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Audit reports gun program ‘limited’ regarding safety

SPRINGFIELD – Poor follow-through by the Illinois State Police, inadequate reporting of mental health records, and understaffing mean the state’s oversight of gun ownership is “limited” in its ability to safeguard the public, an audit Thursday reported.

The state police program for issuing and monitoring Firearm Owners Identification cards falls woefully short in collecting court records on mentally ill gun owners, retrieves only 30 percent of the FOID cards that police revoke, and doesn’t report critical information to federal authorities required by a criminal background database, the report found.

Lawmakers ordered Auditor General William Holland’s assessment last spring after the uproar caused by a The Associated Press request for names of the state’s FOID-card holders. It prompted legislators to ban the release of the information, but they called for a study to ensure the program was working correctly.

“Our audit concluded that the effectiveness of the FOID card program is limited in promoting and protecting the safety of the public,” Holland wrote.

The state police largely agreed with the findings and said it is making improvements. Spokeswoman Monique Bond pointed out FOID applications topped record levels in 2008 – about 300,000 a year.

FOID cards are necessary to buy guns or ammunition in Illinois. But cards are denied to those who are “intellectually defective” or judged “mentally defective” as well as to felons, drug addicts, domestic violence offenders and others.

Auditors found that from 2008 to 2010, the state police found reasons to revoke more than 20,000 FOID cards, but collected only about 30 percent of them.

People holding revoked FOIDs can’t buy guns from licensed dealers, but they can buy ammunition or guns from private individuals, transactions in which they’re required to only show a FOID card.

The report indicated only three of the state’s 102 counties reported to the state police information on cardholders who had mental health conditions that could prohibit them from owning guns. Often information that was received wasn’t complete.

“They need to address that, no other way around it,” said Richard Pearson, executive director of the Illinois State Rifle Association, which went to court and the General Assembly over the AP’s request for FOID records.

The report also notes the wording of the law may not be clear.

When asked, the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts said the wording of the statute states “the court shall direct the circuit court clerk” to notify and forward a copy of the court order to ISP, according to the report, so clerks likely aren’t filing the necessary paperwork because they are not being directed to do so.

DeKalb County Circuit Clerk Maureen Josh said she would need an order from the court to send that paperwork to state police.

“We follow the direction of the court, and do what we are directed to do,” she said.

Josh said her office is part of the Automated Dispositions Reporting with the Administrative Office of Illinois Courts. Dispositions are sent weekly to the ADR, and they have a system that sends paperwork to required state agencies.

“If we are told to do it differently, we certainly will do it differently,” she said.

A recommendation of the report asks that ISP work with the courts and clerks to ensure the necessary mental health information is submitted to the ISP as required.

Pearson called for more police staff to handle the workload. The audit found the agency spent $527,000 on overtime in the FOID division from 2009 to 2011.

• Daily Chronicle managing editor Kate Schott contributed to this report.

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