The Illinois House of Representatives passed a bill on Friday that would exempt the names of Firearm Owners Identification card holders from the state Freedom of Information Act. The bill would negate a March attorney general opinion that held that such information was subject to disclosure under the law.
H.B. 3500, which passed on a 98-12 vote, exempts the "names and information" of people who have applied for and received FOID cards. Josh Sharp, director of government relations at the Illinois Press Association, said the bill is short-sighted and the result of fear-mongering, rather than a legitimate interest in protecting cardholders' privacy.
"The hunter registration is more important to derive ownership," Sharp said. "FOID only authorizes you to carry, it doesn't mean you necessarily own a gun."
The Illinois Press Association lobbied against the bill in the House and will continue to do so now that the bill is before the state Senate, Sharp said. However, "It's going to pass. They have the votes."
Sharp pointed to multiple angles that proponents of the bill used to incite fear. One side argued that the names could be used by criminals to break into homes and steal guns, another argued the names could be used by criminals to determine which houses did not have guns and break into those homes. "The amount of fear-mongering has been insane," Sharp said.
In its March opinion, the Illinois public access counselor, the state's open records officer tasked with resolving records disputes within the attorney general's office, held that the argument that cardholders would be put in danger by releasing their names was speculative because it failed to "satisfy the clear and convincing evidence standard required" by the law for the application of any exemption. Ultimately, the opinion said the information must be released because "disclosure of the names of [permit holders] and the expiration date of the . . . card cannot be characterized as highly personal or objectionable to the reasonable person."
The opinion will have no force if the bill becomes law. In reaction to the bill's passage, the attorney general's office released a statement saying it is "the General Assembly's role to weigh in on the larger public policy questions raised by the issue." The attorney general's office stated that the March opinion was decided on the "current" reading of the Illinois FOIA and not on the broader implications.
Sharp lamented the General Assembly's actions to, yet again, limit the achievements made when the Illinois FOIA was reformed in 2010. "I'm not surprised, unfortunately," Sharp said, pointing to other recent laws to exempt teacher and public employee performance evaluations from the records law. "The culture of secrecy [in Illinois] is pervasive," Sharp said.
House Bill 3500 is now before the Senate, with its first reading scheduled for Monday. The Senate also has a similar bill, Senate Bill 27, which is currently in committee.