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State program licensing gun owners ‘limited’ in ability to protect public: audit

Updated: May 7, 2012 8:16AM

The Illinois State Police has “significant deficiencies” in maintaining a firearms permit system, keeping mentally unstable people from acquiring guns and is consequently risking public safety, Illinois’ top auditor concluded Thursday.

Auditor General William Holland knocked the state police for failing to process information on mentally ill citizens who would be ineligible to purchase firearms, collecting only 30 percent of revoked firearms permits, and failing to answer 85 percent of incoming calls related to the system in 2010.

Because the mental health information should also be reported to the FBI and is used by other states, “the safety of the general public as a whole is at risk,” Holland’s report said.

However, a spokeswoman for the state police took issue with that conclusion. She said thousands of permits and applications were late or undelivered because the vetting process is thorough.

“There’s no timeframe that can be placed on obtaining and processing information because it would breach public safety,” said Monique Bond, the agency spokeswoman.

She emphasized the record number of permit applications, spurred in-part by Chicago’s handgun ban being overturned in 2010, as a reason for the inefficiencies.

Although individuals with revoked permits would not be able to purchase firearms from a licensed dealer, they would still be able to purchase ammunition. They’d also likely be able to purchase from a private dealer, the report said.

But Bond said there was no requirement for circuit courts to turn over confiscated firearms permits to the agency during the audit period, and that there is a lack of clarity regarding what courts are required to report about individual mental health conditions to the police.

She said a bill in the General Assembly that would require circuit court clerks to “immediately notify” the department when a person is judged mentally unfit would “clarify what needs to happen.”

Guns rights and guns-control activists agreed that the department needs to fix its system, but their interpretations of the report varied significantly.

Richard Pearson, executive director of the Illinois State Rifle Association, said permits should be processed faster, and the report is an indication that the state needs to relax its gun laws and collect fees.

“The whole problem is simply money,” he said. “If they want to fund this, pass concealed carry” legislation allowing gun owners to carry concealed weapons in public.

Colleen Daley, executive director of the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence, said the permit system is antiquated and agreed that it is in need of more funding to be effective.

But she said passing a concealed carry law in light of the deficiencies highlighted by the report is not a good solution.

“Allowing more guns is not the way to go,” she said.

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