Illinois gun owners could fall prey to a state bureaucracy that fails to process firearm owner's identification cards promptly.

The state's tardiness leaves some otherwise law-abiding firearm owners vulnerable to criminal charges because FOID cards often expire while the state police are still processing renewals.

Criminal charges can be filed against any resident who possesses a gun but does not have a valid FOID card.

The Illinois State Police agency is required by law to process FOID applications within 30 days. But the process is taking up to 60 business days, according to agency spokesman Lt. Scott Compton.

"Gun owners can't go shooting, can't go hunting, can't buy ammo, and can't legally own a gun. They're caught in a problem with the state police not complying with their own law," said Richard Pearson of Chatsworth, executive director of the Illinois State Rifle Association.

Compton attributed the delay to a deluge of 280,000 applications last year, well above the 225,000 the state averages and the most since 1968. More than 88,500 came in the last three months alone. One day in December 2008 saw about 2,400 applications, more than double the state's average for that date.

Though an additional three staff members have been assigned to handle applications, they haven't completed training, Compton said.

Just what is causing the sudden influx of FOID applications is an open question. Some gun shop owners contend after the November 2008 election of President Barack Obama, more people sought to buy guns because they feared future restrictions on firearm sales.

Under certain scenarios an otherwise law-abiding gun owner without a valid FOID card could be charged with a felony punishable by up to three years in prison, said Todd Vandermyde, a Springfield lobbyist for the National Rifle Association.

Even people who keep guns locked away in their homes while they await their FOID renewal are in technical violation and can be charged with a misdemeanor.

This leaves some to question the state's gun-purchasing policies.

Roger Skartveit, owner of Bazooka's Gun Shop in Ottawa, favors moving to a system similar to Arizona's, where driver's licenses are used as identification for gun buyers.

"If you have any reason you couldn't purchase it, it goes on your record. So when they swipe your card, you either get an approval or a denial immediately," Skartveit said.

This "instant-check" system takes about 30 minutes, he said.

In addition to the record number of card applicants in 2008, this time of the year is particularly busy for FOID applicants, said Tim McGrath, owner of Guns and Gadgets in Peotone.

"In September and October, guys get ready to get in the field to go hunting. Then they see their card is going to expire, and have to get it taken care of before it does," McGrath said.

Vandermyde said he believes the delays are due to the state's fiscal woes.

"There's no money out there to process these cards. It is like everything else in state government, the governor has screwed things up," he said.

Pearson said he isn't sure if delays by the state police were intentional, but said he wouldn't be surprised if that was the case.

"If the state doesn't agree with your right, they simply close off the faucet. We've seen this in other cases. You can't get motorcycle licenses because they don't offer the courses. You can't hunt because they don't offer hunter's safety courses," he said.

McGrath said gun owners shouldn't be penalized because the state can't adhere to its own law -- but owners need to take a measure of responsibility, too.

"If you're responsible enough to own a firearm, you're responsible enough to get the application," McGrath said. "You make sure not to wait until the day you're going hunting."

By Pete Nickeas
Source: The Daily Journal Springfield Bureau