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OPINION

Second Amendment Shoots Down the Illinois Bureaucracy

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.
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AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

Editor's note: This piece was co-authored by Joe Setyon.

D’Andre Bradley was a Marine veteran who served his country honorably for five years. But when he wanted to defend his Chicago-area home and family amid widespread violence and looting, the state of Illinois’ bureaucratic apparatus deprived him of his constitutional right to bear arms.

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Two years later, Chicago still has a tragic violent crime problem. But thanks to a lawsuit filed on D’Andre’s behalf, the state government will no longer be able to use excessive bureaucratic delays to stop law-abiding citizens from exercising their Second Amendment rights. 

Illinois has a long-standing requirement that residents who want to purchase or even possess a firearm of any kind must first obtain what’s called a Firearm Owners Identification, or FOID, card. And under state law, Illinois State Police are also required to grant or deny a FOID card application within 30 days. The problem is, officials have for years treated the 30-day rule like more of a suggestion than a mandate, ignoring the deadline, and taking inordinate amounts of time to process FOID card applications. In fact, as of late 2020, the average wait time to receive a FOID card was 122 days, more than quadruple what the law mandates. For many law-abiding citizens, it was even worse, stretching from months into years. 

In practice, this means Illinoisans who simply want to defend their property, their loved ones, and their own lives can’t do so. Yet the onerous bureaucratic logjam doesn’t stop criminal elements from getting their hands on firearms. Chicago, one of the most violent cities in the country, saw more than 3,561 shootings and 797 murders in 2021, and an additional 2,255 shootings and 528 murders in the first nine months-plus of 2022, according to Chicago Police Department statistics. 

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In July 2020—amid a summer when Chicago was overtaken by violent riots—the Goldwater Institute sued the state of Illinois on behalf of D’Andre and three other-Chicago-area residents, challenging the government’s refusal to process applications for firearm licenses in a timely manner, as it is required to do under state law. And now, after two years, we’ve secured Illinoisans’ Second Amendment rights. 

Earlier this month, the state finally agreed to fix its firearm licensing apparatus by ramping up its processing system and clearing the backlog that was preventing Illinoisans from obtaining firearms. Now, Illinoisans won’t have to wait months and even years to get their gun license applications processed. They’ll be able to better defend themselves—not languish at the mercy of a bloated bureaucracy. 

It’s a victory for the Second Amendment, but it’s also a reminder that governments at levels use licensing regulations—whether they apply to guns or anything else—to take away people’s basic rights. Sometimes they impose meaningless standards like “good cause” that require people to prove they need a “special need” to exercise their rights—like the unconstitutional New York state gun law that the U.S. Supreme Court recently struck down. Other times, as in Illinois, they give bureaucrats the power to indefinitely delay any answer when citizens apply for permits. 

Endless delays and refusal to process applications can too easily equate to a denial of the underlying right. In essence, the government can transform people’s basic constitutional liberties, like the right to bear arms, into permissions that bureaucrats can grant or withhold at will.

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But law-abiding Americans shouldn’t have to beg for the government’s permission just to defend their own lives, families, and homes. And if the Illinois government thinks that maintaining public safety requires checking people’s backgrounds before allowing them to possess even the most basic firearm in their homes, then at the very least, it must follow the law. 

“This is a basic civil rights issue. Everyone has a fundamental right to self-defense,” D’Andre said. “If the state is going to require a license to exercise that right, then it should at least respect its own time limit…respecting my rights is not optional.”

Now, that’s exactly what’s going to happen—the state of Illinois has no choice. 

Joe Setyon is the Communications Manager at the Goldwater Institute.

Timothy Sandefur is the Vice President for Legal Affairs at the Goldwater Institute.

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