FILE - guns, Illinois

An assortment of firearms are seen for sale at Capitol City Arms Supply in Springfield in 2013.

The Illinois State Rifle Association filed a lawsuit against the Illinois State Police claiming the agency allowed the state to take Firearm Owners Identification card processing fees and use that money for other purposes, but agency officials said it didn't make the fund sweeps.

The Illinois State Rifle Association filed a lawsuit on behalf of two Illinois residents in U.S. District Court on Friday in Chicago.

In the suit, the association claimed underfunding led to a processing backlog of FOID card renewals that “effectively imposed an unending ban on [the plaintiffs’] right to keep and bear arms for self-defense.”

The suit claims the two plaintiffs have been waiting for their FOID cards to be processed for two and three years, respectively.

The legal action is the result of an investigation on behalf of ISRA, state Rep. Keith Wheeler, R-Oswego, and others who found that ISP had allowed the previous two governors to sweep more than $29.5 million in FOID card fees into the state's general fund. The department could have requested those funds back. It appears, according to the investigation, that ISP didn’t seek that money back. 

“The citizens of Illinois have been delayed getting their FOID cards for months,” ISRA Executive Director Richard Pearson said. “We have tried to work with the State Police on this matter, but nothing is happening. We are left with no other choice but to file a lawsuit.” 

The suit seeks to have ISP demand the return of the money that was swept into the state's general fund, but wouldn't bar the state from doing the same thing in the future. State Rep. Dan Caulkins, R-Decatur, has proposed a constitutional amendment that would do that. 

Until then, advocates involved with the suit said this is the best way to ensure the Illinois State Police has the funds to catch up on the thousands of FOID cards awaiting processing.

The Illinois State Police officials responded to the suit Monday. 

“The Illinois State Police do not have the authority to ‘sweep’ funds,” said Sgt. Delila Garcia, a public information officer for the Illinois State Police. “In 2015 and 2018, $13.2 million was swept from the Firearms Service Fund into the general fund during the budget crisis. Under the current fiscal year, funds have not been swept, allowing the Firearms Services Bureau to start filling 17 analyst vacancies, procure technology to offer better customer service and to begin building a new Appeals Bureau.” 

She added that, in 2019, 90% of FOID applications were processed in less than 30 days on average. It took an average of 65 days to renew a FOID card in 2019, she said.

The state agency has received a larger number of renewal requests because the program began ten years ago and the cards last ten years.

Staff Reporter

Cole Lauterbach reports on Illinois government and statewide issues for The Center Square. He has produced radio shows for stations in Bloomington/Normal and Peoria, and created award-winning programs for Comcast SportsNet Chicago.