Bench Memos

Law & the Courts

Delaying Second Amendment Rights Is Denying Second Amendment Rights

Over the July 4 weekend, 79 people were shot and 15 killed in Chicago, including a 14-year-old boy and a seven-year-old girl. On one Sunday in May, the city had its most violent day in 60 years, with 18 people killed. And last month, both the city and its suburbs saw widespread looting and violence — with police unable to keep up.

Thousands of Illinoisans have understandably decided that the time has come to get a firearm for self-defense. Yet as they take steps to protect themselves and defend their homes, government is preventing them from exercising these basic rights.

Illinois is one of just two states (the other is Massachusetts) that require residents to obtain a license before they can possess any firearm — even the simplest rifle or shotgun. During June’s violence and looting, applications for those licenses — called Firearm Owners Identification cards, or FOID cards — surged. On June 2 alone, the state received nearly 5,000 of them.

State law requires the Illinois state police to issue a FOID card within 30 days of receiving a resident’s application, as long as he or she isn’t disqualified by a factor such as a felony conviction or mental illness. Thirty days is a long time to wait just to be allowed to defend your life, family, and home. And to people who need to protect themselves from an immediate threat, that delay could be deadly.

But the situation Illinois’s FOID law creates is even worse than it sounds. That’s because the state doesn’t actually follow the law. Instead of sending applicants their FOID cards within 30 days, the state typically takes much longer.

This isn’t a new problem. In 2013, the state admitted that it took an average of 64 days to process applications, but people reported waiting as long as ten to 15 weeks to receive a card. Recently, the state claimed it was taking an average of 51 days to send out cards, but many applicants report they’ve been waiting 60 to 90 days or longer.

Why does it take so long? One reason is because the state persistently diverts money that should fund the processing of applications to other purposes.

Today, several law-abiding Chicago-area residents who have been waiting longer than 30 days to receive their FOID cards have filed a lawsuit in federal court arguing that the state’s delays violate their Second Amendment rights. One of them, D’Andre Bradley, is a Chicago Heights resident who recently completed years of service in the U.S. Marines. He’s allowed to defend his country and his state — but his state government won’t even let him defend his own home.

The Illinois State Rifle Association and the Second Amendment Foundation are also plaintiffs in the case, to protect the rights of their Illinois members — just as they did as plaintiffs in the landmark 2010 Supreme Court case that ended Chicago’s handgun ban.

The courts should order the state to give the plaintiffs their FOID cards immediately, and to issue all qualified applicants their cards within 30 days as state law requires. Or, if the state isn’t willing or able to do whatever it takes to process applications on time, the courts should just strike down the FOID scheme — which is constitutionally questionable in the first place — entirely.

Illinois’s notoriously poor management of taxpayer money can’t justify denying citizens their right to defend themselves against the violent crime that state and city officials have also failed to control.

Jacob Huebert is a senior attorney at the Goldwater Institute. Together with David G. Sigale and Gregory A. Bedell, he represents the plaintiffs in Bradley v. Kelly.

Jacob Huebert is a senior attorney at the Goldwater Institute. Together with David G. Sigale and Gregory A. Bedell, he represents the plaintiffs in Bradley v. Kelly.

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