Illinois Sheriffs Worried About Concealed Carry Provision

Jul 24, 2013

Credit Chicago Tribune

Concealed-carry supporters in Illinois are eager to apply for their new permits. But they’ve been warned it will take a while to set up set up the process. As state police officials sort out the details, questions are being raised about background checks. Some county sheriffs wonder if they’ll have enough resources to help the state weed out those who don’t qualify.

In the moments after Illinois’ concealed-carry ban was lifted, this message was made clear: It would take as long as nine months for the first permits to be issued.

Under the law, State Police have six months to develop the application system. They say it will take another 90 days to approve or reject the first round they receive. That 90-day timeline will apply to subsequent applications.

Once the program is up and running, the agency will be in charge of conducting background checks. A provision allows local law enforcement to raise objections if they have a reasonable suspicion that certain applicants pose a danger to themselves or to others. DeKalb County Sheriff Roger Scott explains how they will get involved.

“I see our role as being able to notify them of concerns we might have that might not be on the record with an actual arrest or actual convictions”

Objections filed by departments across the state will be heard by a review board. Scott says it’s important for them to have some input. But he does admit there will be an extra burden.

“We’ll call up on our investigators and our office staff to do the additional follow-up where it’s needed. In most cases, it won’t be needed,” Scott said.

Still, Scott says it might take away from other areas. And while his department might not become overwhelmed with all the double checking, he does see it as a potential issue for counties much bigger than DeKalb.

“I think for larger counties like Cook and DuPage, it will create a significant safety issue if law enforcement doesn’t have the personnel to follow up on the local angle on this,” Scott said.

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart has been more vocal about the provision. Given his county’s size, he says his department doesn’t have the resources to carefully check out each applicant that raises a red flag. He worries about meeting a 30-day deadline to submit an objection, saying they need more time to conduct interviews with people close to the applicants. Dart says additional funding from the state would allow them to hire more staff to get the job done.

But one of the law’s chief sponsor’s, Representative Brandon Phelps, says these concerns might be overblown. The Harrisburg Democrat says the role of local departments will be a minor one that will not require much in the way of time or resources.

“As far as local law enforcement using tax-payer money to do the background checks – they will not be doing the background checks. The background checks will be done by the Illinois State Police,” Phelps said.

Phelps says the role of local law enforcement might be as simple as looking at the database provided by state police and filing the objection. It’s unclear yet what will be required of local departments in monitoring the list, to see if there’s a name that stands out.

“This is new, so that’s why it’s all being determined right now. That’s why we gave the State Police 180 days to implement this program, [so they] could do it right because this is all new to the state of Illinois,” Phelps said.

Illinois State Police officials have refused to conduct any media interviews as they get the ball rolling on the process. To accommodate the new law, the agency was recently granted emergency funding to upgrade the current system that does background checks for FOID cards. But it’s unclear if officials will eventually shift any of the start-up money they receive to local authorities.

Greg Sullivan is executive director of the Illinois Sheriff’s Association. He says he’s heard chatter about departments not being able to do their due-diligence within the 30-day window. He says, in some cases, it does take time to conduct a proper follow-up. But he says in the grand scheme of things, he doesn’t see it having a major impact statewide. Sullivan says that’s because many of those who would be flagged probably won’t submit an application. And he says it should be fairly easy for most departments to quickly determine if someone shouldn’t be carrying a weapon.

“I guess the real question is if there are no convictions that would disqualify you, you would have to have some glaring evidence that [says] this person should be denied,” Sullivan said.

On the other hand, Sullivan says he agrees with Sheriff Dart in his call for additional state funding to help local departments round out the application process. In the end though, he hopes that state police officials look at other states to see what has worked, and include those elements in Illinois’ system.