals. It is not surprising that this “success” has received more publicity than the issue itself. Heck, one of my new coworkers received his 10 days later. All I could do was shake my head.
Oh, and for those wondering my renewed CCL was issued September 20, 2021 -a full 504 days after my online application. It will expire under four years from its issue date, when I get to pay another $150 to renew it.
I sent a final email to the ISP on Dec. 15, 2021 and I will give 72 hours before I begin contacting elected officials and Second Amendment advocacy groups. After over 20 months, my patience has run out and there are still way too many cases just like mine where the rights of citizens are being unconscionably delayed.