Ill. House votes to bar release of gun owners’ names

Monday, April 11, 2011

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — The Illinois House has approved legislation that would bar the state police from releasing the names of people legally allowed to own guns, a response to fears by many firearm owners that their privacy could soon be compromised.

The measure, H.B. 3500, would reverse last month's ruling by Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office that the list of people with Firearm Owner Identification cards is a public document.

The legislation, which was sent to the Senate on a 98-12 vote, also appears to bar state police from disclosing whether someone suspected in a shooting had a valid FOID card.

Madigan's office ruled that the list of cardholders was public information in response to a request from the Associated Press. The AP sought the list under the state Freedom of Information Act, but state police have withheld it, citing public safety concerns.

By ordering the gun records be private, Illinois would be following the lead of other states including Florida and Tennessee, where lawmakers voted to make gun-license information private after newspaper investigations found significant lapses in the permitting processes that allowed violent felons to carry guns.

Firearm advocates objected strongly when made her Madigan ruling. They argued it would allow criminals to target guns worth stealing and determine who lacks them and therefore wouldn't be able to fight back.

“There is a pressing need to keep this information private,” said Rep. Richard Morthland, R-Cordova, the bill's chief sponsor.

Despite Madigan's ruling, the list has not been released. State police are challenging her decision, and a Peoria court issued a restraining order preventing release of the FOID information.

Some gun groups have said they don't object to police releasing FOID cardholders' names in a criminal investigation. An earlier draft of Morthland's bill specifically permitted that. But the version passed by the House provides no such exception.

Morthland defended withholding that information, saying any crime committed would be the fault of the individual, not the state police who issue FOID cards.

To be sure the state is properly administering FOID cards, Morthland has sponsored a resolution requiring an audit of the system.

The April 8 vote represented a divide between Chicago-area Democrats and the rest of the House. Of the 12 opposing votes, 11 were from Chicago or the city's suburbs.

The bill would allow disclosure of names to police in criminal investigations.

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