After months of heated debate, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn on Saturday signed a law that will keep the names of licensed gun owners private.
The law comes after the Associates Press filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the names of 1.3 million registered firearm owners. Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office said the information should be public and must be disclosed, but gun owners and state police said the disclosure was an invasion of personal privacy and could endanger gun owners.
"The safety of real people is at stake here," Illinois State Rifle Association Director Richard Pearson said in March. "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."
A bill to block release of the names of people authorized to have guns in Illinois was passed overwhelmingly by lawmakers in May, despite outcry from anti-violence groups who said releasing the information is important to keep government accountable.
Madigan's office told the Associated Press that State Police had no proof to back up their claims that the release of names would endanger gun owners, since their addresses and phone numbers would still remain private.
By prohibiting the names' release, Illinois follows the lead of Florida and Tennessee, which shut off access to information about people with permits to carry concealed firearms after newspapers revealed significant lapses.
A newspaper investigation in south Florida published in 2007 found that 1,400 people given concealed-carry licenses in the first half of 2006 had earlier pleaded guilty or no contest to felonies. In Memphis, Tenn., a newspaper found at least 70 people in the metropolitan area with carry permits despite violent histories.
“Why exempt gun owners? We’re not taking away any of their rights,” Rep. LaShawn Ford, a Democrat from Chicago who voted against the bill, told the AP. “What are gun owners afraid of?”