A major overhaul of Illinois’ gun permitting process moved forward in Springfield Tuesday over the objections of gun rights groups.
The legislation would require fingerprints to get a gun permit, create a state police task force to go after guns owned by people whose permits have been revoked, create stricter rules around firearm transfers, shorten the length of time the gun permit is valid and increase the cost of a permit.
The bill is sponsored by state Rep. Kathleen Willis and is meant to address longstanding loopholes in the state’s gun permitting process that were exposed in February’s mass shooting in west suburban Aurora.
The shooter in Aurora, Gary Martin, killed five people and wounded five police officers using a gun he was able to purchase only because an Illinois background check failed to turn up an out-of-state felony conviction.
When the conviction was discovered, Martin’s gun license was revoked, but he was never forced to give up his firearm.
“Clearly the process was incomplete or broken,” said Kathleen Sances, CEO of the Gun Violence Prevention PAC, which lobbied for the bill.
Sances said the new legislation, with its fingerprint requirements and new task force, will address the front and back ends of the problem.
Richard Pearson, the head of the Illinois State Rifle Association, agreed the lack of follow-up after gun permits are revoked is “absolutely” a problem, but he said it doesn’t take a change in state law to fix it.
“It’s like dropping an atomic bomb on an anthill. You’re gonna kill the ant all right, but you know everything else goes with it too,” Pearson said.
Pearson said raising gun permit fees and requiring fingerprints to get a gun violates the constitution, and he promised to take the state to court if the bill becomes law.
“This is going to be a one big court battle if it passes, and we will win it, there's no question about it,” Pearson said. “[The bill] wipes out firearm ownership for the average person, and it’s patently unconstitutional.”
Right now, an application for a Firearm Owner’s Identification card — or FOID — costs $10, and the permit lasts for 10 years. Under Willis’ legislation, the application fee would go up to $50 and the permit would last five years.
In addition, gun owners would be required to pay for required fingerprinting and background checks.
“You can't make a fundamental right cost you two hundred or more dollars to exercise it,” Pearson said.
But Sances said the additional money is necessary to cover the costs of effective enforcement.
“I think that the Illinois State Police have never been properly resourced to do their job, and that’s why we’re in this situation,” Sances said.
The bill also takes aim at gun sales between individuals, mandating that a “federally licensed firearm dealer” act as an intermediary to ensure the purchaser has a valid gun permit.
Sances said that change ensures that Illinois has true “universal background checks” on its gun sales.
But Todd Vandermyde with the Federal Firearms Licensees of Illinois said it’s unfair to gun owners and gun dealers.
“They want to force us into doing transfers and then cap the fees that we can [charge],” Vandermyde said
The legislation, referred to by advocates as the “Fix the FOID Act,” passed Illinois’ House Judiciary Committee by a vote of 12-7 Tuesday and now heads to the full House of Representatives.
Patrick Smith is a reporter on WBEZ’s Criminal Justice desk. Follow him @pksmid.