Madigan’s office says that protecting the identities needs to happen through the legislative process. FOIA allows certain information to be withheld from the public if it can be proved to be “information that would endanger the life or physical safety of law enforcement personnel or any other person." In the reasoning for the decision that the AG’s office sent to state police, it said their review of court cases showed no indication or precedent that releasing names of legal gun owners and the date their FOID cards expire puts them in danger.
When asked directly about concern over whether it put constituents’ physical safety in jeopardy, the office reiterated it was a matter of interpreting FOIA court cases, not making public policy. The office points out that state police did not argue that the documents are not eligible to be released under FOIA; the argument centers on whether an exemption can be made. The addresses and phone numbers that accompany the information, however, are not to be released.
They also argued in their letter demanding the release of the information that it allows the public to monitor state police control of the FOID database and is thus worth the sacrifice of privacy: “[E]ven if disclosure of the names and expiration of FOID card owners did constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy, this fact is outweighed by the public interest that exists in ensuring the integrity of ISP's database.”
The context for the discussion has grown even more difficult in light of the president’s recent op-ed focusing on gun control, but Schock said he thinks the president is simply following his ideology, one reflective of his hometown roots.
“His hometown of Chicago – which he’s very connected to – has some of the toughest, most stringent laws against law-abiding citizens owning guns,” Schock said. “I think he’s just continuing with his ideology of limiting gun access for law abiding citizens.”
An AP story on the topic written by a John O’Conner, the same name as the one on the AP FOIA request, says that “[i]nformation about firearms – and the state police enforcement of gun laws – has been the subject of several AP requests during the past decade. In most cases, state police have denied disclosure.” He also references a specific case to support why the AP would take an interest in the information:
“In 2005, state police officials told the AP they were powerless to take action against a civilian ISP employee who had guns in his truck at the agency’s training academy, where he threatened his estranged girlfriend, also an employee. He later shot her before turning the gun on himself.
“A state police firearms official later testified in an unrelated court case that officials could have yanked the man’s guns but chose not to.”
The FOID issue will get more court time, with future hearings set for April 14. There are also bills in the Illinois state legislature, according to the representatives’ letter, which would ensure the gun owners’ privacy is protected.