SPRINGFIELD — As the state of Illinois continues to pile up unpaid bills, the agency responsible for creating Illinois’ first process to issue concealed-carry permits estimates startup costs will be $25 million.
The figure is based on the assumption that 300,000 people will apply for concealed-carry permits within the first year. Roughly 150,000 people applied for permits the first year after Wisconsin legalized concealed carry in 2011, and Illinois has double the population, said Illinois State Police Lt. Darrin Clark.
“We don’t have the manpower or money right now. … It’s really not going to be possible when we’re already facing a backlog of FOID cards,” Clark said.
A federal appellate court has ordered Illinois to enact legislation by June 8 that allows qualified people to carry concealed weapons.
Applicants would pay $80 each for their initial permits under a concealed-carry bill proposed by state Rep. Brandon Phelps, D-Harrisburg, although Phelps said that amount is subject to negotiation.
“One hundred dollars is a little more realistic for what we’re going to be required to do … but this depends on how provisions are written” in the final bill, Clark said.
Of the $80, $5 would go to the Department of Human Services to make sure agencies keep track of people who are disqualified from owning or possessing firearms because of mental health issues.
Clark said state police discussed an increase with the National Rifle Association because officials don’t want a repeat of delays already happening with the state’s firearm owner’s identification card system.
State police also will need to upgrade the agency’s computer systems when concealed carry goes into effect, Clark said.
Of the $25 million sought for startup expenses, $6 million would be spent to design the database that would host the concealed-carry permit system and another $10 million to upgrade the agency’s LEADS data-delivery system so the two are compatible. The remainder would be spent to hire employees to process applications
Todd Vandermyde, Illinois lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, said the NRA thinks the agency is inflating the cost associated with creating the system.
“The state police keep talking about (needing) $10 million just to rewrite the LEADS system,” he said. “They want to charge us to update their antiquated computer system that we generally don’t use.”
However, he agreed it would be hard to set up the new process without adequate fees.
“We’re trying to be reasonable in those discussions,” Vandermyde said. “A year or two down the road, we will revisit and see what the revenues are. If this turns into a windfall for the state police, then we will look into reducing the fee.”
Meanwhile, the number of applications for FOID cards is thought to have set another record in February, following a record-setting 70,000 applications in January. State police are supposed to approve or deny permits within 30 days, but some applicants could be waiting up to 75 days because of the backlog, said Jessica Trame, state police chief of staff.
Eight people are responsible for processing a backlog of 71,000 FOID card applications, Trame said. They also handle rejected applications, appeals, and writing denial and acceptance letters, she said.
Another eight employees handle background checks conducted when people seek to buy guns through gun dealers, she said. In 2012, nearly 360,000 transactions were phoned into the agency, a 30 percent increase from 2011.
Vandermyde said the NRA is considering suing state police over the FOID backlog.
Trame said state police also want to hire 17 law enforcement officers to deal with revoking FOID cards, confiscating weapons and handling cases of fraud. Only one officer is working with local police agencies to confiscate weapons in cases where a person is deemed a clear and present danger, Trame said.
Other people can revoke FOID cards, she said, but the agency hopes to expand the officers’ roles to also investigate fraud, among other things.
Though legislation is yet to be finalized, a FOID card will essentially be a requirement for anyone who wants to carry a concealed weapon in Illinois. There are nearly 1.5 million active FOID card holders in the state.
In 2012, 338,614 people applied for cards, a 5 percent increase over 2011 and 50 percent increase over 2002. Only 6,352 applicants were denied in 2012, and 4,811 FOID cards were revoked.
A FOID card costs $10 and is valid for 10 years. Only $4 of the fee finds its way to state police. The Department of Natural Resources uses the rest for safety programs.
The fee has not increased since the FOID card was created in 1968, even though it now costs the agency $12 for each card processed. To break even, Clark said the FOID fee would need to be increased to $18.
“We want to keep the costs down, but we also don’t want to be subsidizing the production of cards through taxpayer money. The higher the fee, the better off we’d be,” Clark said.
However, during a House committee meeting Thursday, Vandermyde said the NRA isn’t willing to negotiate a FOID fee increase. He said he sees that as a tax on a fundamental constitutional right.
If the state of Illinois believes the FOID system is a public safety effort, “then they should pay for it,” he said.