Illinois Landscape for Concealed Carry Remains in Flux

Police departments across the state are worried about effectively screening applicants

As applications for concealed carry permits continue to pour into Illinois authorities, officials are expressing concerns over background check requirements, new databases are being created, and lawmakers are already attempting to tweak and change the law.

With a little more than a week into the state allowing applications for permits after Illinois became the last state in the union to allow concealed carry, more than 1,000 applications a day are being submitted to the Illinois State Police.

That flood of applications is sparking concern, as police departments across the state are worried the demand may mean they are unable to effectively screen out applicants with a history of violence or mental illness.

The Cook County Sheriff's office says it already has identified about 120 applications it plans to contest since the online application process was opened to most state residents Jan. 5.

Chicago Police Department officials, locked in a battle to control high-profile gang violence, say they, too, are worried about keeping up with the flood of applications, while downstate sheriff's departments said they might not have the capacity to meet the new law's vetting requirement in the time allowed.

The problem is, in part, that even in the wake of the new law that requires background checks, local law enforcement agencies were not given any additional money.

That means, said Cara Smith, a top adviser to Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, that many applications won't be adequately reviewed by the department. Or, she said, in a state where 400,000 applications are expected to be submitted the first year, there is a danger that the office won't even get a chance to so much as glance at some applications in the [allowed] 30-day objection period.

To help with the process, however, the state is beginning to collect information into a new database designed to keep people with mental health problems from having access to guns.

The Department of Human Services announced the system under which mental health professionals must report patients who pose a "clear and present danger" to themselves or others. The information is entered into a database that is checked against the Illinois State Police roster of residents with Firearm Owner's Identification, or FOID, cards.

These efforts come even as some state lawmakers are already looking to tinker with the new law:

When the General Assembly reconvenes at the end of this month, certain legislators will attempt to tailor concealed carry rules by increasing fines, limiting where guns can be carried or purchased, and boosting education and training requirements.

State Rep. Deborah Conroy, a Villa Park Democrat, has filed legislation to raise fines for breaking the complex rules determining where people can carry guns and to raise the criminal penalties for bringing a gun into a school.

In July, the state legislature passed a law allowing law-abiding citizens to carry concealed weapons after years of legal wrangling.

The law bans guns in certain places, such as schools, courthouses, public transportation, sports stadiums and in establishments where alcohol sales are prominent.

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