The Illinois Office of the Auditor General just released a report on the status of that state’s FOID card system. The results show that the system is effectively useless, wasteful, and insanely expensive. This should come as no surprise to Illinois residents, but the numbers are still worth looking at. It is difficult to image how the audit could have turned out any worse for those involved with the FOID system.
Illinois requires you to present a valid Firearms Owners Identification Card when you buy a firearm or ammunition. An Illinois resident wanting to own a gun must apply to the Illinois State Police for a FOID card as they would apply at the DMV for a driver’s license. First, a background check through the Federal NICS insta-check system is done. Then, the police conduct a check of the person’s mental health records through the Illinois Department of Human Services database. If the applicant passes both tests, they receive their FOID card, which they must present to buy guns or ammo. You must present the card upon demand to police at any time if they see you in possession of those items. The law has been in effect since 1968, and over 1.3 million Illinois residents have to renew theirs every ten years. The audit compiled numbers generated from 2008 through 2011, and resulted in these findings.
During 2010, only three of the 102 Circuit Court Clerks in Illinois submitted mental health court orders to the Illinois State Police as required by law.
The FOID card accesses the same Federal NICS database that federally licensed dealers (FFLs) access each time a customer submits a 4473 form to purchase firearms; so in that sense, it duplicates the check completed for any firearms purchase at a licensed dealer. What supposedly makes the FOID system worthwhile is the extra protection it provides by checking a state-run mental health database. This database gets its information from forms submitted by the Circuit Court Clerk of each county in Illinois. Of the 102 counties in Illinois, three clerks actually bothered to submit their counties’ mental health reports as required by law. However, before those three clerks start patting themselves on the back, they should realize that they still got it wrong. Forty-six percent of the forms they sent in were missing information necessary for inclusion in the database, such as date of birth, gender, and race. Therefore, those forms were thrown out.
Illinois mental health forms do not follow federal guidelines and cannot be used in the federal NICS database.
Private mental hospitals and nursing homes may also submit records for inclusion in the Human Services database, but the auditors found flaws in the form they use. It makes no distinction between voluntary and involuntary admissions to mental heath facilities. Under Illinois state law, this does not matter. Even voluntarily seeking help for depression or another mental issue will result denial of your FOID application, if your mental hospital submitted your records to the database. However, federal law states to only report involuntarily committed persons to the federal NICS database. Therefore, the Illinois State Police cannot add the information from mental health facilities to the federal NICS database. An insane person “missed” at the state level because the county clerks aren’t submitting court records will be “missed” again at the Federal NICS level because the Illinois mental health forms don’t follow federal law.
The state and federal databases searched by the FOID system do not include many indivduals whose mental health issues disqualify them from firearm ownership. The system is clearly not effective in preventing insane people from legally purchasing firearms. How efficient is it in approving or denying FOID cards for those who apply for them? Funny you should ask…
More than a third of all FOID applications take longer than the 30 days allowed by law.
Over a three-year period, only 64% of FOID applications approved were actually completed within the 30 days required by the law. Over the same time period, 71% of FOID applications denied were finished within the 30 days. As you might imagine, there have been some phone calls made to the Illinois State Police help line by folks with questions about the FOID system or the progress of their applications. Call logs obtained by the Office of the Auditor General showed that 25,131 of 29,420 calls made during the last quarter of 2010 went unanswered. That means 85% of the time, the Illinois State Police didn’t even pick up the phone on a customer service call.
What happens when a FOID card is revoked? The auditors found that the Illinois State Police only recover one out of three revoked FOID cards. Since there is no NICS insta-check done on ammunition purchases or in face-to-face firearms sales, there is no way for a seller to know if a FOID card used in those sales is valid or not. Right now, it looks as though two out of every three cards revoked by the State of Illinois are still in the hands of the original card holders. Whoops.
The cost: $239,156 in overtime pay for three state employees.
This system doesn’t work particularly well; but what does it cost to run it? The auditors found that from July 1, 2009 to June 30, 2011, the Illinois State Police spent $526,919 on overtime pay for FOID card processing. Three state employees sure like their FOID processing– they sucked up $239,156 of that overtime pay between themselves. For fiscal year 2010 the auditors looked at the top four employees with the most overtime and found that they each got about $85,000 in overtime pay that year, on top of their annual salary of $279,090. It may have been more reasonable to actually just hire additional Illinois State Police employees to process FOID applications and pick up the phone when a citizen calls with a FOID question. Surely, $526,000 in overtime pay would cover at least a couple of full-time employees working 40 hours a week. However, it seems there are at least three Illinois State Police who like the system just the way it is!