Illinois Concealed Carry Law Frustrates Both Law Enforcement and Gun Owners

Mar 6, 2018

Maureen Malloy is a criminal analyst for the Cook County Sheriff’s office. Her job is to try and stop gun violence before it happens...every workday she combs a database of Concealed Carry License applications looking for red flags.

On a recent weekday afternoon she pulled up the arrest history of one Cook County applicant.

MALLOY:  “So that one is OK,. it's just driving on a suspended license. Here is UUW, unlawful use of a weapon. That’s what we are objecting to. ”

This guy Malloy is talking about, he’s been arrested before but he doesn't have any felony CONVICTIONS. He meets the  initial requirements the Illinois State Police have for applying for a Concealed Carry license.

So The Sheriff’s Office can OBJECT to him, but the actual decision is made by a special board, called the Concealed Carry Licensing Review  Board. And that’s where they run into a wall...

The Sheriff’s office says, last year, the Board threw out it's objections 90 percent of the time.

MALLOY: “It is frustrating. It’s kind of out of our hands then. Even though we objected to it.”

The Sheriff’s Office says last year, for example, it objected to a documented gang member who had previously been arrested for robbery. He still got the license.

Most other states handle concealed carry one of two ways: shall issue, or may issue.

In "Shall Issue" states, if you meet the requirements the state shall issue you  a license. While In "May Issue" states, law enforcement generally gets the final stay.

Cara Smith with the Cook County Sheriff’s Office says Illinois unique system of objecting means they spend a lot of time and money for little success.

SMITH:  “We certainly have examples of people we feel very strongly shouldn’t have an application. They have a history of domestic violence. They have a history of orders of protection. And yet they are receiving a license.”

The Chicago Police Department says they are having the same problems...last year 68 percent of their objections were thrown out by the Board.

We filed Freedom of Information Act requests to get basic data about Concealed Carry in  Illinois….but they were all denied.

The Board DOES send a monthly report to the Governor’s Office. We crunched the report’s numbers, and found that the Board threw out 82 percent of all law enforcement objections statewide last year.

After asking the Board about that, and waiting months for an answer, a Board spokesman said that’s not right, because they count some objections more than once. But the spokesman couldn’t provide any clarity.

That means the ONLY public data on the concealed carry system in Illinois is useless.

A spokeswoman for the Governor’s office said in a statement those reports were “clearly not reflective” of the Board’ work...and that the Governor’s office was willing to work with the board to “address those flaws.”

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Now at this point you might think that it's just easy to get a concealed carry license in Illinois, which could please some gun rights advocates. But lots of Cook County GUN OWNERS are frustrated with the system too.

People like Eric Gatewood, who works serving eviction papers and other legal documents, delivering news that often makes people very unhappy

GATEWOOD: “Some people have been chased with bats. One guy pulled a knife on a person that worked with me and he ran away. I don’t want to encounter nothing like that.”

Gatewood applied for his Concealed Carry license in January of 2016. The next month he got a letter stating he had been objected to. He says he didn’t know why but figured it would get cleared up quickly. He was wrong.

GATEWOOD: “For 13 months I’m going to the Mailbox and thinking it's today, it's today, it's today, but it's not. So it was very frustrating.”

Gatewood says that every day for those 13 months that he was out serving eviction papers or divorces notices, seeing people at their MOST volatile, he wished he could have been carrying his gun...he would have felt safer.

WBEZ spoke with other people who waited over TWO YEARS to hear about their license applications. A spokesperson for the group Illinois Carry says there are hundreds of people who have waited over a year.

GATEWOOD: “After they sent me 13 letter I wish they had called me one time. Or at least emailed me back saying something. But I got nothing from them. I felt at that time my constitutional rights were violated.”

Gatewood never got OFFICIAL word of WHY he was objected to. He says in desperation he eventually called his local state senator for help...his Concealed Carry license finally arrived in the mail soon after that.

RAOUL:  “We were, pardon the pun, negotiating this under the gun.”

Kwame Raoul is Eric Gatewood’s  State Senator, he’s currently running for state Attorney General. Raoul also helped come up  with Illinois’ Concealed Carry law back in 2013.

The state used to have a ban on concealed carry, but in late 2012 a federal court threw it out, and gave legislators six months to come up with a law.

RAOUL: “The implication of that is that if you don’t do it within 180 days basically you’ve got the wild wild west. Where people have the right to carry with no definition.”

Raoul defends the legislation’s goals of balancing the rights of gun owners with the concerns of law enforcement. But when presented with the frustrations of gun owners like Gatewood, AND with the high rate that the Board is throwing out Chicago-area objections, he said it was time for another look.

RAOUL: “If we got everything right in the legislature the first time, there would probably be no need for a legislature by now. So we are constantly in the process of reform.”

Changing Illinois Concealed Carry system would require new legislation, and, after last month's massacre at a school in Florida a  lot of gun bills have started to moving through Springfield. But those bills are still divisive, and a change to Concealed Carry probably would be too.

Still, for gun owners AND law enforcement around Chicago, one thing is clear--the system needs to change.