Illinois Governor Signs Bill Banning Release of Firearm Owners Names

CHICAGO -- Gov. Pat Quinn on Saturday signed into law a measure barring the public from knowing who holds a firearm owner identification card in Illinois.

The bill, passed overwhelmingly by Illinois lawmakers in May, was a victory for gun owners who say they have a right to privacy over open-government advocates who say such records should not be secret.

Quinn, who has said he agreed that the information should remain confidential, offered no immediate public comment Saturday, quietly announcing the bill signing by email to news outlets.

In a 42-1 vote, the Senate passed a measure overturning a ruling by Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office that said the names are public under the state’s open records law. Madigan’s office issued the decree earlier this year after the Illinois State Police refused to release to The Associated Press the names of 1.3 million people who are registered to own firearms.

The AP’s request set off howls of protests from gun owners and the state police, who said they feared criminals would use the information to steal guns or target those who weren’t armed.

Madigan’s office said the State Police had given no proof to back up claims that releasing the names would endanger gun owners. She said the opinion applied only to permit holders’ names and the expiration dates on their permits, while addresses and phone numbers would remain private. The AP did not ask for cardholders’ addresses and sought the records to, among other things, review governmental action.

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.

Brian Malte of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence has said that if cardholders’ names are shielded from public scrutiny, “there needs to be assurances by government officials that they will audit the system to make sure it’s working as intended.”

“What is the mechanism, then, for Illinois state government to ensure the citizens that the permitting system is working as intended and that people aren’t slipping through the cracks?” Malte said.

Todd Vandermyde, the Illinois lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, said neither the media nor the general public has right to information on gun owners and suggested that lawmakers should not even have required FOID cards.

“It’s nobody’s business what I keep in my home,” he said. “It’s not my fault the state of Illinois requires me to get a license to exercise a constitutional right. Just because I choose to exercise it is no reason for the news or anyone else to be prodding around in my rights.”