According to a legal opinion issued by the Illinois Attorney General, the list of people who receive permits to buy firearms should be made public.
To buy a weapon in the state, residents need to apply for a Firearm Owner's Identification (FOID) card. The State Police keep a list of those who are granted FOID cards, but that list has long been kept confidential.
In September of last year, the Associated Press submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for the name of each FOID card-holder and the expiration date of his card. When the police refused to comply, the attorney general's public access counselor decided to investigate the matter.
On Wednesday, the AP published a portion of the decision the office ultimately reached:
"The General Assembly has clearly determined that it is in the public interest to provide a system for identifying those who are qualified to acquire or possess firearms through the issuance of FOID cards," assistant public access counselor Matthew Rogina wrote. "The public, therefore, has a legitimate interest in ISP's enforcement of the FOID card act."
Gun control advocates argue that gun licensing laws require public scrutiny. But gun owners' groups were naturally displeased with the decision.
The ISRA strongly opposes release of the FOID database information because the association believes that release of such data puts FOID card holders and their families in grave danger.
"Attorney General Madigan has to understand that the safety of real people is at stake here," commented ISRA Executive Director Richard Pearson. "Once this information is released, it will be distributed to street gangs and gun control groups who will use the data to target gun owners for crime and harassment."
Larry Morse, also on the board of the ISRA, had a more pointed opinion on the subject. "Most of the liberals in this country value their privacy very highly," he said to WSIL-TV. "Except when it comes to revealing the names of gun owners."
The State Police also "respectfully disagree" with the decision, the Quad Cities' KWQC reports. They are asking the Attorney General's office to make it a binding opinion so that it can be challenged in court.
Meanwhile, Republican state legislators are rushing to the aid of gun owners, filing bills that would keep the list of FOID cardholders private, according to the Associated Press. But with Democratic majorities in both houses, and the Attorney General's father Michael Madigan serving as the powerful Speaker of the House, those bills could have trouble getting very far.