Illinois introduced the Firearm Owners Identification Card in 1968. The FOID card is easily obtained—today, you pay a $10 fee (to cover the cost of a background check and the materials) and it’s good for ten years—and is necessary to purchase a firearm, buy ammo, rent a gun at the range, and basically even get to hold on in your hands at the store.
Frankly, the Czar never thought much about it: there’s no minimum age to getting one, and in theory a 6-year-old could apply for one and would probably receive it, provided a legal parent or guardian co-signs the application. Of all the extra steps some states make you go through, Illinois makes it a breeze.
So there it is. Not much to think about for Illinois residents, right? It’s butt-simple to get, and as long as you have one, you’re good to go in this state (provided you’re not concealing it, which is an extra set of steps). It places no limits on how many you can have, or buy, or how you store it your home. It fits easily in a wallet, and the Czar has used his as legitimate photo identification when asked to produce more than just a driver’s license.
The law’s text is childishly basic: “No person may acquire or possess any firearm…within this State without having in his or her possession a Firearm Owner Identification Card previously issued in his or her name by the Department of State Police under the provision of this Act.” (430 ILCS 65/4(a)(1)) That’s pretty simple.
Or so we thought.
Vivian Brown is an older individual who lives in far southeastern Illinois. There is a .22 bolt-action rifle in her home just in case, allegedly in the house for decades from before the FOID era.
Local law enforcement were informed that she was shooting it in her yard, according to rumor. Incidentally, that’s not necessarily illegal in Illinois: prohibitions about firing a weapon on private property are municipal, and many unincorporated areas allow it. However, whatever Ms. Brown’s municipality exactly is, she wasn’t doing that. And law enforcement agreed.
However, they asked to see her FOID card. She doesn’t have one, and took the position that she doesn’t need one since the rifle never leaves the house, she didn’t purchase it, and is safely put away. No matter, the responding officers decided, you don’t have a FOID, you can’t have a gun.
She got a lawyer. And the lawyer brought it to court.
Judge Stanley took the case. Basically, it’s a simple matter: the Illinois State Police were sympathetic and suggested if she just pays the ten bucks, she can get the FOID and keep the gun. But Judge Stanley thought about this and listened to the prosecutor’s argument that if there’s a gun in the house, there has to be a FOID card on hand.
Judge Stanley realized that if you have a FOID card and your spouse does not, if you leave the home without your spouse, the spouse is in violation of the law. If mom and dad keep a gun in the nightstand and go out for dinner, the babysitter or little junior needs to have a FOID card, or the law has been broken. At least, that’s true if anyone in the house knows there’s a weapon on premises. The shorthand version is that if the family is aware there’s a firearm on the property, everyone needs to have a FOID card to avoid breaking the law.
And if you don’t, as Ms. Brown didn’t, then you can go to jail for possessing a weapon without a FOID.
Judge Stanley ruled against the State, and decided that not only was it okay for Ms. Brown to have a rifle without a FOID, he declared that the entire law about FOID cards was unconstitutional. Why? Because Ms. Brown was a soft test of a premise that an Illinois cannot defend himself or herself in the state without a FOID. It’s inherently unreasonable to think that a person, facing a home invader, will go online, fill out the form, submit a photograph and $10 check, and wait for the card to arrive in the mail weeks later before legally shooting the bastard.
The Illinois Attorney General’s office complained about the ruling, stating that this isn’t the intent of the law. View her case as a reminder that if you have a gun, just get the ID. It’s super-easy to get. And you’re all legal. So, they asked the judge, would he reconsider his ruling?
And the Judge did. He reconsidered it really hard, and produced an even longer opinion listing dozens of ways the FOID requirement violates not just the Second Amendment, but also the Fourteenth. He recommended the Illinois Supreme Court take a look at this and see if he was right.
Guess what happened: the Illinois Supreme Court agreed to do just that. And historically the Illinois Supreme Court has been pretty gun friendly, especially in recent years. Many state legal experts believe they will sustain Judge Stanley’s opinion, and if not, it goes to the United States Supreme Court, who will probably affirm it. Or, if the Illinois Supreme Court drops it, it still goes to SCOTUS; in that case, the Czar understands, they will probably decide against hearing it…which affirms it.
Anti-gun lobbyists here in the Land of Lincoln are sort-of freaking out about this. Thanks to Judge Stanley, it seems that the FOID’s days are numbered. They’re not over yet—so far, only Ms. Brown has been given a pass on this. But thanks to her, the rest of us may see the FOID eliminated.
This, by the way, should be great news for other states with even more difficult requirements (say, um, New York). Illinois hopes our Supreme Court knocks it out; the rest of you should hope it goes to SCOTUS.